San Francisco Resident Bamboozled by Bait Car

We have to admit, we were not familiar until today with the reality TV show Bait Car, airing on truTV since 2008 (Mondays, 8:30 p.m.). A creation of LA’s KKI Productions, the program enlists undercover cops to stage public arguments on city streets and walk away from an idling car, with keys left in the ignition. If someone tries to steal the so-called “bait car,” presto, that individual is arrested, with everything caught on tape.

There’s only one problem. Some individuals like Cullen Farrell, a 32-year-old resident of San Francisco (where the show recently filmed), get innocently caught in the middle of the staged reality. Per a December 27th episode, Farrell was simply trying to move a vehicle he thought had been accidentally left running in a bad, city street spot. But he was clearly portrayed on the show as a thief, not a citizen.

It’s all part of a long, fascinating cover story in today’s SF Weekly. Even though Cullen says he has no plans to sue, he may well have had a case.

Al Tompkins, a broadcast news expert at the Poynter Institute, says Farrell may have a defamation claim for being portrayed in a false light. Turner Broadcasting, the owner of truTV, declined to comment for this story. But the show seems to be prepared for legal actions like that, flashing a disclaimer at the beginning of each episode: “All individuals on this show are considered innocent until proven guilty.”

There are many other great angles layered into the SF Weekly investigation by author Lauren Smiley, including ten pending SF court cases for which footage has been subpoenaed from KKI and a 29-year SFPD vet who lays the blame at the feet of LA-transferred Police Chief and “media whore” Gascón. Highly recommended reading.