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The Long, Floppy Life of ‘Dildo on the News,’ KSTP’s Pioneering Viral Video

Did the '90s TV news clip recently inspire a Coen brother? We asked!

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Mr. Crilley and the dildo.

More than three decades ago, a piece of video was captured right here in the Twin Cities that was so funny, and so out of the ordinary, that it managed to go viral at least 25 years before the arrival of YouTube. And now it may have inspired a gag in the new movie from a legendary Minnesota filmmaker (much more on that later). 

The video, in its most prominent incarnation on YouTube, received a to-the-point title: “Dildo on the News.” This VHS-ripped version of the TV news clip shows just 30 seconds of a KSTP broadcast, and it has been viewed over 631,000 times. 

Anchor Mark Suppelsa starts by alerting viewers to a “major drug sweep,” which included a bust in the St. Paul suburb of Maplewood that uncovered a large cache of cocaine. Suppelsa then throws to reporter Jeff Crilley, who is standing in front of the alleged traphouse. A few seconds into his report, an officer emerges from the open door behind Crilley carrying a box full of apparent evidence—including a large, floppy, beige dildo. 

Crilley, who worked for Channel 5 between 1988 and 1992, believes the original video first aired around 1990. Retired from TV news after a 25-year career, he now lives in the Dallas area, where he runs a public relations firm called Real News PR

That fateful day, Crilley headed to Maplewood to report on the drug bust, which was the lead story on that evening’s 5 o’clock news. The TV newsman mostly reported on the crime beat for KSTP, so such a story was nothing out of the ordinary, and his bosses had placed a premium on reporters getting close to the action in their live shots. 

“I knock on the door, three minutes before airtime, and say, ‘Hey, can I stand in front of the door?’” he told Viraluae by phone earlier this month. “Because this was the only thing that showed that something was happening—there was no crime scene tape.” 

The police told Crilley that they didn’t want him filming nearby, since they had undercover officers at the scene who they didn’t want appearing on camera. 

“I said, 'If you don’t want them on TV, do not come out between 5 and 5:02, because that’s when I’m live,'” he says. “So I inadvertently gave them the playbook to punk me.”

Crilley suspects the officers may have been watching the live news inside the house, to time the arrival of the fateful box. Since the officer holding the box could be seen smirking—and the box came out the door dildo-first—you could make a convincing case that the cops were doing a bit. “I believe it was perfectly staged to prank me,” the reporter says, adding that he suspects the officers found the sex toy at the crime scene rather than planting it there. 

Crilley had no idea anything was amiss during or immediately after the shot. When he eventually called his producer, the stakes became more clear. 

“Did you not see? There was a guy with like a two-foot dildo that came out [behind you],” he says, mimicking the reaction. The phones were “blowing up,” the producer told him, with some asking whether the footage would be repeated on the 6 o’clock news. 

Crilley considers himself fortunate that he didn’t see the dildo in real-time. 

“Had I turned around and reacted and dropped the F-bomb or something like that, I probably would have been called into the office and reprimanded,” Crilley says. “But because it happened to me, and not with me having any knowledge, it’s just become a funny thing.”

Crilley remembers KSTP filing a complaint with the supervising agency, although he can’t recall if it was the DEA or another law enforcement body. We asked Chief Brian Bierdeman of the Maplewood Police Department if the incident is well-known in his department. He reports he’s aware of it, and that the man carrying the box was a Ramsey County Sheriff's Office task force officer.

“The clip has come up from time to time over my career and many of the more senior officers are aware,” Bierdeman says. “However, I would doubt our newer officers even know it exists.”

How did the video go viral, before the internet? According to Crilley, someone at the TV station must have preserved the tape and shared it with others in the industry. In the immediate aftermath, “it started to make blooper reels” of the sort that TV news stations would put together for Christmas parties and other occasions. 

“After I moved to Dallas, I pulled the tape out of my desk,” he says. “And said ‘Hey, have you guys ever seen this?” One of his new colleagues, it turned out, had seen the clip before. “Oh my God, you’re the dildo reporter!” the colleague reportedly responded. 

So for many years, the clip was famous and/or infamous within the TV news world, but less so among the general public. That changed in 2005 when YouTube launched, creating the viral video landscape we know today. In 2006, the “Dildo on the News” clip was uploaded by a user named Fullpint, who has just 31 subscribers and has only ever posted that one video. The video has since amassed 631,402 views, although there are other versions of it circulating on the site. 

One unsubstantiated theory on the motivations behind the dildo-placer appeared in 2016. 

“I know that cop,” claims the most up-voted YouTube commenter. “He's friends with my older brother. Story goes the police told the news guys to stay back as [they] cleaned out the house, they did not listen, which made things frustrating, so my brother's friend put the dildo that he found in the box and waited by the door for the news guy to begin his broadcast. Heard the guy begin and walked out with it. Sort of a subtle F U to the news crew.”

“It wasn’t me,” Crilley says when pressed as to whether he’s the person behind Fullpint. “Because I didn’t make any money off of it.”

Beginning in '06, Crilley started to hear from people around the country who encountered the clip online. Even Mark Suppelsa, the KSTP anchor who later worked for many years in Chicago, tracked down his old colleague. Crilley remembers him saying: "‘Crilley, look at this: We’ve both had great careers in journalism, we’ve done some amazing things, and the only thing anybody’s gonna remember about this is the damn dildo video.’”

“As I went on with my news career, I’m occasionally asked to give talks to cops,” continues Crilley, who’d go on to win several journalism awards and contribute to reporting that helped free a man from prison. “When I go to do media training someplace, they’re like… ‘Your dildo video is very famous. In police training in how to deal with the media, we always kind of use it as an icebreaker.’”

The humor of the clip, as Crilley accurately notes, is timeless, universal, and transcends language, all ingredients that contribute to its regular virality. He’s been known to show people the clip at parties and says that if his wife sees him showing his phone to three or four other people, she rolls her eyes, knowing exactly what’s on the screen. 

So why is “Dildo in the News” in the news again, almost 25 years later? 

Drive-Away Dolls is the just-released movie directed by Ethan Coen, half of the famed Coen brothers duo that grew up in St. Louis Park and make frequent use of their home state. In recent years, Ethan and Joel Coen have started making movies separately, with Ethan co-writing the new one with his wife, Tricia Cooke. The plot—a pair of young women take a road trip, while unwittingly taking along a briefcase that a group of criminals want—is vintage Coens, although the film has a queer sensibility that’s very new to their work. 

Not to give too much away, but Drive-Away Dolls is more dildo-centric than you might expect, although anyone who remembers George Clooney’s basement chair in the Coens’ 2008 film Burn After Reading might not be so surprised. (“Hundred bucks, all in. Not counting my labor, and the cost of the dildo. Those things aren’t cheap.”)

Early in Drive-Away Dolls, there’s one shot in which a dildo is shown sticking out from a box—eerily similar to the way it looks in the KSTP clip. Was this an intentional tribute to the Crilley video? The Coens were no longer living in Minnesota in 1990—they released their third feature film, Miller’s Crossing, that same year—but might Ethan have somehow seen the clip, either in the '90s or later via YouTube? Or is it just a long, floppy coincidence? 

We reached out to Ethan Coen through Drive-Away Dolls distributor Focus Features to ask whether the old news clip inspired the gag in the movie. At press time, we have not yet heard back, which is perhaps unsurprising: Neither of the Coen brothers is known for explaining their work in interviews, much less when the explanation being sought applies to a George H.W. Bush-era dildo. 

“I’m flattered if I somehow inspired [one of] the Coen brothers to include this theme in their movie,” Crilley says. “I’m humbled.”

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