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I’m always amused when one particular type of reader writes to me,
asking how I know thus-and-such, as stated in my column of such-a-date.
“What is your source?” he or she frequently asks.

Beyond facts and quotations, which I do cite, the diplomatic answer
is this: I went through the public school system at a time when those in
charge believed that an education meant learning
how to think about the information around me and draw my own conclusions
regarding what is happening. I would guess that in the news world, this
is the essence of “commentating” as opposed
to reporting.

For five years, some of us have not believed the federal government/
ABC/ NBC/ CBS/ PBS/ NYT/ FBI version of what happened at Waco. The
problem wasn’t sources. There were plenty of them. They stood behind
podiums and had big, official-sounding titles and self-important airs
about them as they looked into the cameras and gave us the “facts.”

The problem was, we didn’t believe them. Somehow, their stories just
didn’t add up. Ernest Hemingway, a great writer who was first a
reporter, identified this ability as the one indispensable tool that all
writers needed. His phrase was inelegant and terse, in true Hemingway
style: he termed that essential piece of equipment “a built-in,
shock-proof, s— detector.” (Sorry, no
citation beyond memory available.)

John Ulman, who edited a book on investigative reporting, explains it
like this: “… what distinguishes their (investigative) reporting from
that of most of their colleagues is that investigative reporters know
more about how things are supposed to work, and therefore more about how
to get the real
answers” (The Reporter’s Handbook, St. Martin’s Press, 1991).

Therefore, while the government was saying it was all a tragic
accident that the Davidian buildings burned and those children died,
those who knew how things were supposed to work were saying things like

“… my wife and I returned to our hotel room and flipped on CNN to
see the latest developments in Waco. The Branch Davidian compound was
burning. My wife cried. She knew that there were
many children in that compound. She asked me why. Why are they burning
the compound?

“I told her the simple truth: They have to burn it. Has anyone here
(police officer audience) seen and read the Waco search warrant
affidavit? It’s crap. It didn’t establish enough probable cause to even
knock on the Branch Davidian’s door.

“When the FBI took over from the BATF … they knew they would find
no illegal weapons in the Branch Davidian compound. They were between a
rock and a hard place. Four ATF men dead, and
an unknown number of Branch Davidians dead, the FBI had only one choice:
destroy the compound so that no one could ever prove whether illegal
weapons were present or not. … The FBI did not pump CS gas into the
Branch Davidian compound to force its occupants to come out. They pumped
that gas in to make sure the occupants couldn’t come out,” so said Lt.
Harry Thomas in the Aid & Abet Police Newsletter (September 1994, pages

The mainline press, for the most part ignorant of Hemingway’s
essential tool, quickly dubbed those who knew enough to question the
official story “conspiracy theorists.” They demanded our evidence and
our sources.

Since our evidence was that there was no evidence — or that what was
there didn’t add up — we were quickly dismissed. Lacking Hemingway’s
tool, and a pre-indoctrination public education, mainline reporters were
unable to note the inaccurate tally of facts for themselves. Anyway, had
they been able to determine that their facts didn’t add up, what would
they have cited as their source: Thinking? Logic? Reason? Isn’t all
truth relative? Isn’t contradictory evidence simply “your truth” or “my
truth”? Isn’t it wrong to be judgmental?

Does it matter that the press failed America? The FBI incinerated
nearly 80 people, for the sole reason that their continued existence was
inconvenient to those in power in the government.
The BATF lied about their evidence to obtain search warrants — then
murdered the Davidians who tried to defend themselves against a “raid”
that should never have taken place. The proud members of Delta Force,
the elite military unit sworn to uphold the Constitution and protect our
citizens got to conduct target practice on some unpopular Americans. The
attorney general of the United States grew in stature for “accepting
responsibility.” (Different story now, isn’t it?) Bill Clinton’s
administration continued to exist, and PBS/ CBS/ NBC/ ABC/ ETC. got
continued free use of the public airwaves so they can sell us soap and
pledge breaks. What America got out of it is somewhat less clear.

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