WASHINGTON — Government investigators who reviewed the failed effort to serve federal warrants on Branch Davidians near Waco said Thursday the news media should “further examine its conduct” in covering the cult. But the editor of the Waco Tribune-Herald said he can think of nothing he would have done differently.
“I’ve examined this thing in hindsight for how-many-months now and I cannot go over and find areas where I think had we done something else, it would have caused the outcome to be different,” Tribune-Herald editor Bob Lott said in an interview.
Four agents of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and six cult members died in a shootout that erupted when the ATF tried to serve arrest and search warrants on against cult leader Vernon Howell, also known as David Koresh, on Feb. 28.
The purpose of the 3½ month Treasury Department probe was to examine the conduct of ATF officials, not the news media.
However, ATF’s investigation of Howell repeatedly crossed paths with an investigation by reporters from the Waco Tribune-Herald, which is a member of the Cox Newspapers chain. And a cameraman from Waco television station KWTX is said to have inadvertently tipped Howell of the developing raid.
As a result, much of the report examines ATF’s relations with the news organizations, especially the paper.
The media’s conduct “posed a substantial danger not only to the security of ATF’s operation but also to the lives of agents and civilians alike,” the report stated.
“While it is not the purpose of this report to suggest what the media might do to minimize such dangers in the future, the media should further examine its conduct near Waco on Feb. 28 . . . “
Eight Tribune-Herald journalists were sent to the Branch Davidian compound that Sunday morning in response to a tip that it was about to be raided. Lott noted that the report examined in detail their activities at the raid site and found no evidence that they compromised the raid.
“There are a lot of things in there that I did not know about from the ATF side of it,” Lott said, “but from our examination of our behavior, I knew that we had behaved professionally and had done the things that journalists ought to do.”