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Waco and the Press

by Alexander Cockburn And Jeffrey St. Clair

The ashes of the murdered Branch Davidians and their children — all 74 of them — were still glowing as the nation’s major news institutions rousingly endorsed the decision of Janet Reno and her boss, Bill Clinton, to give the FBI (and, as it turned out, the Delta Force) the go-ahead for an operation that ensured massacre. Newsweek, we particularly remember, rushed out its cover of Koresh swathed in flames like one of the damned in a medieval painting. It was one of the great failures of American journalism, one of the most sickening, one of the most predictable and one of the most revealing. To this day one can meet progressive types who devote many of their waking hours to activities designed to save Mumia abu Jamal who didn’t give a toss about the Branch Davidians and their terrible slaughter by the federal government, and who still don’t. Use the word “cult” and both reason and moral judgement enter recess.


So now comes further proof of the lies, deceptions and cover-ups of the FBI, and how do the big press poobahs react? Do they make confession that they bought a cover-up and tried to sell it to the American people, the vast majority of whom steadfastly continued to believe that the government was lying and that an infamy had been perpetrated? Here’s Ted Koppel, the night of September l, discussing the siezure by federal marshals of tapes of FBI hostage “negotiators”, discussing the use of pyrotechnic grenades the morning of the Waco raid:

“… the credibility of the FBI, which probably did tell the truth about most of what happened, that credibility is badly damaged, while the credibility of conspiracy theorists, who tend to be wrong about most of what they’ve spun together about Waco, their credibility is newly enhanced. It is on these two fronts that the greatest damage has been done.”

In this disgusting paragraph Koppel defines his career role as flack for state power. For him the issue is not that an agency of government planned mass murder, just as the so-called conspiracy nuts first surmised, then proved. For him the issue is the credibility of the state. For the liberal elite — in whose ranks most so-called conservatives can be numbered — this is always the issue.

In the Koppel program that night was Henry Ruth, a former Watergate prosecutor who was appointed in the aftermath of Waco to investigate the federal raid. “The real issue,”Ruth said, “was whether any military force was actually used in the raid, separate and apart from just military advisors, and my guess is that such force is so dangerous, so controversial, that it probably did not happen, but it’s certainly worth looking at in this environment where the whole credibility of the investigation is now at stake.” Note here Ruth’s desperate eagerness to let the government off the hook, and preserve the cover-up (code-named “credibility”) intact.

Koppel was scarcely alone. Here’s a CBS broadcast of September 2:
“For years now the disaster near Waco has been exhibit number one for many who have deep distrust of the American government. From conspiracy sites on the Internet to documentary films, Waco has provided a focus for those who see the government as the enemy. And now they say there is proof the government has been lying, reports CBS News Correspondent John Blackstone. ‘This is just fodder for the conspiracy theorists,’ says psychologist Margaret Singer. She says this is just what the militia movement needs to say we told you so….Many are certain to see this as government out of control. ‘The anti-government movement, the militia, hate groups are absolutely going to get a boost out of this and I think it’s really a tragedy for that reason,’ said Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center. At one time conspiracy theorists may have been viewed as eccentrics far out on the fringe, but then Timothy McVeigh drove a truck full of explosives to Oklahoma City and we all discovered just how dangerous it can be when people stop trusting the government.”

As with Koppel, the problem for these CBS broadcasters , and for the shrink, Singer, and for Potok, from that fraudulent Dees outfit, is not one of overweening and murderous government, but of potential sedition. Anything that disturbs popular torpor is tactically inept. Accomplices in the great and ongoing Cover-up of Everything that Really Matters — the central mission of the Fourth Estate, they tremble for Power, whenever Power is displayed in an undignified or unappetising light. The film Waco, A New Revelation, whose disclosures about the pyrotechnic devices CounterPunch reported many weeks ago, has had the benign effect of discrediting the FBI and the Department of Justice and its chieftain, but in the end it may permit the FBI to recoup, by saying that the target of the pyrotechnic devices was just an outhouse and that these same projectiles never struck the main building in which the Branch Davidians were sheltered.

As Dan Gifford, executive producer of the earlier Waco: The Rules of Engagement asserted on September 3, “No national news organization is saying anything at all about the government’s careful prepping of the Davidian building to burn nor its machine-gunning of the Davidians in the burning building that is so clearly shown in the FBI’s own aerial surveillance video that is included in Waco: The Rules of Engagement.”

One riposte of the state to the Waco disclosures is to emphasize, as did the CBS man, that those who mistrust government are by definition subversive, dangerous and possibly homicidal and therefore presumptively deserving of incineration. A Reuters story by Jim Wolf, put out on August 31, sets the stage. “The U>S> government is preparing for possible violence from cults, guerrillas, hate groups and end-of-world-fearing zealots as 2000 approaches,” the report began. “The Federal Bureau of Investigation ‘expects to see increased and possibly violent activities among certain groups related to the millennium,’ a top official warned Congress in July. The official in question was Michael Vatis, head of a new FBI-led interagency center “to protect critical U.S. infrastructure”. According to Reuters’ Jim Wolf “Vatis did not cite possible targets but FBI director Louis Freeh has said they include Jews, non-whites and their ‘establishment allies, i.e. the federal government.”

So we can see the stage being set for the next Waco. Maybe the ATF, whose agents launched the first unprovoked assault on the Branch Davidian compound, should plan a preempive strike on the residence of former president Ronald Reagan. After all, Reagan more than once affirmed his confidence in impending Apocalypse, citing Holy Scripture as his source. Reagan even identified Megiddo as Ground Zero for the apocalyptic finale. Here’s just the sort of dangerous extremist the FBI is concerned about. Among upcoming Koppel broadcasts:

“Wounded Knee: the bitter legacy”: Koppel explains that “in many ways the saddest consequence of this infamous massacre of American Indians was that it served to buttress the position of extremist native Americans who have long argued that the white man was intent on exterminating Indians altogether.”

“Tuskegee: the tragic fall-out”: Koppel explains that “in many ways the saddest consequence of this infamous medical experiment in which federal scientists and doctors deliberately failed to treat 600 black men suffering from syphilis (while pretending that they were) is that it served to buttress the position of extremist advocates of ‘Black Power’ who have long argued that the white many is intent on exterminating blacks altogether.”

“Vietnam: The…” Enough. You get the idea.

Jeffrey St. Clair is editor of CounterPunch. His new book is Killing Trayvons: an Anthology of American Violence (with JoAnn Wypijewski and Kevin Alexander Gray). He can be reached at: Alexander Cockburn’s Guillotined! and A Colossal Wreck are available from CounterPunch.

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