MEDIA LOSE ATTEMPT TO OPEN WACO RE-ENACTMENT
FOI Alert Volume 6 Issue 7 (1999-2000)
A lawsuit by four major news organizations to open a re-enactment of the fatal 1993 assault on the Branch Davidian compound at Waco, Texas, was struck down by a federal judge.
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, The New York Times, Dallas Morning News and The Associated Press all filed suit on March 3 to force special counsel (and former U.S. Senator) John Danforth to allow the media to observe the field test.
At issue was a test to be conducted March 19 at Fort Hood, Texas to determine whether an FBI infrared camera could have detected gunfire from weapons on the ground. The test was to be conducted to help answer whether federal agents fired on the Branch Davidian compound during the March 19 assault in which David Koresh and about 80 of his followers died in a fire in the compound.
The test was to be conducted in connection with a lawsuit brought by surviving Branch Davidians against the government. The FBI has steadfastly maintained that no shots were fired by federal agents.
U.S. District Judge Walter Smith Jr. rejected the mediaΉs arguments and sided with Danforth, who wanted the test conducted out of view of the media and general public.
In a March 10 copyrighted story for the Post-Dispatch, reporter William Freivogel quotes Dallas media attorney John T. Gerhart as saying the judge had not identified a legitimate reason to "shield the test in secrecy." The news organizations had maintained that closing the test interfered with their First Amendment right to gather news and undermined the credibility of Danforth's investigation by "shrouding" the test in secrecy.
The full Post-Dispatch story can be found on the newspaperΉs Web site at www.postnet.com.
"The three newspapers and the AP deserve our thanks for their efforts at trying to open this test to media observers," said SPJ Freedom of Information Chair Ian Marquand. "Considering the controversy that the Waco endgame still triggers today, I would think the government would want to enhance public trust of its investigative efforts, instead of creating more secrets, which could lead to more suspicion about what happened seven years ago." Marquand added, "I can only hope, in the wake of the judgeΉs decision in this case, that Senator Danforth offers a comprehensive accounting of what takes place in the field test. He should do it sooner, not later. The public deserves no less, whatever the results."