Accuracy in Media

By Wes Vernon*

The mainstream media have gone AWOL again?this time by missing the complete story on the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing. There are leads suggesting the bombing that killed 168 innocent American men, women, and children had been ordered by Saddam Hussein?then in power in Iraq, and possibly with the help of other Middle East terrorists.

Politically, the cover-up is bipartisan?spanning two administrations?Clinton and Bush 43. Political interests, with the spectator-like acquiescence of the major media, did not want it known there is evidence that Timothy McVeigh (executed in June of 2001) and Terry Nichols (now rotting in prison) had help from foreign sources.

Big Media Not Interested

Ignoring a huge story like this is bad enough. But at least two establishment outlets?the New York Times and CBS?affirmatively squelched it, albeit in different ways. The Times shut down an investigation that was hot on the trail of the story. CBS did not follow up on clear evidence of Middle East involvement. Why?

The media had built a scenario on the mass murder as the work of the “angry white males” stereotype. During TV coverage at the time, one would think that at any minute, network reporters themselves would soon be dragging Newt Gingrich and Rush Limbaugh hogtied in front of the cameras as the culprits. After all, bombers Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols were white males, obviously quite angry and anti-government. Ergo the rhetoric that conservative talk radio and the new Gingrich Republican Congress had inspired them to bomb a federal building.

“Lily Whites” Had Help

Nearly a dozen years later, as time was running out on the Republican 109th Congress, Chairman Dana Rohrabacher of the House International Relations Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee released a report just before Christmas, 2006, citing strong circumstantial evidence pointing to Saddam’s evil regime as complicit in the bombing of the Murrah Federal Building April 19, 1995.

In the early hours following the bombing, the FBI put out sketches on TV screens and front pages everywhere of “John Doe One [Clearly McVeigh]” and “John Doe Two [a Middle Eastern looking young man].”

Suddenly the FBI yanked the John Doe Two picture, saying that person did not exist. However, the recent Rohrabacher report bluntly stated that John Doe Two resembled one Hussain Al-Hussaini, one of several former soldiers (“refugees”) in the Iraqi army who were living and working together in the Oklahoma City area.

Hussaini had been identified and tied to the bombing years earlier by Jayna Davis, an award-winning investigative reporter for Oklahoma City TV station KFOR.

Saddam’s Bombing Order

Davis notes in her 2004 book, The Third Terrorist, Saddam Hussein did in fact dispatch intelligence agents and/or operatives to carry out the bombing of an American building to avenge his humiliating defeat in the first (1991) Gulf War.

In an e-mail to AIM, Davis cited intelligence reports and alerts issued by a U.S. Congressional Task Force on Terrorism and Warfare which predicted weeks before the Oklahoma City bombing that Iran-sponsored Islamist terrorists had recruited “two lily-whites [McVeigh and Nichols were “lily whites”]” to carry out the bombing of a federal building somewhere in the heart of the U.S.

Night after night, in the months after the bombing, Davis’s intrepid reporting on TV piled up one piece of the puzzle after the other indicating that Al-Hussaini was “the third terrorist.”  

Court documents suggest one of McVeigh’s and Nichols’ accused Middle Eastern handlers had foreknowledge of the 9/11 plot. Davis cites confidential psychiatric records confirming that in 1997, Al-Hussaini had taken a job at the Boston airport, the point of origin of two of the hijacked flights that would later slam into the World Trade Center on 9/11.

Bear in mind, this was four years before September 11. The Third Terrorist reveals Al-Hussaini told his therapist “about a future event to take place” at Boston Logan International Airport. The ex-member of Saddam’s Republican Guard had checked into a psychiatric hospital to seek treatment for panic attacks. When his psychiatrist asked why he was so fearful, he responded that “if something happens there, I will be a suspect.” Davis told AIM that at the time Al-Hussaini made those statements “he was residing with two former Iraqi Gulf War veterans who provided food catering services for the commercial airlines at Boston Logan.”

But things get even more coincidentally interesting:

The more recent congressional report referenced above states, “More alarming is the discovery of a published list of un-indicted co-conspirators from the [earlier] First World Trade Center bombing [February, 1993] that includes the name of Samir Khahil.” And it happens that the man who hired Al-Hussaini and other Iraqis to do odd jobs around Oklahoma City was a Palestinian landlord and ex-con whose name was also Samir Khahil.

Rep. Rohrabacher asked the Justice Dept. to determine if the two Samir Khahils were one and the same. He was told that the task of confirming that would be “too burdensome.”

Davis in her book cites Ramzi Yousef, the convicted mastermind of the 1993 Trade Center bombing. He was accused by a jailed Filipino terrorist of collaborating with Terry Nichols in the Philippines. Writes the veteran TV reporter: “My investigation uncovered Nichols’ collaboration with Iraqi intelligence operatives in the Philippines.” Further she reports that Yousef “based his operations out of Manila. The Middle Eastern terrorist commandeered the role of general, not Timothy McVeigh.”

“John Doe Two” Sues

With great fanfare, Hussain Al-Hussaini announced at a press conference in August of 1995 that he had filed a multi-million dollar lawsuit in state court against KFOR-TV, naming Jayna Davis personally as a defendant. He again denied he was John Doe Two.

The competing local Oklahoma City media used the suit to trash Davis. That can be chalked up to professional jealousy. Over and over again she had scooped them blind on the continuing story. 

Davis’s evidence, however, was overwhelming.

Seven witnesses had identified Al-Hussaini in the company of Timothy McVeigh, in the Ryder truck the morning of April 19 prior to the bombing, exiting the truck in front of the Murrah Building moments before the blast, and speeding away from the bomb site in a getaway vehicle targeted by the FBI the morning of the bombing.

Twenty-two witnesses identified Al-Hussaini and his Iraqi cohorts with Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols during various stages of the bombing plot, including several who discredit Al-Hussaini’s publicly espoused alibis. Later Davis turned over these 22 sworn affidavits to the FBI, only to have them later reported as “missing [More on that below].”

Two years after filing his lawsuit, Al-Hussaini voluntarily dismissed the libel complaint just 24 hours before an Oklahoma judge was to rule on the TV station’s well-documented motion to dismiss the case.

A few months after that, an Oklahoma County Grand Jury probing possible “unknown conspirators” called Davis to testify. The next day, Al-Hussaini re-filed his libel suit, this time in federal court.

Finally, in September of 1999, U.S. District Judge Timothy Leonard delivered a sweeping vindication of Davis’s KFOR-TV investigation. He dismissed the case and upheld as “undisputed” all 50 statements of fact and opinion that the reporter had set forth implicating the plaintiff in the bombing.

After four years of dragging this through the courts, Al-Hussaini was unable to produce one single affidavit backing his alibi as to his whereabouts on the day the Murrah building was destroyed and innocent lives were snuffed.

The Iraqi then sought a jury trial in Denver federal court. Months later, a three-judge panel handed down a stinging rebuke of Al-Hussaini’s foot-dragging and delays. The judges unanimously affirmed that Davis, with her painstakingly gathered evidence of guilt, had not “recklessly disregarded the truth.”

The Media’s Cover-Up

President Clinton portrayed the bombing as motivated by his critics. Neither he nor President Bush wanted to explain to 9/11 families why Middle East involvement in Oklahoma City didn’t alert their administrations to terrorists prior to 9/11. Journalism students are told the media should dig beneath the veneer of supposedly benign government explanations to see what is and is not for real. The honest and persistent investigative reporter is the police on behalf of the taxpayers. But what happens when the media fall into line and?wittingly or unwittingly?join the cover-up?

Jayna Davis actually got some very good coverage on her story from local conservative talk shows in major cities all over the country. Her findings were given exposure on several Fox News Channel shows as well as by Lou Dobbs on CNN. The Wall Street Journal devoted a long op-ed piece to her investigation.

All of that, however, was not enough to pierce the paper/airwaves curtain in most of the big media?which collectively can put the discussion on the front burner and at family dinner tables coast to coast. ABC, NBC, CBS, the New York Times, the Washington Post, and L.A. Times are losing viewers/readers. But they retain the influence to set the table for the national discussion.

Times Joins Cover-Up

In the summer of 1996, the New York Times bought KFOR-TV. And as Davis tells it in her book, “The new ownership immediately spiked all stories on John Doe 2 and the Middle East connection.”

Davis was immediately relegated to covering cub reporter assignments?a move interpreted as meaning the New York Times wanted her out of there, or “constructive termination,” as she put it.

The veteran reporter?who had spent ten years at the station bolstering her credentials as an investigative journalist?wrote in The Third Terrorist, “Blind obedience to management’s cease and desist order concerning my investigation would have compelled me to report what I considered to be government half-truths in the prosecution of the Oklahoma City bombers. That scenario was simply unconscionable; therefore, I resigned.”

But that wasn’t the end of it.

There was still the matter of her videotaped interviews with witnesses who were promised confidentiality lest their lives be endangered.

The New York Times has editorially demanded a “shield law” to protect journalists from going to jail for refusing to betray their sources. However, the “gray lady” has been blatantly selective in that crusade. Recall that the Times was in hot pursuit of the leaker in the Valerie Plame case until a special prosecutor turned his fire on one of the paper’s own reporters who spent 85 days in the hoosegow.

In the Oklahoma City bombing case, KFOR?under Times ownership?went after Jayna Davis for her interview tapes, which she had turned over to the safekeeping of her attorneys. They were the linchpin for her defense in the then pending libel suit brought by “the third terrorist.”

She refused to give up the tapes, knowing that pressing deadlines and the chaotic environment of a busy newsroom provided a fertile setting for lax security that could result in inadvertent airing of one of the unpublished interviews.

Nonetheless, the Times officials demanded custody of Davis’s interviews, and they ignored her attorney’s requests to sign a waiver absolving her of all legal liability if the sources’ names or statements were made public.

So they filed a lawsuit accusing her of a misdemeanor theft of station property. In the end, the persistent reporter prevailed. Oklahoma State Judge Bryan Dixon ruled that while the company retained ownership of the physical casings and metallic tape, it could not disseminate the information on those tapes without written consent of the witnesses. Further, Davis’s reporter’s privilege to protect her sources was upheld until such time that law enforcement authorities solicited their cooperation in bringing the guilty parties to justice.

This landmark case upheld a journalist’s right to withhold confidential information even from his or her employer. The tapes now repose in the possession of the Congressional Task Force on Terrorism and Unconventional Warfare.

The CBS Approach

A most interesting angle of media failure to follow the leads pointing to a trail of Middle East sources was that CBS producers did not investigate the story that Davis dumped into their laps, complete with documentation, while one of the network’s producers chased an alternative theory that had been debunked.

In 2001, at the behest of Chicago lawyer and House Clinton impeachment counsel David Schippers, Jayna Davis met with CBS Producer Don Mosely and CBS Correspondent Carol Marin about her?by then?voluminous findings on the Murrah Building bombing. Marin told AIM, “We were very impressed with her [Davis’s] resourcefulness and the overall journalist that she is.” The former KFOR reporter also faxed to CBS in New York the prior Feb. 27, 1995 warning (referenced above) of a Midwest bombing.

FBI “Loses” Affidavits

“But here’s the catch,” writes Davis in an e-mail to AIM. “The 22 sworn witness affidavits, in which specific Middle Eastern nationals were identified aiding and abetting McVeigh and Nichols that I had turned over to FBI Special Agent Dan Vogel in January 1999, were still classified as missing.” They had vanished from the Oklahoma City FBI office.

In May, 2001, Vogel did not contradict then-CBS correspondent Dan Rather who suggested the loss amounted to obstruction of justice. Such carelessness, the FBI agent added, “needs to be presented to a federal grand jury as a criminal case.”

Enter Mary Mapes?

Davis says Agent Vogel would have gladly pursued the story of the missing documents further with CBS News “had producer Mary Mapes approved this angle of research.” (Mapes would later earn notoriety as the producer who was fired following the 2004 presidential campaign in the CBS scandal of the forged documents on President Bush’s National Guard Service.) There is no “smoking gun” that Mapes personally pulled the plug on CBS corroboration of Davis’s investigative work. By the same token, it is not known whether she made any effort to follow up The Third Terrorist angle.

In an interview with AIM, Marin (now a columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times) said she talked with Mapes at some point, but was not sure what was said about the Middle East connection. She pointed out that on 60 Minutes, the correspondents and producers are always working on 10 stories at any given time. A lot of stories are rejected, she added, and not necessarily for any particular reason. It could be a matter of allocation of time, resources or other factors unconnected with whether the story itself is valid. 

Davis continues to AIM: “Despite the valiant efforts of Carol Marin and Don Mosley, CBS network headquarters ignored the [Congressional] Task Force warnings and did not question me about the inexplicable disappearance of the witness affidavits.”

So where was Mapes?

It was later learned that Mapes instead spent time and resources on a separate theory on the bombing that had been thoroughly discredited, both in the courts and by government probers: that the whole plot was cooked up by some neo-Nazi white supremacist groups.

That, of course would have fit neatly into the line spread by the Clinton administration that “angry white males” and their militias had been encouraged by anti-government rhetoric of talk radio to blow up a federal building. In chasing this “neo-Nazi” theory, Mapes tried to arrange communications between one federal prisoner and another. She was reprimanded by prison authorities who said she had “violated federal regulations,” according to a Fox Report in 2004.

CBS Follows the Leader

Aaron Klein?journalist and radio talk-show producer?was working for WorldNetDaily (Davis’s publisher) in late 2004 when he e-mailed Davis that CBS would not go with the story about the Middle East connection to the Murrah federal building massacre, despite Davis’s evidence.

Klein reported that “Mapes, 60 Minutes, and CBS News reported throughout the bombing exactly the way every other media organization?ABC, CBS, NBC, MSNBC, CNN, Time, Newsweek, NY Times ?carried the story. Mapes didn’t do anything here by not reporting the Islamic angle that the rest of the organizations didn’t do.”

Davis responded that NBC, MSNBC and others did not have access to her investigative work?only CBS. Therefore, she said, “this network should be held accountable.”

Carol Marin told AIM, “It would require a lot of our research and time because we would have to independently corroborate everything that Jayna had done.” Marin added that Davis has raised “a legitimate question.”

Schippers On The Cover-Up

David Schippers, the Chicago lawyer who also tried to help Davis get her story out, told AIM his hometown papers, the Sun-Times and Chicago Tribune wouldn’t touch it. A retired Trib reporter encouraged him to press harder, but Schippers told him, “The Tribune isn’t the Tribune you worked for.” He said the late Col. Robert McCormick, a Tribune icon, would “probably would have run a two-week series” on Davis’s findings.

In the end, the media ignored a Pulitzer-worthy story. And now the trail just got colder.

Very recently, Al-Hussaini disappeared. The New York Times could have front-paged the story in its own newspaper (read by every newsroom in Manhattan) instead of spiking it on its newly-acquired TV station, but no. CBS could have hired Davis as a consultant to help it corroborate the story, but no. If the media ignore a story long enough, it just goes away.

What You Can Do

Please send the enclosed postcards on the Al-Jazeera matter to Allan J. Block of Block Communications, and Kevin J. Martin and Robert M. McDowell of the Federal Communications Commission.

*Wes Vernon is a Washington-based writer & broadcast journalist.



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