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July 10, 2015

MEDIA FAIL: THE FLAWED EARLY COVERAGE OF 1995 OKLAHOMA CITY FEDERAL BUILDING BOMBING:  From Joseph Campbell, whose previous book was the Blogosphere favorite Getting It Wrong: Ten of the Greatest Misreported Stories in American Journalism, and whose latest work is 1995: The Year the Future Began. At his new 1995-themed blog, Campbell writes that when it came to the Oklahoma City bombing, “The news media — especially broadcast outlets — leaned hard on what proved to be an erroneous presumption.” Unexpectedly:

As such, the reporting in the immediate aftermath of the Oklahoma City bombing offers a telling reminder about how early news accounts of a major disaster tend to be misleading and off-base.

“It is,” I write in my latest book, 1995: The Year the Future Began, “a vulnerability the news media seldom seem to anticipate, or to learn from.”

In pushing the flawed narrative in April 1995, the news media effectively laid the groundwork for enduring suspicions that the bombing at Oklahoma City was the work of a broad and shadowy international conspiracy which, in one inventive telling, included the mastermind of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, Ramzi Yousef.

But as I write in 1995, the 20 years since the bombing at Oklahoma City has produced no compelling evidence that the conspiracy extended beyond an undistinguished trio of disaffected U.S. Army veterans: Timothy J. McVeigh, the remorseless ringleader who was executed in 2001; Terry Nichols, the principal accomplice who is in prison for life, and Michael Fortier, who knew about the bomb plot but did nothing to stop it.

That, I write, “was the likely extent of a ragtag conspiracy that brought about the Murrah Building’s destruction,” killing 168 people and injuring more than 680 others.

“But for many Americans,”I add, “it was just too ragtag, too improbable to embrace. The gravity of the attack in Oklahoma City — not unlike the assassination of President Kennedy — seemed to cry for a plot more substantial and a conspiracy more elaborate and sophisticated than misfit Army buddies angry at the federal government.

But the news media’s first instincts 20 years ago were to press the Middle East angle, and press it hard.

In contrast of course, today, the CAIR-chastened media now sees the vast right wing conspiracy hidden behind every corner, with shadowy Reds (Red Staters, in this case) lurking everywhere.

I recently read Campbell’s new book, and it’s a fascinating snapshot of a year that foreshadows our current era in many respects; his chapters on the Oklahoma City bombing, the OJ trial and even the birth of Internet institutions such as Amazon are particularly engrossing, with many new details for those who thought they knew all the angles to those once ubiquitous stories.