"Waco and the fourth estate"

by Dan Gifford
author of the award-winning documentary "Waco: The Rules of Engagement"
("Washington Times", September 13, 1999).

Waco represents a major failure of the press in our country." With those words "The Ashes of Waco" author Dick J. Reavis defined to a 1995 congressional investigating committee the reason that Waco was a festering wound on the soul of America's body politic. So it is worth noting that a Hollywood film, "Waco: The Rules of Engagement," is largely the reason America is now learning what reporters should have told it six years ago.

Without exception, the fourth estate flat ignored the film's documentation that nothing illegal was going on at Mount Carmel to justify the massive raid by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms on the Branch Davidians; that trigger-happy ATF agents opened fire without provocation (shooting sect leader David Koresh three times in cold blood while he stood at the front door unarmed, with his hands in the air), and forced the Davidians to kill or be killed; that its agents murdered Davidian Michael Schroeder in cold blood (leaving his body to rot in the woods 350 yards away from the Mount Carmel complex, where it was discovered by a reconnaissance helicopter five days later); and that FBI commandos (mixed, as we later learned, with U.S. Army Delta Force and British SAS soldiers) intentionally torched the Davidian complex ("compound" is an FBI psychological warfare word intended to vilify), machine-gunned those inside the burning building, destroyed evidence of their crimes and then lied about it all to Texas Ranger investigators, a Texas federal court and then to Congress.

From the muzzle flashes of government automatic weapons on the FBI's own Forward Looking Infra Red (FLIR) aerial surveillance video, to its recording the careful prepping of the Davidian building to burn, to the detonation flashes of government munitions where the fires started, to a Texas Ranger photo of one of the 40 millimeter military munitions found at the fire origins, the evidence is overwhelming. These and other nauseating facts exposed in our Oscar and Emmy nominated documentary, "Waco: The Rules of Engagement" have unfortunately withstood almost three years of expert world scrutiny. Among other honors, "Waco" was the lead film in the Human Rights Watch World Film Tour, winner of the International Documentary Association's top award and showed twice at the Simon Weisenthal Museum of Tolerance. So all of the "new revelations" about Waco have been out there first from Hollywood for quite some time for anyone to see. No matter.

Reporters eager to cultivate news sources in law-enforcement and politics built on the government's demonization of the Davidian sect and simply regurgitated obvious propaganda about the ATF's Feb. 28, 1993 raid by almost 100 agents on the Branch Davidians, the ensuing 51 day siege of the Davidians by the FBI, and the FBI's April 19 tank and CS "tear gas" attack which ended in a deadly conflagration. The casualty toll: Four ATF agents and six Davidians killed during the initial raid plus about 50 total wounded on both sides and 76 Davidians killed on the final day in the most brutal and gruesome manner imaginable.

Now that Waco is back in the news, media disinformation and spin control continue to distort the facts.

Some examples:

A star network reporter famous for his alleged toughness and interview inquisitions shuns digging into Waco for fear he'll appear "anti-government."

My microphone goes dead on a network talk show as the host rants that the terrible facts I've just presented about Waco are irresponsible and conspiratorial -- before tag-teaming a former FBI agent/ guest who continues in the same vein.

But in the most abominable example I've yet seen, the Sept. 2 CBS Evening News cleverly sought to demonize news -- using our own film clips -- of the growing number of admitted ATF and FBI lies about Waco with the lead-in, "Waco feeds conspiracies. New evidence in the Branch Davidian case proves to be fodder for anti-government theorists." The story text delivers more of the same: "This is just fodder for the conspiracy theorists," said psychologist Margaret Singer. She says this is just what the militia movement needs to say we told you so. "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.

In this segment America confronts the real enemy of our free society: Agenda-driven journalists who are more myopic and hateful than those they're telling us to fear. As a puffy CBS reporter often says, "time out!"

The obvious implication and inference of the CBS piece is that no investigation into government criminality at Waco should go forward because the findings may prove that people in "flyover land," whose religious convictions and political beliefs those of us in the rarefied media air disapprove of (such as our fabricated "militia" bogeyman who, like the Communist Party USA before, is largely composed of FBI and other official mischief-makers) were correct all along.

Worse, facts establishing government criminality may provoke another agent John Doe's Timothy McVeigh to action. That same reasoning caused "Waco: The Rules of Engagement" to be turned down by all public relations firms we approached three years ago.

"I don't want to encourage the militias to violence," said one after another in New York and Washington. Oh? "Well, we're working on another film that exposes the racist police murders of African-Americans like those that were common during the '50s and '60s," I said. "Knowing that expose may incite violence like that which hit Los Angeles following the initial Rodney King verdict, would you turn it down?" "Well, no. Of course not. That's different," one after another told me. At some point, the Birkenstocks of the "tolerant" morphed into jackboots. The same people who still rail against that "evil" FBI and its COINTELPRO acts to discredit Martin Luther King and others whose politics and beliefs they approve of routinely claim that that same FBI would never commit equally heinous acts against those they disapprove of. That's just nut case conspiracy stuff. Sure.

Well, at a time when Congress is getting ready to investigate Hollywood for all of the alleged bad that it does to America, I for one am proud to be a part of the Tinseltown creative community that supported our film and its reporting of the ugly Waco truth while the supposed "real" reporters were, and still are, busy trying to cover up what could well be the largest government mass murder of its kind in the history of the United States.

(Dan Gifford is the executive producer of "Waco: The Rules of Engagement." He is a board member of the ACLU Foundation of Southern California and a former reporter for CNN, MacNeil/Lehrer News Hour and ABC News)

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Buy the video: "Waco: The Rulesof Engagement"


Waco, FBI and the Branch Davidians: Updates

CESNUR reproduces or quotes documents from the media and different sources on a number of religious issues. Unless otherwise indicated, the opinions expressed are those of the document's author(s), not of CESNUR or its directors.

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Mon, Mar 13, 2000