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News Media Criticized in Report on Waco Raid With AM-Armed Cult, Bjt

October 1, 1993 GMT

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The news media come in for their share of criticism in a blistering report on the botched raid by federal agents on the Branch Davidian cult in Waco, Texas.

The Treasury Department’s investigative report on the Feb. 28 raid issued Thursday says some field leaders for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms gave reporters ″false or misleading public statements about the raid.″

And the report rejects oft-repeated claims by law-enforcement officers that a reporter deliberately tipped cult leader David Koresh about the assault in which four ATF agents and six cult members died.

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However, investigators said Koresh was alerted when a television crewman for Waco station KWTX, acting on a tip by an ambulance dispatcher, asked a postman for directions to the Branch Davidian compound. The postman turned out to be a cult member, but the cameraman did not know that, the report said.

Investigators also noted that several reporters were near Koresh’s home i the hour or so before the early morning raid.

″Media activity in the vicinity of the compound was not the immediate cause of the casualties suffered by ATF agents on Feb. 28,″ the investigators said. ″These were inflicted by Koresh and his followers, and could have been avoided had ATF’s raid commanders called off the operation once they recognized that they had lost the advantage of surprise.″

″But the media’s conduct posed a substantial danger not only to the security of ATF’s operation but also to the lives of agents and civilians alike,″ the report said.

Representatives of the two media organizations on site before the raid began rejected the Treasury conclusion.

KWTX attorney Rick Bostwick said the station had no prior knowledge of the raid or discussion with ATF. He suggested that improved communication by ATF might have helped. ″If you choose stealth and non-communication, then there are fairly predictable consequences,″ he said.

″I think if the expectation is that the media will restrain itself then law enforcement has some duty to inform the media there is imminent danger or there is an event which could pose imminent danger,″ he added.

Bob Lott, editor of the Waco Tribune-Herald, which began an in-depth series on the cult the day before the raid, said: ″The bottom line, as far as I’m concerned, is that the publication of our series and the presence of our staff members covering the raid Sunday morning did not affect what happened.″

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During their unsuccessful attempts to get the newspaper to delay publication of the series, ATF officials had intimated a raid would occur but gave no time frame. The Treasury review concluded that ″given the substance of ATF’s arguments for delay, the Tribune-Herald’s decision to go forward with the series is understandable.″

The Society of Professional Journalists, in a recent report on the media’s coverage of the Waco standoff, said there was ″no concrete evidence″ that Koresh was tipped by a reporter.

But Edwin O. Guthman, a University of Southern California journalism professor, said: ″The fact of the matter is had they not been out on the road, it’s possible that Koresh would not have been tipped off.″ The Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist was one of three independent reviewers brought in to ensure the Treasury probe wasn’t a whitewash.