Media Plays Controversial Role in FBI-Cult Standoff in Waco Critics Ask Whether News Reports Are Delaying Group's Surrender

Article excerpt

SUBFREEZING temperatures frosted law-enforcement agents and news crews over the weekend as the siege of a heavily armed religious sect dragged into its 16th day.

On Friday, authorities took into custody two adult Branch Davidian members. They were the first in a week to leave the sect's complex amid 77 acres of farmland east of Waco. Remaining inside were 88 adults and 17 children, by the sect's count. Twenty-one children and two adults had come out the week before.

The media continue to play a controversial role. Its involvement began when the Waco Tribune ran an expose on the sect and asked in an editorial: "How long before {officials} will act?"

The next day, learning that law officers were about to raid the compound, several reporters appeared on the scene. Their presence possibly helped to forewarn sect members. "We would very much like to know" how they found out, Dan Conroy, a Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) agent, said Friday.

Once the standoff began, sect leader David Koresh telephoned TV and radio stations to air his views. After Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) negotiators cut his line, Mr. Koresh promised to surrender if Dallas radio station KRLD aired his message. The station did so at the FBI's request, but the sect stayed holed up.

Last week, KGBS, another Dallas radio station, aired remarks sympathetic to the sect and urged it to signal a response. Soon a sheet was hung from the compound's watchtower bearing a request to speak to the media.

The possibility that sect members' attention to broadcasts is delaying their surrender prompted a reporter Friday to ask if lawmen were considering jamming their reception. FBI agent Richard Swensen did not answer. However, lawmen did ask one station to stop filming with a night-vision lens that could reveal their movements to sect members inside. …