Don't Blame the Newspaper: Federal Agents' Botched Raid Came a Day after the Waco (Texas) Tribune-Herald Began Publishing a Series on the Religious Cult

By Fitzgerald, Mark | Editor & Publisher, March 13, 1993 | Go to article overview

Don't Blame the Newspaper: Federal Agents' Botched Raid Came a Day after the Waco (Texas) Tribune-Herald Began Publishing a Series on the Religious Cult


Fitzgerald, Mark, Editor & Publisher


Federal agents' botched raid came a day after the Waco (Texas) Tribune-Herald began publishing a series on the religious cult

The Waco Tribune-Herald had no role in the planning or timing of the botched and bloody federal raid on a Texas cult, its editor says.

In the desperate search to answer what went wrong in the Feb. 28 raid - which ended in the deaths of four federal agents and possibly 10 cult followers of David Koresh - some fingers have pointed at the newspaper.

Federal Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agents raided the "Ranch Apocalypse" compound a day after the Tribune-Herald began publishing what was to be a seven-day series detailing allegations of sexual and physical abuse against cult leader Koresh as well as noting the substantial arsenal he and his followers had amassed.

For a month, the ATF had asked the Tribune-Herald to hold off on the series.

Initial press reports said that the ATF had moved up the raid because of the newspaper story but, in the long days of siege that followed, authorities backed away from that contention.

There have been suggestions that when the raid was about to start, Tribune-Herald reporters were alerted.

These suggestions dovetail with other questions about security for the operation, which apparently was no surprise to the heavily armed cult. In a telephone interview, however, Tribune-Herald editor Bob Lott said that the newspaper bears no responsibility for the raid and its consequences.

"I see no cause and effect relationship between our stories, which were published on Saturday and Sunday [Feb. 27 and 28] and the disaster that happened Sunday," Lott said.

The newspaper had no arrangements at all with the ATF during the planning or execution of the raid, according to Lott.

Tribune-Herald reporters Mark England and Darlene McCormick spent eight months researching David Koresh, who changed his name legally from Vernon Howell, and the Branch Davidian cult located on a ranch 10 miles from Waco.

In late January, Lott said, a Tribune-Herald editor was approached by ATF agents who had learned of the impending series and asked the paper to delay publication.

"They said they were investigating [the cult]. They were afraid we would tip off their investigation or somehow interfere with their operation," Lott said.

As it happened, the newspaper at the time had put publication on hold for other reasons, which Lott declined to specify.

About a week before publication, ATF agents again asked the newspaper to hold off on the series.

As before, the ATF was maddeningly vague about what, if anything, it intended to do, Lott said.

"We never were told of the scope of the raid. …

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