They Call Me 'Bomb Boy.'(Oklahoma City, Oklahoma Bombing Coverage by the Associated Press)

By Query, Paul | Editor & Publisher, February 3, 1996 | Go to article overview

They Call Me 'Bomb Boy.'(Oklahoma City, Oklahoma Bombing Coverage by the Associated Press)


Query, Paul, Editor & Publisher


When the visiting firemen pulled out of Oklahoma City a month after the bombing, the Associated Press' strategy for keeping aggressive, day-today coverage of the story alive pretty much boiled down to two words Paul Queary.

He was the staffer designated to take the story and run with it - to cultivate sources, staff hearings, follow, the case wherever it led and break news whenever possible. It was a huge commitment for a small bureau to put one staffer on a full-time beat. But it was essential, and it's paid off.

Here is Queary's account of the experience so far It is taken from an AP dialogue memorandum that is distributed internally to bureau chiefs, news editors, correspondents and photo editors.

My first reaction was: "What a great assignment!" That was before the nickname.

As the national writers, general desk editors and other out-of-town staffers began leaving, chief of buraeu Lindel Hutson and news editor Linda Franklin pulled me aside and told me I would be following the story in the long term.

Owen Canfield, the bureau's sports editor, promptly dubbed me "Bomb Boy." Now, people I've never met call me that.

It's been a new and exhilarating experience for me. I had transferred to Oklahoma City only six months earlier after stints as an editorial assistant and relief staffer in Portland, Ore., where I was a foot soldier in the Tonya Harding coverage.

Now, instead of following the Oklahoma news as a whole during a desk trick or covering a breaking story over a few days, I am responsible for one of the biggest stories of any year. The general desk asks for me by name. When the Los Angeles Times has a big story on the bombing, my phone rings in the middle of the night. A sparrow isn't supposed to fall in the bombing case without my noticing. Yipe!

But I wasn't thrown in to sink or swim. I was shipped off to Washington, where justice Department reporter Mike Sniffen, special projects editor John Solomon and others indoctrined me in the rituals of covering federal investigations. After I returned to Oklahoma City, national writer Fred Bayles flew back to coach me in extracting information from people whose jobs might hang on every disclosure.

Their advice? Get out and talk to people!

So I hit the street, talking to prosecutors, defense lawyers, law clerks, judges, witnesses, cops and every federal agent I could get to stand still (and a few who wouldn't). During one week in May, I drove the 180-mile round trip to the office of suspect Timothy McVeigh's lawyer three times.

It was frustrating, and I learned a valuable lesson: develop your sources during peacetime, not during the war. A few more hours spent on generic source development in March would have propped some doors open.

But the work paid off, and we've stayed competitive on the story, breaking many big angles ourselves. Sources who didn't know my name in April now greet me warmly, poke fun at my garish ties and sometimes drop a tidbit of information that puts me ahead on a breaking angle.

Those sources kept us ahead on the negotiations between federal prosecutors and McVeigh associate Michael Fortier, who eventually pleaded guilty to lesser charges and agreed to testify, for the government. …

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