EXAMPLES ABOUND IN HISTORY. You needn’t look much farther than what some of last year’s most popular, critically-acclaimed, and award-winning films are based on. On one hand, you have Ben Affleck’s (Sympathy) Golden Globe-winning Argo, (a decent flick) based on the bold rescue of American diplomats by both the CIA and the Canadian government during the Iranian hostage crisis. On the other hand, you of course have Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty, (a competent flick) very grittily and intensely based on the decade-long manhunt for UBL.
Imagine if some opportunistic, naïvely idealistic journalist or some other careless, inept cretin armed with the internet had happened upon memos detailing the CIA’s investigation of UBL’s courier and the compound in Abbottabad. Imagine if he’d stumbled upon the “scoop” behind Operation Neptune Spear right before President Obama could even give it the go-ahead. Imagine if someone had leaked that information to the Pakistanis. Would this manhunt have ended two years ago? (Better yet, would the President have just celebrated his second inauguration?)
In the case of the “Canadian Caper”, imagine if then-Washington correspondent Jean Pelletier of Montreal’s La Presse—who knew about the six American diplomats hiding in Iran—had decided against the virtues of decency and discretion—if he had instead selfishly proceeded to go public with the knowledge that his Canadian ambassador to Iran was harboring the American escapees in his home.
Doing that, says Pelletier roughly translated, “would have been like disclosing the name or address of Anne Frank.”
Unfortunately, not every newsman is this considerate. In Breaking News, a valuable history of the Associated Press’s coverage of war, crime, sports, politics, culture, and natural disasters (and written by a collective of AP reporters), one contributor, reporter Frances R. Mears, tells of a 1933 massacre of lawmen brought about by a rather unthinking AP reporter. After his arrest in Hot Springs, AR, public enemy Frank “Jelly” Nash, a bank and train robber who’d been on the run for almost three years, was supposed to be transported to the Leavenworth Federal Prison in Kansas. The agents responsible for transporting Nash were to take a train from Fort Smith, AR, to Kansas City, where “reinforcements would meet them for the final leg of the trip.”
Unfortunately, “an AP reporter happened upon the lawmen as they waited for the train and learned what was happening.” The story he wrote and wired immediately thereafter included all the details of the agents’ itinerary, even a bit about how theirs was “an effort…to balk a possible attempt at rescue by Nash’s confederates.” The reporter’s story “tipped off the gangsters bent on freeing Nash,” and “with a look at the train schedules and a few phone calls, they put a new plan into motion.” That new plan was a perfectly timed disaster of an ambush at Kansas City’s Union Station after Nash and the lawmen had arrived, resulting in not only Nash’s death, but the deaths of a “police chief, a federal agent, and two detectives.”
An even better, more recent example of a much deadlier fiasco resulted under strikingly similar circumstances—60 years later in Waco, TX, and I’m of course referring to the horrifying Waco siege, a 50-day stand-off between the FBI and an utterly sickening, heavily (and illegally) armed group of anti-government cultists known as Branch Davidians (this time real Christian fascists). What was supposed to be the simple execution of lawful search and arrest warrants, a well-oiled ATF raid with minimal to no casualties, ended with a firefight and, as a consequence of that, the deaths of ten people (six Branch Davidians and four ATF agents) and a prolonged siege that ended with significantly more casualties.
The ATF had planned and trained for their raid with the element of surprise, but that element was absolutely spoiled by the media. About a day before the raid, the Waco Tribune-Herald’s pigheaded managing editor acted against the behest of federal authorities and published a defamatory story about the Branch Davidians, thereby evoking a more intense state of alertness and paranoia among them than the ATF had planned to anticipate. And just hours before the siege, a news cameraman who’d been tipped off about the raid was lost on his way to the Branch Davidian compound when he asked a postman for directions—a man who incidentally turned out to be the brother-in-law of the allegedly abusive, sex offending, polygamist sect leader David Koresh. Now the religious crackpot—a self-proclaimed final prophet—and his militia of religious crackpots armed with 150 automatic weapons (including a .50 caliber machine gun) and over 8,000 rounds of ammunition (including hand grenades) were themselves tipped off about the raid. (This was all in the United States, by the way.) The siege ended 50 days later after a final assault by the FBI, when a massive fire killed 76 Branch Davidians, 23 of whom were 18 or younger, most of them babies and toddlers. Koresh died, too, praise Jesus.
Waco was, in the words of former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark, “the greatest domestic law enforcement tragedy in the history of the United States”—as well as the inspiration behind the Oklahoma City truck bombing at the hands of libertarian Timothy McVeigh.