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Friday, December 02, 2005

CBS News' Vaughn Ververs Responds, Sort of ...

CBS News blogger Vaugn Ververs has backed off a bit from the headline wording of his original taunting post regarding the Nov. 18 unsealing of the FBI's search warrant and supporting documentation in the OU Suicide Bomber case.

Those documents were first spotlighted for the Blogosphere by Michelle Malkin, who seems able to keep track of everything all the time on the many major and minor stories she is following at any given time.

Michelle gave CBS News some grief for not using its considerable resources to make the 94 pages of documentation available to the public. In the course of responding to Michelle (and noting, reasonably, that not even CBS News has unlimited news gathering resources), Ververs also noted that his word choice for his original headline didn't really convey his point:

"I'll give Michelle this, the word 'correct' was not the best choice for the sentiment I wanted to convey. My point was, quite simply, that after all the provocative and downright scary theories of a terrorist plot to blow up a football stadium - some that included reported incidents at other universities, it would be appropriate to update those theories when new information became available."

Having written a few headlines myself, I can empathize with Ververs. Even so, both the headline and the tone of the post suggested that the CBS News blogger was indulging in a little professional gloating about the supposed inadequacies of the Blogosphere as a news-gathering tool.

Still, Ververs does suggest a valid point - an individual blogger, even one so prolific as Malkin, cannot be everywhere at once and certainly can't deploy the resources of an established news organization. This is a variation on the "do you know how much it costs [The New York Times] to operate a Baghdad bureau?" argument often heard from MSMers.

And I have to admit that I was unaware that the federal court in Oklahoma City had unsealed the FBI documents until I read about them in Michelle's post. Tapscott's Copy Desk is not my full-time job and my wife won't even allow me to think of cloning myself as a means of expanding my investigative resources. :-)

But the fact remains that it was a blogger, not an MSMer, who got the FBI documents and brought them to the attention of MSMers and bloggers alike. That fact illustrates the ultimate superiority of the Blogosphere - there are far more bloggers than MSMers and when the former brings to bear the wisdom of the crowd the latter simply cannot compete in timeliness and comprehensiveness of coverage.

But that's a different discussion for another time.

Curiously, Ververs doesn't answer my question to him about the discontinuity in descriptions of the condition of Joel Hinrichs' body after detonation of the bomb that killed him Oct. 1 while sitting on a bench near the University of Oklahoma's football stadium during the OU-Kansas State game.

Hinrichs' father told The Sunday Oklahoman Oct. 16 that he was shown by the FBI a photo of a "headless body." But the FBI's own eyewitness described seeing the instant after the explosion only "the bottom half of the man" who had been sitting on the bench.

Ververs also notes that he understands from CBS colleagues that the network's news staff has looked into the OU suicide bomber story and concluded there is no there there. That being the case, I am especially curious about how Ververs and the CBS News people who looked at the story explain the potentially quite significant variances in descriptions of Hinrichs' remains.

And, since Ververs has now told us CBS at least looked into the story but decided it didn't warrant further attention, let's also hear their thoughts on why the FBI so quickly declared Hinrichs a lone suicide with no apparent terrorist links, yet the agency and the federal Joint Task Force on Terrorism remained the lead investigating agency throughout the government's probe of the incident. It is standing FBI policy to defer to lower authorities when an explosive incident is determined not to be terrorist-linked.

There are indeed these and many more questions remaining unanswered about the OU Suicide Bomber. At a very minimum, the case demonstrates yet again that too often the public is left wondering about too much whenever the government insists on operating behind closed doors in such an investigation. The result is a lessening of the government's credibility and the encouragement of all kinds of unnecessary conspiratorial speculation and exploitation.