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THE OU BOMBER & BIAS AGAINST BLOGS

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By Michelle Malkin  •  October 17, 2005 02:36 PM

File this under “How the MSM ignores facts, smears blogs, and publishes snit fits disguised as responsible journalism.”

Last week, I received a media inquiry from Wall Street Journal media reporter Joe Hagan. He wanted to talk about blogs and the University of Oklahoma bomber story. Although I was dismayed to learn the only coverage of the incident from the august WSJ would be a story about the coverage, rather than an original investigative report, I thought it would be better than nothing.

I was wrong: Nothing would have been better.

Several times, Hagan asked leading questions about the blogosphere’s “conspiracy theories” regarding Joel Hinrichs. Several times, I stated clearly that I did not subscribe to any conspiracy theories–and that most of the blogs covering the story didn’t either. I explained that unlike the MSM, most of the blogs I have linked to were simply trying to find out the truth about the strange incident–and that meant keeping open the possibility that Hinrichs meant to commit murder and that he may have been swayed by extremist Islamic views.

There are a few folks out there who are absolutely convinced that Hinrichs was part of an organized terrorist plot. I made crystal-clear to Hagan I was not one of them. I don’t know what the truth is. I do know that Hinrichs tried to buy ammonium nitrate several days before the bombing, and that his bomb contained TATP, the same substance used by shoe bomber Richard Reid, and that the warrant used to execute a search of his apartment is sealed, and that the investigation of Hinrichs’ death is being led by the Joint Terrorism Task Force. I also know that an Oklahoma City television station reported that Hinrichs regularly attended a mosque, and that despite claims that the report is erroneous, the TV station is standing by its reporting.

What I stressed to Hagan was that several freelance Islamists have committed acts of violence in the U.S.–the LAX El Al Muslim gunman Hesham Hadayet, for example, and the Beltway snipers–and the MSM has done a lousy job of exploring their Islamist influences. Hagan interviewed me by phone last Wednesday and I made immediate reference to this post on my blog that day, which in turn linked to my column elaborating on these very points. He knew exactly where I was coming from, but he chose not to include any of this important context.

Didn’t fit his bloggers-are-reckless crackpots narrative.

I told Hagan that I thought the blogs were doing a fine job of trying to sort out fact from fiction. I pointed Hagan to this post by Daveed Gartenstein-Ross at The Counterterrorism Blog weighing what we know and don’t know about the case, which I linked to in my Cole anniversary post. And I pointed to Mark Tapscott’s ongoing coverage as a good example of original reporting by bloggers trying to advance the story as national MSM outlets sat on their hands.

I knew something was up when I didn’t hear a single click or clack from Hagan’s keyboard as I made these observations. Again, they didn’t fit the bloggers-are-reckless crackpots narrative.

No, the WSJ clearly intended to undercut and ridicule bloggers. And that’s exactly what Hagan and his colleague Ryan Chittum attempted to do:

To that unsettling set of facts, blogs and local Oklahoma TV stations added several apparent inaccuracies, including: that Mr. Hinrichs was a Muslim and visited the mosque frequently; that he tried to enter the stadium twice but was rebuffed; that he had a one-way airplane ticket to Algeria; that there were nails in the bomb and that Islamic extremist literature was found in his apartment.

None of these claims are true: Mr. Hinrichs’s family, university officials and the Federal Bureau of Investigation say Mr. Hinrichs suffered from depression, and the explosion was an isolated event.

At one point, Chittum and Hagan say that “none of these claims are true.” At another point they refer to the claims as “apparent inaccuracies.” Why include the modifier “apparent” if the reports are unequivocally false?

I spoke with Chittum (an OU graduate, as it turns out) by phone this morning. He blamed inclusion of the word “apparent” on his editors and maintained that the reports were unequivocally false–according to his sources, whom he would not name. I asked Chittum whether it would have been more accurate to write “None of these claims are true, according to Journal sources.” He said it was not necessary to add such a qualifier because he believed his sources.

So there!

Although Chittum and Hagan make fleeting mention of reporting by local television stations, they make it clear that their real beef is with the blogs. The title of their article, “Student’s Suicide Sets Off Explosion Of Theories by Blogs,” ignores TV stations altogether. (Standard disclaimer, of course: Chittum notes that he “didn’t write the headline.”)

While Chittum and Hagan singled out conservative blog coverage, they neglected to mention that CBS News blogger Vaughn Ververs published a noteworthy post and echoed the sentiment expressed here and on many blogs that the story is “one worth airing, whatever the facts are.”

Didn’t fit the narrative.

Or, as Chittum explained to me, there “wasn’t enough space.”

(Ververs, for the record, is now satisfied with the WSJ’s “debunking.” Not everyone is, though.)

The notion that Hinrichs might have been influenced by Islamist ideology got off the ground in large part because of information reported by Oklahoma City television stations. The story about Hinrichs’ visits to a local mosque was particularly important; it was broken by a local TV station that still stands by its report. The story that Hinrichs tried to enter the stadium also was broken by the same local TV station.

Oklahoma State Sen. Congressman Tom Cole asked a federal agent specifically whether the FBI found that the student intended to get inside the stadium. AP reports:

“He said, ‘We may never know. We have no evidence of a plan to do that, but we also couldn’t tell you definitively he didn’t try to do it and was rebuffed. We just simply don’t know,’ ” Mr. Cole said.

If these stories are proven true, the Oklahoma TV stations will be showered with praise. If they are proven false, well, then it’s all the blogs’ fault, in the WSJ reporters’ view.

Charles Johnson at Little Green Footballs, also mentioned in the WSJ article, writes that Hagan and Chittum misled readers about his views and posts:

One point to make in response: I advanced no speculative theories at LGF, simply asked legitimate questions based on the information available about this very curious case. Not only that, I deliberately shied away from covering the story in the first couple of days, when the only reports available were from unreliable sources.

Here’s the LGF post cited by the Journal: Jihad at the University of Oklahoma? The question mark is, of course, intended to signify that the story is questionable.

The really fascinating part of the story to me is the almost total lack of interest in the mainstream media.

And, I would add, the MSM’s petulant need to dump on those of us who find it newsworthy and are using our little blogs to cover it. One of the great strengths of the blogosphere, as Charles has said before, is its ability to engage in “open-source intelligence gathering.” Like the fallible MSM, the blogs have an information-gathering process that sometime gets it wrong. And sometimes gets it right. But the MSM have a fierce and vested interest in undermining and belitting blog endeavors to maintain their crumbling monopoly.

Notice how mainstream reporters rarely, if ever, highlight original blog reporting that debunks the myth of media elite supremacy:

– See Ed Morrissey’s AdScam reporting.

– Or Roger Simon’s U.N. Oil for Food coverage (Simon worked in tandem with WSJ columnist Claudia Rosett).

– Or Michael Yon’s dispatches from Iraq.

– Or Jeff Jarvis and the FCC.

– Or the ongoing Air America series by Brian Maloney and me.

– Or the reporting on, and analysis of, Jamaat ul-Fuqra at Gates of Vienna, The Politics of CP, and The Belmont Club.

I know there are tons of other examples out there. Feel free to track back.

John Hinderaker at Power Line, also cited in the WSJ article, gives the paper (which did not contact Power Line for comment) a well deserved slap worth quoting here at length:

There are two intractable facts that suggest that there was more going on here than an “individual suicide.” The Journal acknowledges both facts, but fails to deal with them. The first fact is that additional explosives were found in Hinrichs’ apartment:

In fact, authorities did find, in Mr. Hinrichs’s bedroom, additional explosive material. They detonated them at the police firing range the next day, jolting the city again.

Given that Hinrichs had enough explosives left in his apartment to “jolt the city,” isn’t it reasonable to wonder whether more was going on here than an “individual suicide”?

The second problematic, and undisputed, fact is that two days before his death, Hinrichs tried to buy a load of fertilizer at a feed store–the same material that Timothy McVeigh used to blow up the federal building in Oklahoma City. I suppose it is possible that someone could commit suicide by detonating a truckful of fertilizer, but I’ve never heard of it, and it certainly would be a roundabout way to do away with oneself. It is, on the other hand, a common method of committing a terrorist bombing.

So the Journal’s assurance that there is no story here is profoundly unconvincing. Especially so, in view of the fact that the paper gives no explanation of how it knows that “none of these claims are true.” In particular, it has been reported that Hinrichs, or someone like him, tried to enter the stadium but fled when a gate worker wanted to search his backpack. We have no idea whether these reports are accurate. I assume the FBI has investigated them. But the quote cited by the Journal for the proposition that “none of these claims are true” sheds no light at all on these important facts. The FBI simply said, on October 4, “At this time, there is no known link between Hinrichs and any terrorist or extremist organization(s) or activities.”

As we have said before, we have no independent knowledge of Joel Hinrichs. We don’t know whether he was a free-lance terrorist, part of an extremist group, or just a depressed student. But it simply won’t do to cite bland, “no known link” statements by the FBI as an excuse to sweep all questions under the rug. It is important to know whether Hinrichs intended a spectacular terrorist attack at an Oklahoma football game. If he did, it is important to know whether he was inspired by extremist ideology, and it is important to know whether he was part of an extremist group that is still operating. The answers to these questions may be No, No and No. But at this point, we have no reason to believe that the authorities actually know the answers. And the Journal’s effort to stifle discussion of the subject is unworthy of that newspaper.

Indeed.

Also make sure to read this post at The Jawa Report.

You want to hear something really funny? Even as the paper disparages bloggers, the Journal is fishing for links and exploring partnerships with us wacky nuts. On the day Hagan and Chittum’s article was published, WSJ.com writer Carl Bialik
helpfully e-mailed me a link to Hagan and Chittum’s article “that works for nonsubscribers.” Gee, thanks.

And then there’s this amusing e-mail I received in September:

Dear Michelle,

I’m writing from The Wall Street Journal’s Editorial page website, OpinionJournal.com. Our editors are interested in exploring a more integrated partnership with like-minded sites like yours. If this is of interest, would you direct me to the person our editors should contact for such a discussion?

Thank you in advance for your assistance.

Kind regards,
Kerry Ahern
Assistant Director of Business Development
The Wall Street Journal Online Network

(Guess someone forgot to tell Ahern about this and this.)

It has been fascinating to watch the MSM meltdown over the new media world. From Jonathan Klein to Bill Keller and now to the WSJ news pages, the old guard has tried desperately to pigeonhole bloggers as nothing more than frivolous rumor-mongerers in order to mask their angst about increasing competition.

I’d like to tell you more about the fascinating attitude towards blogs that I discovered at the Wall Street Journal. But media reporter Joe Hagan, who I was perfectly glad to speak with on the record last week, curiously and heatedly refused to pay me the same courtesy.

I’ll leave it to all my fellow conspiracy bloggers to wonder what Hagan said and how he said it…

***

Jason Smith writes about how Hagan mangled and ignored his main points about the story, too. Read Jason’s account of the interview here.

Sounds very similar to the conversation I had with Hagan. Agenda? What agenda?

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