By: M.L. Stein
Editor of newspaper in Kingman, Ariz., where suspected Oklahoma
City bomber lived, says media wrongly categorized the community sp.
EVERY SO OFTEN, a small-town newspaper scrambles to cover a big story in its own backyard, which also happens to be overrun with reporters from the world’s media.
Such is the case of the Daily Miner (circ. 8,518) in Kingman, Ariz., where Timothy J. McVeigh, the chief suspect in the Oklahoma City bombing, and others linked to him lived.
Miner editor Tim Wiederaenders is as excited as any other journalist about the story, but he shares the general feeling in the community that Kingman is undeservedly getting a bad press.
“The media is playing us as a redneck town,” Wiederaenders said. “The last time I saw a redneck here is when I played golf. The red neck was mine.”
Until the bombing investigation, Kingman’s main claim to fame was in being one of the stops on historic Route 66. In fact, the song named after the highway mentions Kingman on that route where you “get your kicks.”
But a number of news stories have described Kingman as a hangout for a variety of anti-social types whose attitudes led to the destruction of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building. One article reported that civilians wearing holstered guns were a common sight on the streets. A story in the Sydney Morning Herald drew howls of rage in the community. The head read: “Pro-gun, anti-Jew and full of hate. Welcome to Kingman, a town whose people believe the Oklahoma City bombing was a government setup.”
Miner staff writer William Quinn reported in a story that the massive influx of media and federal agents has left the impression that Kingman is a “rural hideout for anti-government groups that may someday revolt and start a civil war.”
Kingman police chief Carroll Brown was quoted as complaining that the city is “getting a black eye for what’s happening in the area. What did he [McVeigh] do in Kingman that was so bad? He had a mail drop and a job at True Value, but what has he done here that was bad?”
The Miner weighed in with an editorial, charging that the desert town 160 miles northwest of Phoenix was getting a “bad rap.”
“As for Timothy McVeigh . . . he had to live somewhere,” the piece went on. “Does that mean Kingman is infested with or is a ‘hotbed’ for anti-government people? No. Where’s the proof? We would appreciate balance in this scenario. The world is only seeing one side of this equation. What about all the good that Kingman has or does? We doubt the media will be doing many sidebars telling how good a place Kingman is.”
In another commentary, the Miner said media coverage of Kingman (pop. 15,000) “has created the impression that this region of Arizona is rife with semi-deranged, gun-toting fanatics . . . . The virtues of this northwest community were muted at best, but largely ignored.”
Wiederaenders said he stopped counting the number of media arrivals at about 60 ? coming from as far as London and Sydney, Australia. Virtually every motel room in the surrounding area was occupied by reporters, photographers and FBI agents, he recalled. Dozens of other newspapers and broadcast stations from around the world phoned the Miner and the sheriff’s office, where the FBI had set up a command post.
“They were even calling me at home from the East Coast,” he said.
But it was not so much the media swarm that bothered him as their perceived style of reporting, Wiederaenders observed.
“I honestly believe that very often when a reporter goes someplace for a story and finds a source willing to talk to him, he runs with it,” the editor said.
In the case of Kingman, Wiederaenders contended, the source often was misinformed or “did not represent the entire story. I have told my reporters they must have at least two sources for every story. I can’t count the number of stories I’ve read that only quoted one source in Kingman who was supposed to characterize the town. And very often that source was anonymous.”
The broadcast media representatives were the worst, Wiederaenders asserted.
“Some of them would come in the newsroom and ask me, ‘Where do I go?’ ” he recounted. “Some TV stations sent only a cameraman and a technician, who acted as the reporter.”
However, he did see some examples of responsible reporting, Wiederaenders said. He allowed he was particularly impressed with the “professionalism” of reporters from the New York Times and Los Angeles Times. But, overall, he remarked, the reporting was marred by needless exaggeration.
For example, he said, although Arizona allows citizens to carry guns, he has seen only two men openly toting weapons in the five years he has lived in Mohave County.
“I would describe Kingman as a conservative, well-rounded town with tourism, industry, ranching and everything in between,” Wiederaenders said.
Still, the Miner wasn’t about to let the out-of-town press outshine it on its own turf. The afternoon daily turned out a number of news stories and sidebar features on McVeigh and the investigation.
For one sidebar, Quinn went to a junior high school whose students took up a collection for Oklahoma City relief efforts. But he also interviewed kids who seemed as concerned about Kingman’s image as their parents and the city fathers.
“We’re getting a bad rep,” lamented one youngster. “People may think Arizona and Kingman are filled with people like that and we don’t want to be stereotyped as a bad town that’s full of terrorists.”
Quinn and staffer Kim Smith also dug into the question of whether Kingman has an organized militia group. No firm evidence of one, they reported.
And then there was the story of one Tim McVey, formerly of Kingman and now a Phoenix resident, who wanted everyone to know, “I am not him [Timothy McVeigh].”
McVey said his parents, who still live in Kingman, have weathered a “press barrage” at their home.
The Miner also wove the city’s Route 66 Fun Run, an annual celebration, into the bombing probe.
Several of the some 50 FBI agents arriving in town couldn’t get motel rooms because they had been booked weeks in advance for the festivities, the paper disclosed.
?(Kingman Daily Minor) [Photo]