Reporter's Deception Denounced p. 16

By: Greg Retsinas Ex-radio employee, now working for a small-town newspaper,
posed as a rescue worker to gain access across police
lines just hours after the Oklahoma City explosion sp.

HOURS AFTER THE Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building exploded in Oklahoma City on April 19, a reporter for the Chickasha Daily Express tagged along with a local county rescue team headed to the site, about 40 miles north of Chickasha.
The result was published two days later as a first-person account of one reporter's visit to the disaster site, moving behind police lines and into the debris only hours after the explosion occurred.
The incident has brought on public outrage from the rescuers themselves, the Grady County District Attorney and others over the reporter's acknowledged "poor judgment," as well as a reprimand for the journalist in question by her managing editor.
In Oklahoma City the night of the bombing, a Grady County rescue team, led by Civil Defense director Bill Crabb and members of the Grady County Fire Department, headed to the disaster site, accompanied by Daily Express news editor Brenda Moore, who had been writing a series of stories on the Grady County Civil Defense Incident Command System.
When the Grady County rescue squad was turned away from the scene and told its services were not immediately needed, Moore said she refused to take no for an answer, donned emergency rescue gear and sneaked onto the scene, as she detailed in her April 21 article.
Moore's tactics gave her access to the burned-out building, access coveted by, but denied to, hundreds of other media representatives from around the world waiting behind police lines three blocks away.
"It was something that happened; it was not planned," she said in an explanation published two days later.
Crabb said he allowed Moore to accompany the team but did not know that she would attempt on her own to use a county fire uniform to access the site.
Moore wrote: "Each step I took, I felt like someone would stop me and ask me what I was doing or who I was. Nobody did."
Also, Moore wrote that although officials from the Oklahoma Highway Patrol tried to stop her, she persevered out of a desire to get closer to the site.
"The frustration of being in the middle of a media carnival and not being allowed past that final gate . . . . It was just too much. I just had to get down that final block. I'd come too far," she wrote.
Moore added that she was "in bunker gear," to "look like one of the guys."
Her account concludes with Moore explaining how successfully her rescue-worker disguise worked.
"Cookies, anyone?" said a relief worker from Feed the Children. "Sure," I said. "Why not?"
Her story, accompanied by an editor's note explaining that the piece was assisted by various county rescue officials and her managing editor, was followed two days later by one in which she apologized for her story and acknowledged that she "took advantage" of the disaster and was caught up in a media "feeding frenzy."
Moore said later that stress during the aftermath of the bombing contributed to her decision to write a first-person account for the April 21 paper. She has written several other "hard news" stories regarding the incident.
Different county officials loaned her apparel to disguise herself as a rescue worker but assumed she would stay behind police lines.
"They didn't intend it, but their combined donations of attire allowed me to pass through the security gate," she wrote.
Grady County District Attorney Robert "Gene" Christian said that he was "appalled" after reading Moore's story, adding that impersonation of a firefighter is a misdemeanor. Chickasha (pop. 14,988) is the Grady County seat.
"I talked to a county commissioner who was not aware that she was using those items [boots, hats, rain gear] in that way," Christian said. "My office told her editor that I found the story disgusting," Christian said.
The D.A. said that if Oklahoma City were under his jurisdiction, he would have filed criminal charges against the reporter.
The newspaper's managing editor, Kent Bush, said that while he did read the story before publication, he "understood what she was trying to say."
Later, he gave Moore a reprimand for her crossing of police lines. But Bush emphasized that Moore had done nothing wrong and was only doing her job in the midst of a disaster site.
"This is blown out of proportion," he said. "When the emotions of the event are gone, people will see that this was no big deal," Bush said.
The editor said that he is concerned, however, about the impact the article had on the community.
"I feel used and abused," said Crabb. "I trusted that paper, and that trust is not there anymore."
According to Crabb, he allowed Moore to accompany his rescue team because she had been covering his office closely for previous stories. He said he was told that Moore would write about the Grady County team's role in responding.
"I think it stinks. She did not show any respect for anybody," Crabb said.
Moore, a reporter at the paper for about six months, and, before that, an employee at radio stations in Oklahoma, Texas and Louisiana, said she has learned from this experience.
"I had to get in, to get a picture," Moore said. "As a reporter and a citizen. Stress ? and the need for a story ? spurred the article. I was overwhelmed and lacked focus," she said this week.
"I mourn for my poor judgment and will use this as a learning experience. But I didn't do anybody any harm. I just wrote from my emotions," Moore said. Moore's apology, however, did not ring true with Karen Goodwin, editor of the Rush Springs Gazette, a weekly newspaper located south of Chickasha in Grady County.
In her April 27 edition, Goodwin blasted Moore's reporting as "unethical" and "giving a black eye to the profession.
"I'm outraged at her," Goodwin wrote. "Reporters are supposed to do their reporting with honesty and compassion and without breaking the law."
?(The Alfred P. Murrah federal building sits in ruins April 19, shortly after a bomb blast tore through it. In the hours immediately following the explosion, a reporter for the Chickasha Daily Express, posing as a rescue worker, crossed police lines. Her subsequent reporting of her ruse has brought criticism from her journalistic colleagues.) [Photo & Picture]


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