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PostWatch: An irregular correction to the Washington Post

Brought to you by Christopher Rake


Sunday, October 27, 2002
7:54 PM

Loose Ends Dept.... About that license plate number that snagged John Muhammad and his accomplice...The news media has been congratulating itself on the side, if you know where to look, for helping to apprehend them, and they're right. But it looks like just dumb luck. Take a look at the timeline. CNN released the plate number & car make & model around ten p.m. that evening. The trucker phoned in the ID around 1 a.m. (and someone else may have beat him to the punch; there are conflicting stories). That means there was maybe a three-hour window during which the information was getting out there. Well, Muhammad & Malvo were asleep when seized by police. they were either asleep or just not listening to the radio during that the crucial period. This could have easily turned out otherwise: they hear about the license plate, dump the car and disappear.

Now, just as it was with the Tarot card incident, it appears that CNN and other news outlets confirmed the information and were not told to suppress it. If nothing else, it looks like people inside the investigation were at odds with Chief Moose, who clearly could have been more forthcoming with the media than he was. But nabbing these guys was a very close thing, and it's not at all clear to me that CNN and the rest of them did the right thing at the time.

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