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PostWatch: An irregular correction to the Washington Post

Brought to you by Christopher Rake


Monday, October 14, 2002
10:48 PM

Self-serving baloney from WUSA's Gordon Peterson, the avuncular top anchor at the local CBS affiliate that broke the story revealing the sniper left a Tarot card near one of the incidents. Linked via, this is a CNN transcript from Reliable Sources, hosted by the Post's Howard Kurtz (whew!):

KURTZ: Joining us now, Gordon Peterson, news anchor at Washington's Channel 9 WUSA-TV....

Gordon Peterson, we just heard once again Chief Moose ripping into your station. What was your reaction when you heard those charges for the first time?

GORDON PETERSON, WUSA-TV ANCHOR: My reaction was I think the chief needs a nap. I mean I think he's exhausted and I actually have some sympathy for his position here. But in terms of what we did, what we put on the air, we're very comfortable with it.

Sounds like Peterson & Co. were stung. "I think the chief needs a nap?"


KURTZ: But of course he argued that the media in general, Channel 9 in particular, might be hurting the investigation by putting out details like this Tarot card that the cops wanted to hold back.

PETERSON: Well, our reporter, Mike Buchanan, who has been doing this for a long time has unimpeachable and exhaustive sources in law enforcement. That's where the story came from.

KURTZ: That means somebody wanted it out.

PETERSON: Of course.


PETERSON: A couple of hours before airtime, he ran it past the jurisdiction it involves, said you know the chief ought to know about this. We have no comment on the evidence that was picked up at the scene.

KURTZ: No requests. Please don't put this on the air.

PETERSON: Don't put it on...

KURTZ: Please hold this back.

PETERSON: ... investigation and so forth. In fact, Buchanan sources -- there was more on this card than we reported -- his sources said why don't you sit on this part of it for a while? It will help us in terms of identifying this guy down the road, perhaps.

KURTZ: So you did partially withhold...


KURTZ: ... part of the message...

PETERSON: ... sure, at the request of...

KURTZ: ... at the request of...

PETERSON: ... his sources within law enforcement.

Okay, earlier I said that a CNN reporter said WUSA did not know about the second part of the message. The first part, broadcast, was something like "Dear Police: I am God." The second part, which didn't come out till later, was his request that the police not leak the message to the press. I said at the time that I couldn't blame WUSA for reporting their first story, all the more so if their sources didn't ask them to hold back. But if this exchange means WUSA knew the killer asked the message not to be leaked, then the station has recklessly endangered, let's see, my life, going ahead with its story based on one faction inside law enforcement that wanted to freelance it. And the following comment is tiresome journalistic boilerpate:

PETERSON: Well, "The Washington Post" or Channel 9 are not adjuncts of the Montgomery County Police Department or the Prince George's County Police Department. We are independent, and we do make judgment calls on our own. Pentagon papers would be a case in point. A lot of people were upset about that too.

Whether anyone is upset has zip to do with the soundness of this decision either way. Yeah, you're not an adjunct of the police department, nice going for that tough j-school insight. The only question that matters is whether you used good judgment or bad. Reporters do not live on Mars and are not some sacred alien force immune from the obligations of human society. Help us catch the murderer or shut up.

Not much to like in the current scene. I don't think it's asking too much for the Montgomery County chief of police to speak English properly. Dat? Wif? Not a real confidence-builder.

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