Reporters denied access to Oklahoma City bombing videotapes
COLORADO–A federal District Court in Denver ruled that reporters from Oklahoma City’s KFOR-TV cannot see video camera surveillance tapes recorded before and during the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City by security cameras mounted around the building.
The court said in late October that the tapes are covered by a protective order issued to keep evidence secret in proceedings against Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols and that they are exempt from the Freedom of Information Act under the law enforcement exemption covering potential interference with enforcement proceedings (Exemption 7a) and impeding a fair trial (Exemption 7b).
KFOR reporters Melissa Klinzing and Brad Edwards asked the FBI for the tapes in June 1995, long before any protective order was issued by the court. The FBI denied the request initially and on administrative appeal. The reporters then filed suit in federal District Court in Oklahoma City in February 1996. The FOI case was removed to Colorado so that it could be considered along with the criminal case against McVeigh and Nichols.
The reporters’ attorney told the court that the law enforcement exemption should be used only when there is a danger of witness intimidation or of compromising confidential sources. Here disclosure would not pose these risks, he said. Additionally, the government had plenty of time to gather and use any information from the documents, he said.
But the government argued that the premature public release of potential trial evidence could interfere with the government’s effort to have the case tried without the “intrusion of public opinion or speculation about potential evidence and trial strategy.” (Palmer Communications v. Department of Justice; Media Counsel: Jon Epstein, Oklahoma City)