Around noon Wednesday, Fox 25 reporter Phil Cross posted an article teasing his story that would run that evening.
“Unclassified FBI documents show new details about OU suicide bombing,” the headline read. Within, the following statements offered riveting intrigue:
For the first time, Fox 25 has the once secret FBI reports about the investigation.
The records are revealing there is much more to the story than what the public was told in 2005.
But after viewing Cross’ resultant report, I can safely say that claim is misleading and dishonest.
Any excuse to say ‘OU bombing’ on TV
The station devoted its Wednesday piece almost entirely to re-reporting how Joel H. Hinrichs III killed himself Oct. 1, 2005.
By spending air time on 10-year-old news, Cross created a classic example of journalists implying scandal when there is none.
“These documents show what the public was told about the investigation in 2005 did not include all the information about the troubled young man who built a bomb and took it on campus,” Cross says to introduce his package.
That’s one hell of an intriguing stand-up. The only problem?
At least not in any sort of compelling, responsible journalism way.
As a newspaperman who thoroughly covered the Hinrichs bombing when it happened and who has now read the FBI documents Cross obtained, I believe the public did have essentially “all the information” alluded to in Fox 25’s report.
I know I sure did, based upon press statements, interviews and a background meeting with high-ranking OU officials.
I know colleagues at The Oklahoma Daily, the AP and many other publications worked long hours pursuing leads and interviewing involved parties while conspiracy theorists bandied about terrorism allegations on crude 2005-era blogs.
But all these years later, Cross’ story implies that FBI documents include shocking revelations about the controversial event.
Is there evidence Hinrichs tried to enter the OU Memorial Stadium during the football game?
Did Hinrichs attend or associate with members of Norman’s mosque?
Did Hinrichs’ acquaintances think he intended to kill other people?
Did press statements from the FBI — which were few and far between until the investigation concluded — mislead the public?
Did they cover up controversial details?
The answer, of course, is “no” to all of those questions.
It’s no wonder OU President David Boren refused to do an interview with Cross for the story.
Reminder of a man’s suicide
The declassified 37 pages of FBI documents did elicit a few new details, such as emails between Hinrichs and others in which he talked about depression and not knowing how to ask girls on dates.
But the documents and Fox 25’s four-minute report also omit other well-known elements of the story, such as the saga of Hinrichs’ partially-deaf Pakistani roommate (which was redacted in the FBI papers).
And, fortunately, Cross left out the brick drama.
In the end, the KOKH news department is still waiting for hundreds (if not thousands) of other redacted FBI documents relating to the case. Perhaps there will be shocking information within, perhaps not.
But Wednesday night’s story — which aired, of course, during the middle of a Nielsen sweeps period — promised scandal and salaciousness that it did not deliver.
Instead, somewhere in this digital ocean, the awkward online tease of Phil Cross’ rehashed file footage likely caught the attention of Hinrichs family members.
If it did, it served to remind them of Joel’s suicide and to re-tell a sad, 10-year-old story that those of us who paid attention already knew.