Jon Hersley and Pierre Thomas

Jon Hersley and Pierre Thomas

Inside Media: Jon Hersley and Pierre Thomas

June 29, 2008

Guests: Jon Hersley and Pierre Thomas

Facing the worst case of domestic terrorism in the United States at the time — the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah federal building in Oklahoma City in 1995 — law enforcement and the press faced similar challenges and goals, according to a reporter and an FBI agent who covered the bombing that killed 169 people.

Pierre Thomas, who covered the story for The Washington Post and is currently a Justice Department correspondent for ABC News, and Jon Hersley, the FBI’s lead case agent in the ensuing investigation, said they wanted to get accurate information to the public.

People in law enforcement "realize that is an important part of what a free society does in a situation like this," Thomas said. "I’m always heartened by that fact."

Still, the press may be asked to withhold certain details that could compromise an investigation.

"That can be more of a negotiated situation," Thomas said. "Usually we err on the side of waiting until it’s appropriate to report."

Hersley emphasized the need for a relationship of trust between the press and law enforcement. 

"You need to know who you’re talking with," he said. "You have to be careful about what kind of information you release."

He described the great responsibility that came with handling the case.

"You realize that you’re representing the citizens of our nation. You keep that in mind when you’re doing an investigation of this magnitude." 

Thomas, who later covered the events of September 11, 2001, and the shooting deaths of more than 30 people at Virginia Tech in 2006, described pausing for reflection at the Murrah building while he was reporting in Oklahoma City.

"It was a painful reminder of inhumanity, that someone was willing to do that level of violence against people," he said. "Part of my job is to cover what law enforcement and intelligence agencies are doing about it, hopefully with an open mind, but I think it’s something worth remembering."

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