Inside Media: Waco Remembered

August 23, 2008

Guests: Vicki Mabrey and Byron Sage

After rushing to the siege at the Branch Davidian compound near Waco, Texas, in 1993, Vicki Mabrey and Byron Sage each thought the ensuing standoff would last three or four days.

Instead, Mabrey, who was a Dallas-based correspondent for CBS News, and Sage, who was the FBI's chief negotiator, spent the next 51 days waiting for David Koresh and nearly eighty cult followers who had barricaded themselves inside the compound to surrender peacefully.

"It consumed my life for those two months," Mabrey said. "I had just come from local news, where you did not have anything like that."

Mabrey, and dozens of other news reporters, were relegated to a site more than a mile away from the compound. Mabrey said she found it frustrating, until they learned the reason.

"The idea was to get them as far out of that killing radius as we could," Sage explained, since the Davidians had artillery with a two-mile range. He added that the FBI tried to be responsive to the media's need to keep the compound visible during their reporting.

Sage experienced his own frustration with the media during one of his first telephone conversations with Koresh.

"All of a sudden, the operator cuts in and says, 'Excuse us, we have an emergency call from A Current Affair,'" he recounted. The tabloid-style television show spent an hour interviewing Koresh after Sage's telephone connection was cut.

Mabrey said the conclusion to the standoff — nearly all the remaining Davidians stayed inside the compound after deliberately setting it ablaze, killing more than 70 adults and children inside — left her emotionally "devastated."

"We interviewed some of the people that had come out, and to think that there were many more like them — sort of lost souls inside that building," she said.

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