According to the Center for Public Integrity, immediately after the 1995 bombing in Oklahoma City, a relationship was established between the FBI and a senior ABC News reporter. The reporter’s identity remains unknown, but the document shows that the reporter initiated the contact and was cultivated as a source.
The incident is seen as a possible breach of journalistic ethics, raising questions about the relationship between government agencies and journalists who are supposed to hold the agencies accountable. Such a relationship could lead citizens to question whether reporting is or is not merely forwarding a government objective.
In this case, immediately after the bombing, the journalist was said to have volunteered information to the FBI which suggested there was possible Iraqi involvement in the bombing, which may have used agents from Afghanistan and Pakistan to pull it off. There were also hints of further targets in line for attack. The information was said to have come from the Saudi Arabian intelligence community.
In fact, the reporter received the information from a former CIA executive who as an ABC News consultant. As it turned out, the former CIA exec had shared the information with the FBI on his own, and had not authorized anybody at ABC to do the same. He said the information was uncorroborated and based on rumors being picked up by Saudi intelligence.
Of course, no Mideast connection to the bombing ever turned up, nor were there any further related attacks.
However, the relationship between the FBI and the reporter was said to have continued for at least a year.
The FBI has said it has rules in place strictly governing relationships with outside informers, including those in the media, and said there was no reason to believe they went unobserved in this case.
ABC has stated that it is unsure of the reporter’s identity, but doubts that the person is still employed at the network. The network added that it was concerned about any of its employees being involved in such a relationship.
Journalism ethics experts contacted by CPI were concerned about the report. “Obviously any reporter who is simultaneously working for a media outlet and giving info to the government has a conflict of interest,” said Jill Olmsted of American University’s School of Communication. She said that there are times when journalists must act to protect the public, but that working with government agencies as in this case was a “slippery slope.”