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Reporter alleges libel over cult raid: KWTX employee files $15 million suit over allegation he tipped off Davidians

Reporter alleges libel over cult raid: KWTX employee files $15 million suit over allegation he tipped off Davidians

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A Waco television reporter who covered the raid at Mount Carmel is seeking $15 million in a libel lawsuit filed Monday against two other journalists and the parent companies for which they work.

John McLemore, reporter for KWTX-TV, alleges that statements made on television by Houston Chronicle reporter Kathy Fair and WFAA-TV reporter Valeri Williams damaged his reputation by implying that he was responsible for the deaths of four Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agents killed in the Feb. 28, 1993, raid.

McLemore, whose suit was filed in Waco’s 74th State District Court on the anniversary of the failed raid, was the only television reporter present when the agents stormed cult leader David Koresh’s Branch Davidian compound east of Waco.

McLemore and Channel 10 news photographer Dan Mulloney transported injured ATF agents from the scene in the station’s news vehicle after a cease-fire was negotiated.

The suit also names as defendants the Hearst Corp., which owns the Chronicle, the A.H. Belo Corp., which owns WFAA-TV, and Belo Productions Inc., which operates Channel 8 in Dallas.

The suit, filed for McLemore by Waco attorneys Felipe Reyna and Aubrey R. Williams, alleges that Fair libeled McLemore while appearing March 2, 1993, on the ABC-TV news show “Nightline.”

While discussing the role the media played the day of the raid, Fair reportedly “stated or otherwise inferred” that a Waco television reporter had intentionally alerted the Branch Davidians of the impending raid, the suit claims.

Fair said on the show that, up to that point, the role of the media had been discussed broadly, but ATF officials and other sources had declined to comment about their views of the media’s conduct that day, according to the suit.

“But unofficially, and off the record, I think many officers will tell you that they blame the media, particularly the local media, for the tragedy that occurred here,” Fair is quoted as saying in the lawsuit. “They think the fact that both the newspaper and a local television station who were already at the compound, some of whom, reporters for, I believe, the TV station, allegedly were already hiding in the trees when federal agents arrived.”

A Treasury Department review of the raid said that a chance meeting that morning between Channel 10 news photographer Jim Peeler and a mailman, who turned out to be a cult member, alerted Koresh to the raid. Channel 10 officials have denied that any of their employees compromised the raid.

“Because of Kathy Fair’s words, and the subsequent dissemination and republication of those words, plaintiff was immediately and repeatedly maligned as the individual responsible for the deaths of the four ATF agents on Feb. 28, 1993,” the suit claims.

Williams, the suit claims, “republished and elaborated upon” Fair’s comments for Channel 8. Williams said that if a reporter “indeed covertly tipped off the cult to gain a story, he had violated every journalistic ethic, and would be guilty of obstruction of justice,” the suit claims.

Williams declined comment on the suit Monday, as did WFAA-TV news director John Miller. McLemore did not return phone messages to Channel 10 Monday.

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