"His few friends and many casual acquaintances say he doesn't drink, smoke or take drugs. He doesn't curse or chase women. He is frugal and keeps his room neat and orderly. He prefers listening to talking. He is intelligent, loyal and polite. He is concerned with justice."
Sounds like a nice fellow, you might think--a flat-out, all-American Boy Scout.
But no! The Dallas Morning News explains. Those admirable traits are simply proof that the subject of the discussion--suspected Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh--is flat-out nuts.
"The very qualities that make Mr. McVeigh appear admirable on the surface can also be the hallmarks of paranoia...." reporters Scott Parks and Victoria Loe explain.
Couldn't they also be the hallmarks of normalcy?
This psycho-babble--which adorned the top of page one (and helped fill two full pages inside) of last Sunday's Morning News--comes from Robert Ressler, a retired FBI special agent identified as "an internationally known criminologist."
Ressler is the News' expert du jour--only he got a better deal than most of the experts the News quotes.
He got paid for his off-the-cuff wisdom.
It worked like this. The News wanted to reconcile McVeigh's straight-arrow background with the likelihood that he committed the Oklahoma City bombing.
So, in a venture into the dubious practice of checkbook journalism, it hired Ressler.
The 58-year-old former G-man has impressive credentials. Boasting a master's degree in science from Michigan State--no, he's not a shrink--he developed the FBI's "Criminal Personality Profiling program" and has "consulted with police departments nationwide.
Most impressive (at least to the News), "he served as consultant for Silence of the Lambs, both the book and movie."
His use to the News?
Loe and Parks--beneath a banner headline reading, "McVeigh fits pattern of notorious killers, experts say"--explained it this way: "Mr. Ressler...was retained by The Dallas Morning News to assess Mr. McVeigh's personality."
Much like a courtroom hired-gun--a role Ressler has served in the past--he did the job he was paid to perform: he explained how McVeigh's behavior is consistent with infamous killers he has known and met--including Ted Bundy, Charles Manson, David Berkowitz, and John Gacy.
Ressler explained how it all fit the pattern, but with so many qualifications (including, most significantly, that he'd never spent a moment with McVeigh) as to limit the value of the opinion. (We don't know whether it was worth what he got paid, since the News doesn't disclose the amount.)
An early quote from Ressler shows how he skillfully hedges his bets: "There are strong dynamics of this guy's life that indicate paranoid personality, and that could have been the driving force for the crime, if in fact he did it."
Loe and Parks note that Ressler's opinions "are based primarily on what has been learned about Mr. McVeigh from friends, acquaintances and court records that have become public during the bombing investigation."
The News went through the motions of giving McVeigh his due, writing, in one of the package's two stories: "Only a jury can determine whether Mr. McVeigh, a 27-year-old tank gunner turned drifter, made and delivered the bomb that killed 168 people in Oklahoma City.
"He has not denied it. Asked point-blank by Newsweek, he said only that he will plead not guilty."
Then it was off to the races.
"But Mr. Ressler said the Green Beret wannabe shows many signs of the parnaoid personality type responsible for tragedies from Dealey Plaza to Jonestown. In short, he said, the perpetrators of such crimes are driven by deep-seated insecurities to perform what they consider feats of heroism."
McVeigh's lawyer Stephen Jones dismissed Ressler's analysis, noting "I would place no stock in anyone who has not talked to my client."
That prompted only a slight bit of backtracking from Ressler: "Whether McVeigh did it, I don't know, but he seems to fit the pattern."
Buttressing Ressler's analysis was a second expert, one who apparently offered his wisdom to the News at no charge.
Write Loe and Parks: "Self-absorption is common to the children of divorced parents, said Dr. Richard A. Ratner, a forensic psychiatrist at George Washington University in Washington D.C. Deprived of normal love and attention, they are sometimes forced to create their own psychological support system. And even late in life, their isolation can emerge in an acute narcissism or the kind of paranoia described by Mr. Ressler."
It is clear, the writers explain at length, that McVeigh was paranoid, sexually ambivalent, and collected guns.
Notwithstanding the paper's eagerness to win a Pulitzer for its coverage of the Oklahoma City bombing, two things about this copyrighted coverage in Dallas' Only Daily are downright surprising.
The first is the paper's descent into the scurrilous practice of checkbook journalism. Paying for information--even from someone with a fancy degree, who was "retained"--is the province of sleazy supermarket tabloids and TV talk shows.
The second is how at odds this approach is with the News' longstanding obsession with "fairness." Was Ressler going to conclude that McVeigh didn't fit the pattern of Deadly Men I Have Known? Would he study the facts and conclude that McVeigh was innocent? Was he really looking at the case objectively?
Of course not.
He had been hired to buttress a preconceived conclusion: that McVeigh is guilty, guilty, guilty. In fact, he may well be. But that doesn't justify the disingenuous and cowardly device of hiring an expert to justify the paper's preconceived conclusions.
Lest there be any doubt about the News' take on the case, BeloWatch simply notes that Loe and Parks end one of their pieces by quoting Ressler musing about how McVeigh might thrive behind bars.
"Prison is not a bad place for people like McVeigh or Charles Manson," he said. "Prison is a pretty good deal--for losers.