As one would expect, Malcolm Gladwell does an excellent job of telling the inside story of the 1993 FBI siege of the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas.
He focuses on cult leader David Koresh himself and the way the FBI handled the negotiations. As you know, the negotiations failed and the compound was incinerated, killing scores of people, among them many children.
Given his limited focus one understands why Gladwell ignores the larger context of the Waco holocaust, but still, one is struck by what is missing from the story.
It feels like the dog that didn’t bark.
If you had not known it beforehand, you would not know, from reading the article, who was running the American executive branch at the time. The name of Bill Clinton does not appear anywhere in the story. Neither does that of the attorney general who was ostensibly in charge: Janet Reno. Nor does Gladwell mention the name of the deputy White House counsel at the time, one Vince Foster, former law partner of Hillary Clinton. You recall that Foster killed himself a few months after Waco.
After all, the siege dragged out for weeks. To imagine that top administration officials were not involved is to blind oneself to the obvious.
And yet, Gladwell may be more subtle than we imagine. He convincingly knocks down one of the pillars of the standard media narrative.
From the beginning the media has placed the blame squarely on David Koresh. It painted him as a fanatic who wanted to die in a blaze of glory.
Gladwell points out that that was not the case. And he adds that the FBI negotiators manifested a high level of incompetence.
Undoubtedly, he does not have the true story about the inner workings of the Clinton administration. Yet, in omitting the larger context he has pointed us to the higher-ups who were surely pulling the strings.
If the American press had been more diligent and less corrupt the events at Waco would have been investigated. They might even have become a signature event in the Clinton administration. A full investigation might even have shown that future presidential candidate Hillary Clinton might have been personally involved.
Let’s give Gladwell the benefit of the doubt and say that, by emphasizing how badly the FBI handled the situation, he is inviting us to speculate about who was in charge of the agencies that were handling the crisis.