Getting it wrong the easy way

Former MPR colleague Bob Ingrassia, now at Fast Horse, drops an e-mail today to call attention to his confession, an important read in the aftermath of the Connecticut tragedy.

In it, Ingrassia describes his work as a reporter in Dallas while covering the April 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah federal building in Oklahoma City, which killed 168 people.

Ingrassia filed a story about bomber Timothy McVeigh’s tenancy at an Arizona trailer park.

A few reporters clustered around a guy named Bob Evans, who said he worked at the trailer park. We were trying to find the trailer park owner, who’d been quoted in the local papers, but Evans told us the owner was sleeping. So we peppered Evans with questions about this monster named McVeigh.

Evans did not disappoint us. He pointed to a trailer where he said McVeigh lived. He regaled us with tales about a brash, beer-drinking guy who had two dogs and an unruly demeanor. Notebooks and tape recorders in hand, the reporters gobbled up the juicy tidbits.

I was thrilled. I gladly accepted a beer from Evans and had my picture snapped in front of the “McVeigh Trailer.”

But even from the little I’d already read and heard about McVeigh, this description struck me as odd. He was said to be a quiet, clean-cut guy who generally kept to himself. Why would he show up in Kingman and be such a different person?

No matter. I called the Dallas newsroom and fed my details to the reporter writing our profile of McVeigh.

But the trailer park owner was wrong. He’d gotten his tenants mixed up.

Because his mistake was made in the dead-tree business, when only CompuServe and Prodigy passed for “new media,” he gives social media a bit of a break.

Though few of us cover mass murderers in our journalism career, we’ve all got stories about the stories we got wrong. None of them is pretty.