When reporter Kathie Durbin came into my office Friday morning she didn’t grab a fat-free, no-preservative, low-sodium Red Vine twist.
Even though she loves those things, that was not her mission. Her mission was to give me a little news.
“Remember when you said all stories run their course?”
Yes, I said, I do remember that.
Well, she showed me a brown envelope. It was something from the FBI. And it had to do with a story we all thought had run its course long ago:
U.S. Rep. Brian Baird and a telephoned death threat.
o o o
Let’s go back to the summer of 2009. Baird was in the middle of a raging national firestorm. The national health care debate — yep, the same one you’re still hearing about today — was in full throat, and politicians were hearing about it from more than a few of their constituents. They were loud, proud and itching for a fight.
Baird knew it would be no picnic — during a break in the action in D.C. — to come home and hold a town hall meeting with health care dominating the agenda.
So he had this brainstorm. He’d hold a sort of phone town hall meeting. It would be safer, he said.
After all, there were a bunch of not-too-friendly folks out there — Brownshirt types. And guys like that Timothy McVeigh nut who loaded up a Ryder rental truck with explosives and blew up a federal building in Oklahoma City.
Baird eventually held real town hall meetings and apologized for all the name-calling.
Of course, not everyone moves along after hearing an apology, and Baird made note of some guy who left a threatening phone message.
Something like, “I got your Ryder rental truck right here, buddy.”
Baird said he turned the threat over to the U.S. Capitol Police.
o o o
This created yet another mess for Baird. It had our blogger friends in full throat.
Was there really a death threat? Was Baird making it all up to provide cover for initially not wanting to do town hall meetings? Was anything really turned over to the D.C. police?
Yet another story for us. We went after it, but — and this will be a surprise to many of you I’m sure — the Capitol Police weren’t talking.
After weeks of trying, we finally were able to squeeze out of these guys that there was an investigation. But they couldn’t talk about it.
One local blogger did a little reporting on his own.
“I spoke with (a) very polite and helpful lady (in records and reports) who is responsible for typing and submitting any kind of a report like Brian Baird is claiming was filed. She said that if anything like that had happened to any member of Congress, she would know about it. She had heard nothing, repeat Nothing like what Brian Baird claims to have reported to the Capitol Hill Police.”
But, of course, it had been reported to the Capitol Police. We did the story on it, and we also did stories that it had been turned over to the FBI, and the FBI had concluded it was not a serious threat.
o o o
But now — after months of waiting — we received a response to our Freedom of Information request.
Again, we had already reported the important stuff, so had this story already run its course?
The way I see it, if we didn’t give readers the extra info, the slow governmental bureaucracy would win. Plus, there were some interesting details we had not yet reported. So on Saturday our story on what we found appears in The Columbian.
Lou Brancaccio is The Columbian’s editor. Reach him at 360-735-4505 or firstname.lastname@example.org.