McVeigh doc leaves unanswered questions
Review by Chris Graham
I was finally able to watch the MSNBC documentary on Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh – “The McVeigh Tapes: Confessions of an American Terrorist,” which debuted on April 19, the 15th anniversary of the domestic terrorist bombing.
All in all, I liked it, even if it was hard to get used to the camera trick that was the staging that the producers used to bring the doc to life. The tapes are just that, audio tapes recorded by journalist Lou Michel in a series of jailhouse interviews with McVeigh, an Army veteran-turned-antigovernment extremist who built a 7,000-pound bomb in a Ryder truck that he parked outside a courthouse in Oklahoma City and detonated, killing 168 people.
MSNBC decided to add life to the tapes and snippets of interviews with Michel, other journalists and survivors and survivors’ families by adding some docudrama to the mix, including digitally altering the appearance of an actor who portrayed McVeigh at various stages of the story.
For whatever reason, the storyboarding was widely panned by the critics, who we have to presume prefer their documentaries with graphics from the early ’70s and soundtracks from “Spartacus.”
My one quibble with the production isn’t with MSNBC (OK, I don’t get the casting of Rachel Maddow was narrator; now, I’m done with them), but with Michel, and I use the word quibble with purposeful intent.
At one point in their interviews, McVeigh goes into great detail about how he broke down and cried at the TV reports of the incident in Waco, Texas, in 1993 that led to the deaths of several members of an extremist group and a number of law-enforcement officers. Then we get McVeigh in great detail boasting about how even when he was executed (and he was, in 2001, for his crimes, two years after the jailhouse interviews), the scoreboard would still read 168-1 in his favor.
An arrogant sucker, indeed, and he deserved to be brought down a peg or two, and Michel could have been the guy to do it.
“So, Tim, let me get this straight. You cried over Waco, but you’re singing with glee over Oklahoma City. Do you have any idea what a hypocrite you are?” Michel could have asked him.
Instead, as far as we know, McVeigh went to the death chamber thinking he had fought back against the big bully that he saw the United States government being.
Sure, the interviews would have been over the second Michel would have turned the conversation in that direction, but what the hay, right?