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Talbot on KQED re: Bari Case

KQED TV, Friday, April 12, 2002. "This Week in Northern California." Host: Belva Davis. Guests: Steve Talbot, Documentary film editor and series editor for Frontline World, David Lazarus, Business Columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle, Rita Williams, reporter with KTVU TV in Oakland. Steve Ginsberg, a reporter with the San Francisco Business Times.

[Opening shots of Oakland car-bombing scene, May 1990. Then a pan-back shot of the huge Oakland Federal Building...]

Davis: Who bombed Judi Bari? Twelve years later the case against the FBI goes to trial. We'll have explosive new evidence. …

Davis: It's been more than a decade since a bomb exploded in the car of Earth First activists Judi Bari and Darryl Cherney. The lawsuit they filed against the FBI and the Oakland Police went to court this week. In 1991, the only suspects the FBI pursued were Bari and Cherney themselves, accusing them of being eco-terrorists. Cherney and Bari claimed innocence and questioned why there were no other suspects. So, Steve Talbot, you've covered this story from the beginning, you've followed it since. What new evidence or information can you tell us about tonight?

Talbot: Well basically, what I want to tell you and the world tonight is something that I've kept a secret for ten years, which has been an unsettling and strange experience for a journalist. I reported in the documentary in 1991 here on KQED that the FBI and the Oakland Police Department I felt really had made a rush to judgment on the case against Judi Bari and Darryl Cherney. And it's kind of a minor miracle that they have gotten this case, a decade later, into court where they can debate that. But the issue that's still unresolved is, Who actually bombed Judi Bari? And that's not really being discussed in the case in Oakland right now, I'm afraid. What I have to report is that Judi Bari, who I became quite close with — I had first written an article for Mother Jones magazine about her, and then done the documentary here — we became quite close and about two-thirds of the way through making the documentary she took me aside and confided that she was very fearful of her ex-husband, a man named Michael Sweeney. She said that Sweeney had physically abused her, that he had raped her, and then she went on to say that in 1980 he had firebombed the Santa Rosa airfield. That was a fire that nearly killed a flight instructor who was in the hangar at the time that the blaze went off, caused over $200,000 in damage, 100-200 foot flames, one of the big old World War II hangars was destroyed. Judi Bari told me that Michael Sweeney constructed the bomb that set off that explosion in their house which was next to the Santa Rosa airfield, that she saw him do it, that she asked him not to do it, and he went ahead and did it. She did not know, and I still do not know, who put that bomb in that car. But someone tried to kill her and the secret that she took to her grave was that she thought it might be her ex-husband. I never said that at the time because she was a source. She told me that in confidence. And when the documentary came out she denounced me for even hinting at some of this in the program. And I couldn't defend myself. A lot of people said, Well, why don't you just say what's going on? — people here at KQED. I said, No, I can't do that. Journalists play by certain rules, she was a source, I can't say it. Now, she told this to my private investigator and co-producer on the program, David Helvarg. Also some of her closest friends, part of her legal advisor team, and her political allies came to me at the time and said, We don't know for sure, but we are concerned about this guy Michael Sweeney. It would be negligent not to pursue that investigation.

Lazarus: Was Sweeney implicated in these other incidents you're describing? Is he under investigation now? 

Talbot: He is not. As far as I know, he is not. He refused to talk to us. Of all the loggers, all the logging companies, all the suspects in this show that we investigated ten years ago, every single person spoke to us except Michael Sweeney. 

Ginsberg: Where is he now? 

Talbot: He lives in the Mendocino area. I believe he's in Willits. He runs a recycling business. He's lying very low now that the trial is on. And I want to emphasize, I do not know and Judi did not know who put the bomb in the car. I don't know if it was Michael Sweeney. But what I'm saying here tonight is that he is a person who is worthy of investigation by anyone who really wants to know who bombed Judi Bari. 

Williams: But isn't the trail too cold now? Isn't the evidence gone? 

Talbot: It's a problem. But there's one key to this case. Everyone, all sides agree, the FBI, the Oakland Police Department, Darryl Cherney, Bari's estate, her legal team, that the key to this case is something called The Lord's Avenger Letter, which was an anonymous letter sent to Mike Geniella at the Santa Rosa Press Democrat saying, I claim that I did this bombing. It was written in kind of mock-fundamentalist, Christian rhetoric, it said it was a person who was anti-abortion and had done the bombing because she was pro-choice. I investigated someone like that up there, a former football player, who I found probably had not done this. Anyway… I'm sorry, I lost my train of thought here. 

Williams: Did Judi Bari never tell authorities about her suspicions? 

Talbot: No. She never did. 

Williams: No one close to her after she died ever told authorities that there was this possibility? 

Talbot: No. And there are witnesses now appearing in that case in Oakland who have been on the stand this week, who know exactly what I'm telling you. And they haven't said… And let me finish — I'm sorry — on this Lord's Avenger letter. Because this still could be an answer to this case. Everyone says, Whoever wrote that Lord's Avenger letter knew who did the bombing or actually did do the bombing because there's so many details about the construction of the bomb, the timing and so forth. Everyone agrees on that. Bari's legal team, Darryl Cherney's legal team, did DNA sampling of that letter. The FBI gave them the original letter. They have that DNA sample. They say it's primarily a woman's saliva sample from that letter. They've analyzed that. 

Williams: They actually told us [reporters in Oakland] on Monday at the beginning of the trial during a demonstration that the saliva matched the DNA of a person known up in that area near Ukiah who was a pro-timber person. They claim that they have the name. 

Talbot: Who told you this? 

Williams: Darryl Cherney.

Talbot: Ah-hah. We'll see. But there are people you could match. Frontline last night runs documentaries about how DNA samples can prove people are innocent or not. You know, how you forcibly get someone to do a DNA sample is a big legal question. But there is that possible solution. 

Davis: OK, does any of this, could any of this, have an impact on this trial going on now where the FBI and the Police Department is being sued? How does it relate to that? 

Talbot: I honestly don't know. This case is being very narrowly focused on: Did the FBI and did the Oakland Police Department rush to judgment? Did they make a false arrest on very little evidence and did they continue to defame Darryl Cherney and Judi Bari while ultimately all the charges were dropped as you may recall? The DA decided not to prosecute. So it's being tried. It's an important case. And the FBI and the Oakland Police Department should answer for what they did, and try to justify it. But it still is not answering the fundamental question of who actually tried to kill her. 

Davis: This is so interesting. I can see why you have followed it for more than a decade. Thank you very much Steve Talbot. 


  1. Michael Koepf July 23, 2019

    “Whoever wrote that Lord’s Avenger letter knew who did the bombing or actually did do the bombing because there’s so many details about the construction of the bomb, the timing and so forth. Everyone agrees on that.”

    “They have that DNA sample. They say it’s primarily a woman’s saliva sample from that letter. They’ve analyzed that.” Steve Talbot

    Correct. It’s primarily a woman’s saliva, and when that DNA was examined for population affiliation, that DNA was attributed to either a woman of Chinese of Middle Eastern ethnicity. Did Michael Sweeney ever kiss a woman with a background such as these?

    Readers: go to Wikipedia; input Steve Talbot’s name. His oeuvre is extensive from his child acting days in Leave It to Beaver to his production of TV documentaries. Significantly, one documentary that he produced is missing from his record: Who Bombed Judi Bari? Ask yourself why? Could it be that it was a compilation of lies, rumors, and sympathetically, far-left journalism easily sourced to himself and the star of his show along with her fellow activists?

    Who bombed Judi Bari? The FBI and Police have probably had the best guess for nearly thirty years—Judi Bari bombed Judi Bari in a ridiculous plot that intended to kill or harm somebody else. When it comes to law enforcement, why look further, when the perpetrator has primarily harmed herself.

    “I may be a dirty rat, but I’m not a dumb rat,” Gilbert (young Steve Talbot) said in Leave it to Beaver a very long time ago, and Talbot is smart enough to erase Who Bombed Judi Bari from his creative record. Judi fooled a lot of people. Talbot woke up.

    One question does linger. Why does the AVA continue to obsess over Judi Bari while the public, law enforcement, and gifted journalists have turned their backs?

    • Bruce Anderson July 23, 2019

      I doubt Talbot even looks at his Wikipedia entries which, in any case, aren’t compiled by him. His film on the Bari case, none of whose arguments you bother to refute, was only shown in a couple of markets. Why? Nobody was interested outside the Bay Area. The bombing occurred just as the Gulf War began, so even in the Bay Area media was off to bigger events a few days after the Bari case. The only real mystery remaining is why the mighty FBI managed not to consider Bari’s ex-husband as the primary suspect and wrap the case up within weeks, if not days. And it isn’t true that outside media are uninterested. Susan Faludi, for one, remains involved, as does Mike Geniella, formerly of the Press Democrat, as does Talbot himself. You? You seem nearly as obsessed with the matter as I am, Mike. Que pasa?

  2. Michael Koepf July 23, 2019

    What’s up? Bruce, I’d say the jig is up on the Bari case. Hey, have Faludi give me a call; Mike Geniella and Talbot too. I’d put my money on Geniella. A good Catholic boy, he once was an objective journalist. Facts superseded opinion. Faludi and Talbot are leftists as was Judi too. Judi catches immunity there. Better yet, why don’t you give the FBI a ring-a-ling and tell them what you suspect or actually and factually know? Like you say, it will all be solved in weeks.

  3. Steve Talbot July 23, 2019

    This just popped up in my email. The case that will never go away, at least in Northern California. Mike Koepf’s letter is a bit incoherent, but as best as I can determine, he’s saying that Judi Bari bombed herself. That she was transporting a homemade pipe bomb in her car, intending to use it against some target, when it went off accidentally. That’s certainly what the FBI and Oakland Police Department thought. But the Alameda District attorney was not convinced and declined to prosecute, and ultimately when Bari’s legal team sued the FBI and OPD, they lost and had to pay millions.

    My own investigation at the time concluded that it was NOT Bari’s bomb, though I did raise the question of whether her ex-husband Mike Sweeney had placed the bomb in her car. I did so because Bari told me in confidence at the time that she feared Sweeney was the culprit. She told many others in her circle the same thing.

    I still do not know for certain who bombed Judi Bari, but contrary to what Koepf implies, I am very proud of the documentary, “Who Bombed Judi Bari?” that my colleague David Helvarg and I made for KQED. It was always a local documentary, though KCET in Los Angeles did air it, as well, and an LA Times review praised it.

    Bruce is right, whatever appears on my Wikipedia page is up to others and the Wikipedia editors.

  4. Michael Koepf July 23, 2019

    Bari’s legal team sued the FBI for a civil rights violation and won. It’s journalistically misleading to equate this with exoneration when comes to Judi Bari as far as the bomb in her car is concerned. Misleading comparisons such as this have led to much of the incoherence that has surrounded this case for decades. However, Steve, so glad that Bruce has called you in as back up for his long-standing assertion that the husband did it. It all goes back to you and your interview on KQED years ago. That’s his central, establishing proof—a bona fide expert from pubic TV. In so many words you said that Judi told you: “…that someone tried to kill her and the secret that she took to her grave was that she thought it might be her ex-husband.” Later, she upbraids you for revealing this so-called confidence, when your documentary Who Bombed Judi Bari airs. That’s it? That’s verification sans skepticism, left hanging in the air, without investigation, time lines, evidence? She tells you in confidence that her husband may have done it, and that’s good enough for you? Steve, you should teach journalism in a left-wing university.

    Mr. Talbot, are you aware of the Golden State Killer? Aware, of how he was brought to arrest? How DNA evidence has advanced since 1990? No? Joseph DeAngelo was caught using updated genetic profiling which factors in hereditary and associated family groups. I’m no geneticist; no expert in DNA. However, do you know that some months ago, layman that I am, I was able to input the DNA from the Lord’s Avenger letter into a population affiliation program, and that the female DNA from the Lord’s Avenger Letter indicated that the genetic origin of that DNA was not Caucasian. It was either Chinese or Middle Eastern in origin. Unless he hired a gal out of Chinese restaurant or a mosque, Michael Sweeney has never been known to have female associates such as this. I wrote about this in relation to Judi’s ex-husband. It was published in this paper. Oddly, for a man who’s been on this case for nearly thirty years, it went largely unremarked by my dear pal, Bruce, and, undoubtedly, unread by you. Perhaps, I was wrong, but a man of your talent and documentary skills may want to revisit your conclusions when it comes to Judi Bari. Steve, you probably yet recall many of the players, genuine or fabricated, associated with this particular case. Some are gone, but many are yet amongst us. I’m sure you’re aware of the success of Murder Mountain. Head north again, old boy. There might be an IDA in your future. Once again, enter the dark forest and progressive dystopia of Mendocino. We all await: Who Bombed Judi Bari ll.

    • Bruce Anderson July 24, 2019

      You’re getting even more pompous in your dotage, Mike. If you’ve nailed down the dna evidence please take it to the proper authorities and let’s wrap this thing up. Maybe DA Eyster will subpoena dna from the likely perps. Ask him. I resent your insults aimed at Talbot. His doc was an honest attempt to find out what happened, and remains so, and was and is certainly much more honest than the feds did as they studiously avoided finding out Who Bombed Judi Bari. PS. Maybe Fox News would be interested,

  5. Michael Koepf July 24, 2019

    PS. Yes, we all await: Who Bombed Judi Bari ll, and this time, Steve Talbot, you might present the truth instead of the bias you presented before.

  6. Michael Koepf July 24, 2019

    Well, old fellow, one man’s assumed pomposity may be another man’s passion for the truth. Talbot’s documentary was nothing more than one lefty perusing the exoneration of another at the expense of the innocent. If he takes exception to what I’ve said, Talbot’s a public person and can easily speak for himself. It goes with his territory and why would he need your help? As for the DNA, you know better than I that the district attorney reads this paper as does his public representative in the guise of Mike Geniella. They’ve undoubtedly read the article I wrote. The same goes for Sheriff Allman. The AVA is read by everyone in local government, if they want to protect their butts. Bruce, old pal, what I find astonishing, considering your decades long pursuit of the Bari bombing case, is that when presented with what I wrote, your enthusiasm instantly went to sleep. As I’ve stated, I’m no expert in genetics. I could be wrong when it comes to the DNA on the Lord’s Avenger Letter, but there have been advances in this field that can identify a perpetrator’s family or ethic group. Wake up and give it shot…or is there something I don’t know?

  7. Pat Kittle July 24, 2019

    While reviewing my old Redwood Summer file recently I came across a thank you note from Judi in which she concurred with me regarding the AVA.

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