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CYBERSITE

Reporters are fond of saying that journalism is "the first draft of history."

But most stories of murder, mayhem or official skullduggery splashed across newspaper pages or tabloid TV shows are really second drafts.

The first is written by those closest to the action -- the cops, coroners and lawyers who turn out in the form of affidavits, lawsuit filings and memoranda. Their prose can be stilted, vague or clogged with jargon. But nothing can beat a well-observed affidavit for rich detail, and reporters hardly ever include all the good stuff.

With that in mind, a pair of New York City reporters have created The Smoking Gun, at www.thesmokinggun.com (naturally). It's a treasury of reading for crime buffs and the merely curious.

Want to see what the JonBenet Ramsey "ransom" note looks like, so you can analyze the handwriting yourself? Want to read how the FBI managed to make a case against former Atlanta Olympics bombing suspect Richard Jewell?

The site has lots of old declassified FBI documents showing how gossip-crazed the J. Edgar Hoover years were. Some of the FBI agent reports are unintentionally funny, such as the work of a pair of agents who visited a dirty-movie theater undercover and described its films in detail. The sex talk, in FBI-ese, is a hoot.

The best part is that it's all real documents, scanned in so you can see the scribbles and TOP SECRET stamps in the margins. As the site's editors note: "The Smoking Gun is a Pierre Salinger-free zone."

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