The collapse of American journalism
© Jack Cashill
The call came in from CNN a few hours before show time. I was not to appear on "The Point" with Greta Van Susteren to discuss TWA 800.
I can't say that I was surprised.
What surprised me was that CNN had called me the day before to set this up. Like many Americans, I had all but written off CNN as a serious news organization. But when the call came, I presumed that the ascendancy of Fox – and the public acknowledgement of that ascendancy in a New York Times Magazine cover story – had shocked CNN into journalism. I was happy to participate.
There was nothing tentative about the arrangement. The producer might or might not select someone to go on with me as counterpoint, she told me, but barring a confession from Gary Condit, the show would go on in any case. That night I organized my thoughts as though I were to be the only guest.
The next morning the producer called back. Jim Hall, the NTSB chair at the time of the crash and one of the "bad guys" in the documentary Jim Sanders and I had produced, had agreed to go on with me. Our dual appearance was posted on the CNN website.
The producer also directed me to the studio in Kansas City where the interview would be shot. It was the local PBS station. I was pleased. The station had aired a half dozen of my other documentaries – most recently, an eyewitness account of the Holocaust by some 65 survivors – and I felt at home there.
After making the arrangements, I headed out in my Ford Taurus to a local public pool where I idled away my summer lunch hour. It was only then that it dawned on me. In six hours, I would have the opportunity – and the responsibility – to expose the most brazen cover-up in American political history. At this point, I actually prayed for guidance. It is not something I do enough of.
Then it all came to me. I would not yell or argue or accuse. I would just calmly ask Jim Hall a few questions he could not answer and then ask him to step up and assume the role of genuine American hero – acknowledge the cover-up, admit his own role in it, and ask for the forgiveness of the almost too generous American people.
Truth be told, I never envisioned him admitting any such thing. In fact, at this point, I could no longer envision him on the show at all. He was much too ripe, much too vulnerable. Unlike the man who appointed him chairman, Hall is not "an unusually good liar," nor is he fast on his feet. Someone, I surmised, would get to him or to CNN and call this whole thing off.
Someone did. I do not know who. But three hours before the show was to air, a crestfallen young producer called to tell me that I had been cancelled. As she explained, with undisguised irony, since Jim Hall now refused to appear on the show with me, I could not appear alone, as that would not be "responsible journalism." Jim Hall, however, having dispensed with me, could appear alone as that would be "responsible journalism." It didn't matter that this old Gore crony had quit his job at the NTSB the moment the Florida results were affirmed and took a job with Daimler-Chrysler's lobbyists, a move that was sleazy even by the admittedly humble standards of the Clinton White House. Not at all.
And so that night I watched 10 painful moments of responsible journalism. Van Susteren began by declaring that "at first, people suspected a bomb went off on the plane."
No Greta, check your own archives. As CNN and the networks first reported, people suspected a missile. With good reason. There were hundreds, perhaps thousands of eyewitnesses, including military people in helicopters and on other airlines. At least 96 told the FBI that they had seen the object come off the horizon. Scores of them provided detailed drawings. As NTSB staffer Dr. David Mayer said of at least one of them, "Witness 649 described events that certainly do sound like a missile attacking the airplane." CNN itself reported that FAA radar had picked up a missile sighting, something that Hall himself would confirm in a memo a few months later.
"Top intelligence and security officials were told in a video conference from the White House Situation Room that radar tapes showed an object headed at the plane before it exploded."
But to Van Susteren, a missile strike had passed to the lowly realm of "the conspiracy theorists." She then posed the question to Hall.
"Jim," she asked, "can you say with 100 percent certainty that the people who think that this flight was shot down, that they were wrong?"
Hall wouldn't answer. He clumsily headed off to Spin 101.
"Greta," he intoned piously, "the first thing I need to say this evening is we all need to remember the 230 individuals who lost their lives in this tragedy." On and on he blathered while CNN cut away to images of the victim families.
To her credit, Van Susteren tried again. "Does that mean, Jim, that you are 100 percent certain that those conspiracists who some say saw a white light traveling skyward, zigzagging, disappearing, then an orange ball of fire, can you say with 100 percent certainty that they are wrong?"
Van Susteren seemed to be reading from my description of Mike Wire's testimony, the honest mechanic on the bridge with whom the CIA would create an entirely fictitious new interview to build its preposterous animation around.
Hall danced some more. "Greta, in my mind, with 100 percent certainty, our investigators, based on the facts they developed, they are wrong, they are incorrect."
And that was pretty much it. There were no questions as to why the CIA fabricated the most important eyewitness testimony, no questions about the FAA missile sighting, the 736 eyewitnesses, the explosive residue found all over the plane, the altered and missing physical evidence, the abysmal failure of the NTSB to identify an ignition source or recreate an explosion after four years of trying. Nothing.
I had just witnessed the culmination of five years of responsible CNN journalism, and it was frightening. Still, someone at CNN, at least, had tried. MSNBC assigned a self-described "summer intern" to wrap up its five years of responsible journalism.
We begin the video "Silenced" with a quote from Thomas Jefferson. "If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be."
Jack Cashill and James Sanders' First Strike: TWA Flight 800 and the Attack on America is now available. First Strike explains how a determined corps of ordinary citizens worked to reveal the compromise and corruption that tainted the federal investigation. With an impressive array of facts, Jack Cashill and James Sanders show the relationship between events in July 1996 and September 2001 and proclaim how and why the American government has attempted to cover up the truth.