Accuracy in Media

James D. Sanders, the author of The Downing of TWA Flight 800, the book that made him and his wife the target of a Justice Department vendetta, was recently allowed three hours to inspect and photograph the wreckage of TWA Flight 800. Sanders was grudgingly allowed to enter the heavily guarded Calverton hangar, where the wreckage is kept, to gather photographic evidence to defend him and his wife against the government?s charge that they feloniously aided and abetted the theft of “valuable” material from the wreckage. A condition was that he not allow the photos to be made public.

The supposedly valuable material was a few square inches of foam rubber from one of the seats of the plane. Terry Stacey, a member of the official investigating team, believed the residue might be a clue to the cause of the crash. When the FBI refused to tell the investigators what the reddish-orange residue was, Stacey, a TWA pilot, snipped off some of the foam rubber and mailed it to Sanders to have it analyzed.

Sanders, a writer whose wife was also a TWA employee, was looking into the cause of the crash. Stacey also supplied him with documents containing information that cast doubt on the integrity of the official investigation. Sanders had an elemental analysis made of the residue, and was informed that the results indicated that it was consistent with exhaust from a missile. With that and other important evidence that he and David Hendrix of the Riverside (Calif.) Press-Enterprise had gathered, they published an article charging that TWA 800 had been hit by a missile. The FBI derided the allegations, but quickly acted to seize the evidence?a bit of foam rubber impregnated with reddish-orange residue that Sanders had given to CBS News.

The FBI hounded Jim and Liz Sanders relentlessly, finally arresting them, shackling them, hauling them into court to have them indicted on felony charges. The FBI, which had wrested control of the investigation from the NTSB on the grounds that a criminal act may have caused the crash, had closed its investigation, saying it could find no evidence of a crime. But the government has suppressed the accounts of the hundreds of eyewitnesses who saw a missile blow up the plane, and it has concealed evidence that supports their testimony.

Sanders charges that before he and the attorneys were given access to the Calverton hangar, the government removed and altered important evidence. For example, the photos Sanders took showed significant alterations in the mock-up of the center wing tank when compared with photos taken two years earlier. He says the changes were made to remove evidence that clashed with the theory that a fuel explosion in the center wing tank caused the crash.

The prosecution of Jim and Liz Sanders is an important test of the right of reporters to expose lies and lawless behavior on the part of the government. It has attracted little publicity, apparently because the establishment media find it embarrassing to go to the defense of a journalist who helped a whistleblower expose the government lies that they themselves swallowed.

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