Accuracy in Media

In our last broadcast we took a critical look at a report by Congressman James Traficant who rejects the idea that a missile brought down TWA Flight 800. However, he admits the FBI is withholding key evidence in the case, including critical information about vessels and aircraft in the area where the plane crashed.

Traficant’s report, in short, does not support his own conclusion. To give you another example, consider the case of the executive order that has disappeared from the official White House web site. Commander William Donaldson has suggested that Executive Order 13039, dated March 11, 1997, may have been issued for the purpose of concealing evidence or testimony relating to a missile or missiles downing the plane. The document is titled, “Exclusion of the Naval Special Warfare Development Group from the federal labor-management relations program.” It removes certain federal whistleblower protections from the group on the grounds of national security.

According to Commander Donaldson, the group covered by the order includes a dive team that was used to “prescreen high interest parts [of TWA 800] located at sea, prior to their recovery by navy divers.” Hence, the order could be construed to suggest an attempt to gag naval personnel and prevent them from discussing what they may have found in relation to the TWA 800 crash.

Rep. Traficant wrote a letter to President Clinton himself about this executive order. In response, Steven S. Honigman, general counsel of the Navy, provided a narrow reply which said the order was designed to prevent the Navy personnel from selecting a labor union to represent them. However, this claim has to be seriously questioned. First, this administration is strongly pro-labor. Second, Honigman admits that the union request to represent these employees dated back to June 10, 1996. Why, then, did the rejection come in an executive order dated nine months later?

The order came at a particularly sensitive time for the TWA investigation. One day earlier, on March 10, the Riverside (Calif.) Press-Enterprise had published a story citing evidence that a missile had brought the plane down. At the same time, it was widely known that former ABC newsman Pierre Salinger was following up on his November 1996 allegation that a U.S. Navy missile hit the plane. An article about his findings appeared in the March 13 Paris Match. What’s more, on the same day the order was issued – March 11th – Associated Press reported that the FBI had seized a radar tape showing an object speeding toward TWA flight 800 seconds before the plane exploded. The tape had been leaked to a retired airline pilot, Richard Russell.

In the middle of all this controversy, executive order 13039 was issued. Was it designed to silence Navy personnel? Was it part of a broader effort to silence witnesses or seize evidence? Unfortunately, Rep. Traficant seems to take the government’s word that it was all just an innocent labor dispute. Yet it adds to the evidence, some of which is cited in his own report, that the government is not telling us the truth. Traficant owes us more answers.

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