Reed Irvine
Chairman, Accuracy in Media

September 19, 2001

Over five years have passed since the crash of TWA Flight 800 killed 230 people, and now, at long last, two former high ranking government officials speaking on television have implicitly disavowed the claim that a fuel-tank explosion caused the destruction of that airplane.

The government’s $40 million investigation of the crash of TWA Flight 800 ended up with the National Transportation Safety Board, the FBI and the CIA all agreeing that an explosion in the center-wing fuel tank caused it to crash. They said that after the explosion broke off the entire front end of the plane, its tail dropped and it shot up like a rocket, trailing burning fuel behind it. They said that was what hundreds of eyewitnesses saw, mistaking it for a missile. The CIA actually produced a video showing the huge noseless jet ascending like a rocket, an aeronautical impossibility.

They got away with it because our establishment media in the Clinton era had the bad habit of believing nearly everything government agencies told them, even if it was patently ridiculous. But now, a former White House official, George Stephanopoulos, who was a senior adviser to President Clinton, has made a statement on television that indicates that the claim that a fuel-tank explosion caused the TWA 800 crash was false. On September 11, the unforgettable day of disaster, Stephanopoulos, who is now an ABC News correspondent, was talking to ABC’s Peter Jennings on camera about President Bush being flown to Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska and taken to the situation room on the base where he could keep in touch with Washington by teleconferencing.

Stephanopoulos, implying that this was unnecessary, made this surprising statement: "There are facilities in the White House, not the normal situation room, which everyone has seen in the past, has seen pictures of. There is a second situation room, behind the primary situation room, which has video conferencing capabilities. The director of the Pentagon, the defense chief, can speak from a national military command center at the Pentagon. The Secretary of State can speak from the State Department, the President from wherever he is, and they’ll have this capability for video conferencing throughout this crisis. In my time at the White House it was used in the aftermath of the Oklahoma City bombing, in the aftermath of the TWA Flight 800 bombing, and that would be the way they would stay in contact through the afternoon."

The TWA Flight 800 bombing? Peter Jennings, the anchorman for ABC’s "World News Tonight," didn’t bat an eyelash. Instead of asking his colleague to explain his use of the word "bombing" and why there was a special meeting in the White House situation room to discuss it, Jennings asked a question about the president taking orders from the Secret Service.

Efforts to reach Mr. Stephanopoulos to find out if he has information that the plane was destroyed by a bomb have been unsuccessful, and no one at ABC News recognized that Stephanopoulos had revealed that he was privy to what might be a very important change in the story about TWA 800. When informed of this, Brian Ross, who heads ABC News’s investigative unit, promised to look into it.

There had to be something special about the TWA 800 crash to justify holding a meeting in the White House situation room to discuss it. That surely is not done every time one of our planes crashes. Stephanopoulos said that it was held in the "aftermath of the bombing," but the precise date and time are important.

In his book, "The Downing of TWA Flight 800," James Sanders says that there was a meeting in the White House situation room on the night of July 17, 1996, that began before the crash. Sanders says that he was told by a confidential source that high officials gathered there to watch in real time a video transmission of a Navy demonstration of its ability to shoot down a missile off the shore of Long Island. They were horrified when something went wrong and they saw the missile shoot down TWA Flight 800. What Stephanopoulos should tell us is whether the meeting he described began before or after the plane crashed. If he won’t reveal that, the White House should.

The fuel-tank theory of the crash was also disavowed by James Kallstrom, who headed the FBI investigation. He said on CNN on September 11 that the attack that day was "the first act of terrorism in the U.S. since TWA 800." He has yet to explain when he discovered that TWA 800 was brought down by terrorists.

Reed Irvine can be reached at

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