I am not a columnist by profession. Much to my admiration, my husband bats out columns five days a week. He addresses, much better than I am able, the issues of the day. There have been many times when I wished I was a columnist (if I were a writer it would help), because a day does not go by when I don’t read a newspaper story or see a television newscast or commentary which offends my sensibilities. Today, most of that which passes for journalism or commentary are illogical arguments, ad hominem attacks, bogus assumptions and ill-conceived solutions derived from false alternatives.
Let me address the issue which prompts me to voice my outrage. Sunday I watched a program, the subject of which was the investigation by Christopher Ruddy into Ron Brown’s death. The show was NewsWatch on the Fox News channel. This is my outline of the program: The moderator, Eric Breindel, opens with a biased, summary of the issue. Next, the panel of three “pundits” and the moderator offer as their contribution not one point of any substance. Program ends. The viewer, if they know the facts of the story, is left believing members of the media are woefully ignorant or sadly disingenuous and generally pompous. The uninformed remain ignorant. Let me note here the marketing philosophy of Fox News, “Fair, Balanced and Accurate.” They encourage us with the promise, “We report, you decide.”
As I previously stated, I am not a writer or columnist, nor am I a journalist, pundit, or a member or the elitist intelligentsia. I believe that makes me qualified to discuss the Ron Brown investigation with logic, and an open mind.
These are the claims that the panel and others have made:
“Christopher Ruddy is a wild-eyed conspiracy theorist.”
Since when did investigative journalism become synonymous with conspiracy theorizing? I’ll tell you. When journalists stopped doing their job. The press today is so ignorant of its central mission, (that of investigating government waste, fraud and abuse of power) that it cannot respect others like Ruddy who do.
Most journalists today investigate private enterprise. I call it “consumer journalism.” They probe stories of private individuals and businesses and offer government solutions for their conclusions. On the other hand, with government stories, no investigation is needed. The press merely awaits the government’s press release and issues it as fact. It’s public relations journalism at its worst. You and I know this is not what the Founding Fathers had in mind when they wrote the First Amendment. Why aren’t today’s journalists educated to understand that? Why are they surprised by our cynicism?
“This story was created by Christopher Ruddy.”
Let’s role play. You are an investigative journalist. You receive information that a respected military pathologist, Lt. Col. Steve Cogswell, discusses in his seminars an apparent gunshot wound in the late secretary of commerce’s head. You have a choice to make. Ignore the story because you just know in your heart of hearts that this must be a joke. Why waste your time, it’s not your job anyway. Besides you are in the middle of an investigation of national importance, pawn shops in Florida are accepting stolen merchandise. Or you could interview the pathologist and determine if a story exists. If so, proceed. If not, drop it. Hmm, that’s a tough call. I asked my 11-year-old daughter. She said it would be my duty to investigate. I wonder if more journalists consulted with their kids, (or if childless, their landlady or the guy that pumps their gas) they might improve their news judgment.
· “They did an autopsy on Ron Brown.”
No they didn’t. They examined, x-rayed and photographed the body, but no autopsy was conducted.
· “OK, but they never do autopsies on plane crash victims.”
Not true. Autopsies are performed routinely on plane crash victims. This is done because it is essential to the determination of the cause of the crash. They perform these autopsies even when the plane is not carrying top government officials who are under investigation.
· “Fine, but there was nothing unusual about this crash so the investigators must have assumed there was no need for an autopsy.”
All plane crashes are unusual — that’s why autopsies are routine and investigations can take years to complete.
· “The investigators and pathologists did a thorough job right from the beginning. They followed procedure to the letter. There are no questions left unanswered.”
When the plane crashed, before the site was reached, the government determined it was an accident. That decision was, by any standard, very unusual, premature, unprofessional, and contrary to established procedure. I find it outrageous and indefensible that this was never questioned by our representatives in the press. We were also told the weather had been very severe. That was an untrue statement (in my house lying is frowned upon, and always followed with the question “why?”) The press did not feel the need to explore this “misstatement.” The most important person on this plane was found to have a perfectly cylindrical hole the size of a .45-caliber bullet in his skull. The examiner reported the brain was not showing and therefore was not a bullet wound. All photos and x-rays are now missing from the file so we must defer to his judgment and honesty. Ooops, someone has photographs of the x-rays and copies of the photographs showing the hole in the skull exposed the brain completely therefore allowing for the possibility of a gunshot wound. The examiner now concedes his mistake but stands by his decision not to autopsy the body. One young women who died in the crash was without any disfiguring injuries. The parents were told her body was so severely burned that they should not look at the body. The parents agreed and had the body cremated. Photos prove this was not true.
At this point, we shouldn’t even have to ask children whether further investigation is necessary.
· “The hole in Brown’s head could have been caused by many things on the plane. The pathologist who examined Brown’s body found several possible causes.”
Wrong. None of the items on the plane were found to be the correct size matching that of the wound. I’ll just repeat that. Not one item found in the wreckage was found to correspond to the size and shape of the wound in Brown’s head. It does match the size of a .45-caliber bullet. Hmmmm. Okay, let’s discard the object that would fit in favor of all of the objects that wouldn’t fit. Logical. The wound was without jagged edges and was perfectly cylindrical. This is significant. Picture for yourself, as conjectured by the press, how this could be. If a rod punctured the skull at a 90 degree angle to create a perfectly round hole it would have to exit at the exact same angle! This during a plane crash. Most likely a rod would remain lodged in the head. There would certainly be a rod on which blood would be found.
· “Christopher Ruddy never offers an explanation as to what happened and why.”
This is the most outrageous of all attacks, really quite ingenious though. Let’s break it down. Ruddy’s colleagues charge him with conspiracy-mongering and irresponsible reporting. Ruddy is, at once, attacked for promoting conspiracy theories and for not promoting them. Ruddy is not just a journalist, he is a responsible journalist. A journalist is supposed to ask questions and report facts. This he does. Responsible journalists are not supposed to draw conclusions, this is what some wish he would do. They charge him with weaving conspiracies, and when he refuses to do so, they attack him for that. Another point: We don’t raise questions when we have the answers. We ask them when we don’t. Pathologists, reporters, police and plane crash investigators are never supposed to assume.
· “The people now asking questions are from one of two groups: haters of President Clinton, and crazies.”
OK, which category do the following fall into? Lt. Colonel Steven Cogswell a high-ranking military investigator who has gone public with his professional opinion that the apparent bullet hole in Ron Brown’s head required a full autopsy. He came forward knowing the risk he was taking. After witnessing the Army’s response to Cogswell, Lt. Colonel David Hause another high-ranking military investigator who examined Brown’s head wound came forward to substantiate Cogswell’s conclusions. To do this, Hause would have to be a kook or very courageous. Since then, after examining the photographic and x-ray evidence, one of the nation’s most prominent forensic pathologists and a noted democrat comes forward to agree with their findings. Dr. Cyril Wecht of Pittsburgh said there was “more than enough” evidence to suggest possible homicide in Brown’s death to warrant an autopsy. After viewing a Black Entertainment Television panel discussion with Chris Ruddy and the military 75 percent of all viewers in an on-line poll, said they believed Brown was murdered. How about Sen. Carol Moseley-Braun? How about Alan Keyes, former ambassador to the United Nations? Besides this is not a political story and does not concern President Clinton. Or does it?
· “Chris Ruddy works for Richard Scaife, a conservative, therefore he can’t be trusted to do his job without bias.”
Ha! That’s a good one. Alan Colmes of Fox’s “Hannity and Colmes” made that charge. He and Eric Breindel both work for Rupert Murdoch. Is Colmes admitting Murdoch tells him what to say? Look at the gang at CNN. They work for, of all people — Ted Turner! What about the reporters of the Washington Post, the New York Times and the networks? They admit they are overwhelmingly liberal Democrats, but they claim they can be trusted to report with professional objectivity — then they level this onerous charge against another one of their colleagues. The hypocrisy is a little much, don’t you think?
· “This is not a legitimate story it doesn’t make sense. How could this crime have been arranged and carried out? It is impossible!”
As I previously stated, journalists are not supposed to make judgments, they are to INVESTIGATE! When these men have the credentials of Cogswell, Hause and Wecht, then they can do the concluding, not before.
I have no credentials and, therefore, no journalistic ethical code. So I will put forth a possible explanation of how Ron Brown was shot. Mr. Brown often spent the entire flight in his private cabin, alone. Mr. Brown could have been shot before the plane left the ground. The murderer could have exited before takeoff. With an order of “do not disturb” to the staff, no one would have known of Brown’s fate during the flight. My fictional murderer used a technique other criminals have used to minimize the evidence of a gunshot wound. Shoot the victim in the top of the head at close range, so there is no gaping entry and exit wound. Also, the bullet travels down into the body, possibly lodging deep into the body making its discovery less likely. If the plane was sabotaged, the crash would easily cover the murder. This scenario is pure conjecture. It is so horrible in its consequences that no American would wish it to be true. But if it is true, we must know. We have a right to know. The Brown family and the families of the other victims, too, have the right to know.
My last statement is reserved for those detractors of Christopher Ruddy, those self-professed journalists. I know Christopher Ruddy, and you, sir or madam, are no Christopher Ruddy.