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The American Spectator, which a few years ago built its readership and credibility on exposing government corruption, is in full retreat.

In the February issue, “investigative reporter” Byron York, fresh from his defense of Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr’s dishonest report on the death of Vincent Foster, turns his attention to defusing the latest threat to the Clinton administration — the explosive controversy over Ron Brown’s death.

This time, he doesn’t simply attack intrepid investigative reporter Christopher Ruddy, he goes after the courageous military whistleblowers who actually witnessed the cover-up of important information about Brown’s mysterious head wound.

For instance, he dismisses the conclusions of Lt. Col. Steve Cogswell, the Air Force forensic pathologist, who first revealed publicly the existence of a perfectly round .45-inch hole in the top of Brown’s skull, by saying he had not seen Brown’s body. Of course, he neglects to point out that it was Cogswell who was assigned by the military the task of finding the object on the plane that caused the wound. His suspicions were aroused when his search found nothing amid the wreckage coinciding with the shape and size of the hole.

About Lt. Col. David Hause, the Army forensic pathologist who also put his career on the line by breaking with the official story, York writes that he “glimpsed” Brown’s body. Not true. Hause actually examined the head wound.

“There were several problems with the story,” writes York. “First, the pathologist who actually examined Brown’s body, Air Force Col. William Gormley, said the hole was not actually a hole; that is, it did not fully penetrate the skull.”

Not true. York apparently hasn’t been keeping up with this story. In a television appearance with Ruddy, Gormley changed his mind about that conclusion. While originally stating that no brain matter was exposed by the wound, when confronted with photographic evidence, there was little else he could do but back-pedal. Now he claims his memory of the examination was faulty. Indeed, he admits, brain matter is clearly visible in the photographs. There is no question this wound penetrated the skull.

“In addition, full-body x-rays did not reveal the presence of a bullet in the body,” York continues. “And Gormley found no exit wound to suggest that a bullet had passed through the body.”

Well, presumably, if Gormley had concluded early on that the wound on Brown’s head was not caused by a bullet, then his search for an exit wound would have been superficial at best. The x-ray evidence suggesting metallic fragments in Brown’s head were dismissed by Gormley — to the point of allowing the originals to be destroyed and new ones taken. Gormley was clearly hell-bent on downplaying the possibility of a gunshot wound. But he didn’t take the one step that all the experts agree would have proven conclusively what caused the wound — seeking an autopsy.

By the way, the absence of an exit wound or a intact bullet would prove nothing. There are disintegrating bullets. Bullets sometimes exit human body cavities, Cogswell points out. The head wound could also have been caused by a “captive-bolt gun,” suggests Hause — a device that would not leave behind a bullet.

“To top it off, Ruddy’s story paid scant attention to Brown’s other injuries, which included a broken pelvis, burns and severe head lacerations,” York adds.

I submit to you that all “investigative reporter” Byron York knows about this story he knows because he read in Chris Ruddy’s reports. Ruddy reported those other injuries. He reported them in the context of what forensic pathologists said about them — that they could not explain Ron Brown’s death. Even Gormley doesn’t contend that those injuries killed Brown. He acknowledges that it was the head wound. So, of what relevance are the additional injuries? How much attention should be paid to them?

“Beyond that,” York writes, “Ruddy did not suggest any scenario in which Brown might have been shot. Did a suicide killer — perhaps a stowaway, or maybe even someone who was authorized to be on the plane — shoot Brown during the flight and then somehow cause the crash in order to cover the crime? Was Brown shot before the flight and his body loaded on the plane — without the knowledge of the 34 staffers and business figures who accompanied him — and then the plane crashed accidentally? Did Brown survive an accidental or intentional crash, only to be finished off by someone at the crash site? To even outline such scenarios would seem a bit crazy, so Ruddy simply laid out a suspicious-sounding set of assertions and let his readers fill in the blanks.”

I wish York had been able to take one of my classes in reporting when I taught at the University of California. For his sake, not mine, I wish he had the opportunity to work with me some time in the last 20 years when I supervised young journalists in the art of investigative reporting. Failing that, I wish he had a chance, at some point in his life, to work outside the ideologically driven, pseudo-journalistic halls of the American Spectator, where, apparently, it is necessary to solve a mystery before you report about it.

Where has York learned the standards and practices of his profession? The David Brock School of Journalism? Has he ever worked at a legitimate newspaper? Where did he earn his title “investigative reporter”? Has he ever even taken a Journalism 101 course? If he has, he should know that it is perfectly appropriate to let your readers draw their own conclusions about the facts. That’s what news reporting is all about. York’s brand of selective reporting and advocacy journalism is a perversion of a noble profession. It represents little more than ill-informed commentary and politically motivated character assassination.

“What went virtually unnoticed amid all the investigation talk was the issue of Ruddy’s credibility,” York continues. “Before writing about Brown, Ruddy spent three years trying to promote the theory that deputy White House counsel Vincent Foster was murdered. His reporting was devastatingly refuted last fall with the release of Whitewater Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr’s final report, which laid out an extensive body of evidence showing conclusively that Foster killed himself.”

As anyone who has read Ruddy’s reporting knows, he has never, ever tried to promote any theories about the death of Foster. Instead, he systematically and methodically took apart the official reports that were full of lies, half-truths and cover-ups. He interviewed witnesses never interviewed by the government’s so-called “investigators.” The Starr report addresses few of the major questions and inconsistencies raised by Ruddy’s reporting and answers none.

I suggest that before Byron York and his reckless and irresponsible friends at the American Spectator throw any more stones at Chris Ruddy, they ought to re-read his meticulous, fully documented body of work. Perhaps they would learn something — about reporting and about the truth.

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