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Seventeen years after the Paris-bound TWA Flight 800 blew up off the coast of Long Island, producers Tom Stalcup and Kristina Borjesson have released a new documentary –simply titled “TWA Flight 800” – that has the very real potential to re-open the investigation into the plane’s destruction.
Kudos, in particular, to Stalcup. A Ph.D. physicist by background, he has dedicated the last 16 years of his life to exposing what is arguably the most flagrant government cover-up in American peacetime history.
Borjesson has likewise been involved from the beginning. As a producer at CBS in 1996 when TWA 800 was destroyed, she sacrificed her future at CBS to get at the truth. Together, they have produced a documentary that is compelling, convincing and, finally, deeply moving.
The producers made two strategic moves to force the media to look seriously at their conclusions. One was to rely heavily on the testimony of a half-dozen highly credible whistleblowers from within the investigation.
The second was to avoid politics. When James Sanders and I produced the video documentary “Silenced” on this subject 12 years ago and the book “First Strike” two years after that, we made the marketing mistake of identifying the logic of the cover-up.
That logic led to the White House. Sixteen years ago, in the home stretch of a difficult re-election campaign, Bill Clinton faced a problem very similar to one that Barack Obama would face in 2012. This is something the media did not want to know, let alone share.
An event took place that threatened the “peace and prosperity” theme of his campaign – specifically, the shoot-down of this doomed airliner with 230 people on board 12 minutes out of JFK.
Although the word was not used back then, the Clinton White House, with the help of a complicit media, rewrote the event’s “narrative” to assure re-election. Again, as with Benghazi, that narrative was clumsily improvised almost on a daily basis.
Knowing the media had his back, Clinton responded much as Obama did: deny, obfuscate and kick the investigatory can down the road until after the election.
One central figure appeared in each drama: Hillary Clinton. She stood by Obama’s side in the Rose Garden on Sept. 12 as he spun reality into confection.
Throughout that long night of July 17, 1996, she holed up with Bill and Sandy Berger in the White House family quarters, assessing their narrative options much as Obama did on Sept. 11, 2012.
By removing politics from the equation, Stalcup, who appeared in “Silenced,” and Borjesson have attracted a fair share of major media attention.
In their well-researched recreation of the plane’s final minutes, they wisely refrain from saying who pulled the trigger. But the evidence that someone fired missiles at the plane overwhelms the dispassionate observer.
Through file footage and commentary, the producers do an unerring job of showing how the forces of government –particularly Jim Kallstrom of the FBI and certain actors at the NTSB – conspired to misdirect the investigation.
The video closes with names and images of those who refused to be interviewed. Several, including Kallstrom, appeared in the video in news footage. The final refusenik is Bill Clinton. He had a lot to hide.
In a confidential taped interview with historian Taylor Branch on Aug. 2, 1996, Clinton laid the blame for TWA 800’s destruction on Iran. "They want war," he told Branch.
Clinton may or may not have been lying, but he did not want to mess with Iran, at least not right before an election he already had in the bag.
To control the post-crash narrative, the White House allowed the FBI to talk only to The New York Times. Four weeks after the disaster, the Times would report, "Now that investigators say they think the center fuel tank did not explode, they say the only good explanations remaining are that a bomb or a missile brought down the plane."
A missile attack was too obvious and ominous. So a week later, likely under White House pressure, and without any new evidence, the FBI shifted its storyline fully away from a missile to a bomb.
"Prime Evidence Found That Device Exploded in Cabin of Flight 800," reported the Times above the fold on Aug. 23, just a few days before the Democratic National Convention.
The Times reached this conclusion by interviewing exactly none of the 270 FBI eyewitnesses to a likely missile strike. Sanders and I interviewed scores of them, as do Stalcup and Borjesson.
But even this scenario threatened the peace and prosperity message to be promoted at the Democratic National Convention just days away. And so the story was allowed to die. For the next three weeks, there was no meaningful reporting at all.
In mid-September, two months after the crash, the FBI shifted the narrative once again from a bomb to a center fuel tank explosion, a possibility that had been ruled out a month earlier. The other media unquestioningly followed the Times. They too had a president to re-elect.
Without ever raising its voice, “TWA Flight 800” makes mincemeat out of the mechanical failure explanation. Stalcup walks the viewer knowingly through one set of evidence after another.
In an emotional sequence towards the documentary’s end, a young female family member of one of the deceased sums up the anguish that she and so many others close to the investigation have felt: “It’s very frustrating that nobody gives a sh** anymore.”
One suspects that Hillary “What difference does it make” Clinton would have only confirmed this woman’s worst suspicions.