Twenty years ago this July two or more surface-to-air missiles blew a 747 – TWA Flight 800 by designation – out of the sky in full view of thousands of people on Long Island’s popular south shore.

The FBI interviewed more than 700 of those people. The NTSB conceded that at least 258 of them had seen a streaking object approach the plane. At least eight of the witnesses said they saw the object hit the plane. Some 56 of them followed the object from the horizon to the plane.

Many people have assured me that if this were all true, ambitious reporters would have sunk their teeth into the story a long time ago.

These people simply do not understand the major media. As a case in point, the New York Times, which owned the story, interviewed not a single one of the 258 witnesses.

This summer presents an excellent opportunity for our media friends to redeem what is left of their reputations. For one thing, the 20th anniversary, on July 17, presents a likely news hook.

For another, independent researchers – James Sanders, Ray Lahr, John Clarke, Hank Hughes, Tom Stalcup and Kristina Borjesson – have unearthed a ton of incriminating new information.

This includes affidavits from whistleblowers who worked the investigation, a treasure trove of damning CIA documents and a confirmed video of a missile test five days before the crash in an area the FBI assured us had not seen a missile test in at least two years.

Three years ago, physicist Tom Stalcup and former CBS producer Kristina Borjesson produced an excellent documentary, “TWA Flight 800,” that softened the ground for the 20th anniversary.

So compelling was the documentary that even the New York Times felt compelled to review it, more or less positively at that.

In his review, the Times’ Neil Genzlinger wondered whether there was a government agency with the credibility to reopen the investigation, especially given how “poorly” the agencies in question came off in the documentary.

In an unwitting bit of institutional self-criticism, Genzlinger concluded, “It’s hard to imagine any entity that would command the authority that could put the Flight 800 case to rest.”

Knowledgeable readers of that article had to be shouting out, as I did, “How about the New York Times?”

In my new book “TWA 800: The Crash, The Cover-Up, The Conspiracy” (Regnery: July 5), I make it easy for the Times and other media people to follow the story.

I intentionally wrote the book to be accessible to those who know no more about airplanes than that you find them at airports. Said former NTSB board member Vernon Grose, “Jack Cashill has researched, organized, and documented all aspects of this intrigue in an outstanding and readable style.”

This is not a wacko conspiracy book. Confirmed Grose, “[Cashill] has provided the needed resolution to finally end the TWA 800 conspiracy. It is – by far – the most thorough, insightful, and believable accounting of that tragedy.”

Grose was in a position to know. CNN called him in to do commentary on the night of the crash, and he worked it for six hours straight. Like many others who instinctively believed the government, he has come to accept the fact that he was lied to.

TWA 800 did not suffer a spontaneous fuel tank explosion, the first and last in the Jet A fuel era, as the authorities insisted. The plane, as Grose knows, was blown out of the sky by missiles.

Some of the media people I have spoken to respond that this is a 20-year-old story. With so much in the news, why bother with an old one?

The answer to this is simple but oddly self-defeating: The presidential couple that orchestrated the cover-up in 1996 is attempting to claw its way back into the White House.

I say self-defeating because at least 90 percent of the occupants of America’s major newsrooms are actively pulling for that couple to succeed. They simply don’t want to hear stories that will cause them or their readers to have doubts.

The same reporters who in 2000 thought the uncovering of George Bush’s 24-year-old DUI newsworthy will find reasons to dismiss the most consequential cover-up in American peacetime history, one that indirectly opened the doors to the terrorists of September 11.

I have yet to meet the airline pilot who believes the government explanation – and I speak to groups of them regularly. Our best hope is that they and others with a keen interest in the truth will make the media sit up and pay attention.

I would encourage those with inside information to come forward, and that includes you, Mr. Kallstrom. This is your last good chance. All inquiries will be held in confidence, jcashill@aol.com.

Get Jack Cashill’s groundbreaking exposé, “First Strike: TWA Flight 800 and the Attack on America”

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