The New York Times Has Been Ridiculous for a Long Time

The much discussed resignation letter from New York Times op-ed editor Bari Weiss was written in the metaphorical equivalent of Braille.  It allowed even the blind to see what the rest of us have known for years: the Times is a joke.

Writes Weiss of the Times newsroom, "Truth isn't a process of collective discovery, but an orthodoxy already known to an enlightened few whose job is to inform everyone else."  Indeed, the only difference between the Times and the old Soviet Pravda is that Pravda readers knew they were being lied to.

If I had to pick a date that the joke started to become obvious, I would pick July 17, 1996, twenty-four years ago today, the day TWA flight 800, a Boeing 747, crashed off the coast of Long Island, killing all 230 good souls aboard.

As I heard from several reporters who covered this story, the New York Times owned it.  The FBI channeled virtually all new information through the Times, and the Times reported that information very close to uncritically.

The Times' first full article on July 18 leads with the fact that the FBI had taken over jurisdiction of the investigation.  The reason for the takeover was that "witnesses reported an explosion, raising the possibility that a bomb went off on the jetliner."

In a separate article on July 19, the Times' David Johnston introduced the possibility of a missile strike.  "In public," Johnston wrote, investigators were talking about an "accident," but "in private," they hinted at a "terrorist's missile."

They had reason to talk about a missile.  As CIA documents would later reveal, the agents on the FBI missile team had interviewed 144 "excellent" witnesses immediately after the crash and found the evidence for a missile strike "overwhelming."

By July 26, investigators had established the false dialectic that would hold for the next two months.  The cockpit voice recorder captured only a brief sound before it stopped recording.  This, reported Matthew Wald, "added strong support to the theory that a bomb destroyed the plane."  That much conceded, "aviation experts," surely the NTSB, could "not exclude mechanical failure."  There was no mention of a missile.

On August 14, four weeks to the day after the crash, the Times offered the first detailed account of the plane's break-up sequence.  The most salient revelation was that the center fuel tank caught fire as many as twenty-four seconds after the initial blast.  This meant that the "only good explanations remaining" were either a bomb or missile.

On Friday, August 23, the Times went all in for a bomb with a front page headline reading, "Prime Evidence Found That Device Exploded in Cabin of TWA 800."

On September 17, two months to the day after the crash, reporter Andrew Revkin wrote an article on internet-based conspiracy theories, one of which suggested that a Navy Aegis guided missile cruiser "let loose a practice shot that went awry."  The Pentagon denied any involvement, and the FBI assured the Times' readers that the probability of a Navy misfire was "as close to zero as you can get."  This was the most probing penetration by the Times of what actually happened on July 17.

On September 19, the government went public with its change in direction, and the Times followed.  "Convinced that none of the physical evidence recovered from T.W.A. Flight 800 proves that a bomb brought down the plane," Matthew Wald wrote in the lead of his Times article, the NTSB was now planning tests "to show that the explosion could have been caused by a mechanical failure alone."

The balance between bomb and mechanical failure lasted exactly one day before the weight swung fully the way of "mechanical."  On Friday, September 20, the FBI released a statement claiming that the TWA 800 aircraft had "previously been used in a law enforcement training exercise for bomb-detection dogs."   On September 21, the Times' Matthew Purdy filled in the details.  Reportedly, on June 10, 1996, the St. Louis police used the TWA 800 plane to train a bomb-sniffing dog and left explosive residue all over the plane.

The FBI, however, did not interview the dog trainer until September 21, hours after the Times had given the story its imprimatur.  Even the most cursory reporting would have shown the dog training theory to be total nonsense.  The Times never bothered to follow up.  The editors had their  story, and they were sticking to it.  This was an election year, after all.

By November 1996, with Bill Clinton's re-election secured, the Times was mocking anyone who challenged the preposterous theory floated by Clinton's people at the NTSB that a spontaneous explosion in the 747's center fuel tank brought down the plane.

Recall, however, that on August 14, the Times had reported that center fuel tank caught fire as many as twenty-four seconds after the initial blast.  Recall that on August 23, the Times headlined an article, "Prime Evidence Found That Device Exploded in Cabin of TWA 800."  No one at the paper ever bothered to explain the inconsistencies.

In the month of November 1996 alone, the New York Times ran four articles with headlines that ridiculed legendary JFK press secretary Pierre Salinger, who credibly advanced the theory that the U.S. Navy was involved in the shootdown.

On November 24, 1996, for instance, just four months after the crash and a year before the FBI closed its investigation, the Times ran an all-too-typical article headlined "Pierre, Is That a Masonic Flag on the Moon?"  In the first sentence, reporter George Johnson singled out the Times' real target: the internet with its "throbbing, fevered brain."

Johnson directed his contempt at those ordinary Americans whose internet use threatened the Times' hegemony on the news.  "Electrified by the Internet," Johnson complained, "suspicions about the crash of T.W.A. Flight 800 were almost instantly transmuted into convictions that it was the result of friendly fire."

Incredibly, what Johnson did not do — what no one at the Times did after the first two days — was speak to a single one of the official 258 FBI witnesses to a likely missile strike.  If he had, if anyone at the Times had, the world would have known that those ordinary Americans were right.

@jackcashill's forthcoming book, Unmasking Obama: The Fight to Tell the True Story of a Failed Presidency, is available for pre-order at

Jack's 2016 book, TWA Flight 800: The Crash, the Cover-Up, the Conspiracy is available at

Image: Adam Jones via Flickr (cropped).

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