Inaccurate Reports About Pierre Salinger
Jim Hall: "One of the effects of Drudge and others like him [...] seems to be a reduction by media generally in the time and
effort devoted to checking stories. Perhaps the most notorious example of such abrogation of responsibility are the
reports, derived solely from mischievous information placed on the web (via Usenet), that TWA flight 800, which
crashed off Long Island in 1996, was brought down by a missile."
Hall, Jim. Online Journalism, A Critical Primer. London: Pluto Press, 2001, page 134.
The source of the friendly fire theory was not "mischievous information placed on the web" but media reports, the official
investigation that reportedly investigated the Navy early on, Salinger's French Intelligence contact, and
Captain Richard Russell
whose claims outlined in the report Salinger held were based on information relayed to him from a long-time friend who had just attended a high-level briefing on the Flight 800 crash. See
the previous accurate-reports section for details.
Ronald De Wolk: "The consequences of these destructive elements suddenly grown from the Web were evident in an early debacle involving former newspaperman, network news correspondent and presidential spokesman Pierre Salinger. He announced to the world that he had discovered that the sudden explosion of TWA Flight 800 off the coast of Long Island, New York, in July 1996, was caused by a U.S. military missile. His announcement, because of his standing, was covered widely. When real reporters asked him to attribute his statement, he said he had read it on the Internet.
The sites Salinger used were run by non-journalists who had little or no concern about accuracy, multiple sourcing,
independent verification, libel or fairness. The result of Salinger's initial pronouncement and subsequent insistences
resulted in a sad ending to a long and distinguished career." De Wolk, Ronald. Introduction to Online Journalism, Publishing News and Information. Allyn & Bacon: 2001, page 172.
I contacted De Wolk about his errors, which are outlined here.
As the contemporaneous CNN reports in the accurate-reports section above confirm, Salinger did not say he had "read it on the Internet" as De Wolk claims.
"Salinger announced to the world on November 8, 1996, that he'd received documents from French intelligence proving
that a U.S. Navy missile had accidentally downed the jetliner. [...] Without a doubt, Salinger's rushing to the
press with a statement he couldn't back up was incredibly irresponsible, and he got what he deserved."
Into The Buzzsaw. New York: Prometheus Books, 2002, pages 110, 116.
While I recommend Borjesson's book (Prometheus Books),
her comments on Salinger are inaccurate. In reality the press rushed to Salinger catching him unprepared
rather than Salinger "rushing to the press." Milton (pages 266-70) and Negroni (pages 141-5)
cited in the accurate-reports section above give accurate accounts of this. As Negroni aptly puts it: "Salinger had
mentioned TWA Flight 800 in a speech to aviation executives" (141). Being famous, Salinger gives lectures in various
forums. On November 7, 1996 he happened to be speaking at an aviation conference in France and thus decided
to mention what his friend in French Intelligence (the DGSE) had told him a month ago (Milton, 266). Then, an AP
reporter who happened to be in the audience rushed to publish a report about Salinger's allegation at the
conference. Within hours the media and the FBI were rushing to Salinger's door (not the other way around)
and he found himself in the world spotlight.
Salinger's certitude in the friendly fire claim rested with the trust he placed in his long-time friend in the DGSE,
but scrambling for some concrete justification other than faith in a friend he relied on the papers his friend had
given him a month ago errantly assuming they were government documents. The picture Borjesson paints in her book
Into The Buzzsaw, of Salinger
breathlessly rushing to the media is inaccurate and unfair because she uses it to denigrate, indeed to "buzzsaw,"
someone who was subjected to more buzzsawing than anyone.
Salinger, a retired journalist had valid concerns about the crash and expressed them in a forum that seemed
appropriate. When he spoke to the media that then rushed to him he was not speaking as an active
investigative journalist, just as someone relaying what he had been told to people who were asking him. The mistake Salinger
made was assuming that Captain Russell's report was a government document.
Los Angeles Times (11/06/97) headline reads: "Author of Flight 800 Tale Admits Hoax."
The article falsely claims Ian Goddard created the friendly fire theory. See a
factually accurate timeline of the friendly fire theory or claim here.
Omaha World Herald (11/8/97): Internet Hoax a Damaging Lesson [...]
"the reputation of Pierre Salinger was tarnished by Goddard's story. Salinger swallowed the story and
went public with a condemnation of the government."
Howard Kleinberg: "Ian Goddard who influenced former John Kennedy press chief Pierre Salinger to make a fool of
himself last spring in not only accepting the missile theory, but claiming he had irrefutable evidence - which he did not."
The Tampa Tribune, November 9, 1997.
Roxanne Barber: " [...] Pierre Salinger, who reported in the fall
of 1996 that TWA Flight 800 had been shot down by U.S. Navy missiles, a claim supported by 'government
documents' in his possession. After a national stir, news reports revealed that the source of the
'government' information was Ian Goddard's Web site." The Quarterly, winter 2001.
REALITY: Salinger's sources, documents, and belief in the friendly fire theory were based on a trusted French
Intelligence source and Captain Richard Russell,
not on Ian Goddard or his website. Goddard was also not a source of any original factual
claims or alleged items of evidence regarding the Flight 800 crash. Russell's document claiming that the
Navy shot down Flight 800 was based on information relayed to him from a long-time friend who had just
attended a high-level briefing on the Flight 800 crash. See the previous accurate-media-reports section
above and Captain Richard Russell's affidavit for details.
Here is a copy of Captain Richard Russell's report.