'The News Manipulators'
Geoff Metcalf interviews veteran media watchdog Reed Irvine

By Geoff Metcalf

The news media are powerful players in America society today -- many feel, too powerful. Reed Irvine, chairman of the board and CEO of Accuracy In Media, has been working to hold the media accountable for their actions for over 30 years. His nonprofit organization is described as a "grassroots citizen watchdog of the news media." WorldNetDaily reporter and talk show host Geoff Metcalf recently interviewed Irvine, author of "The News Manipulators," about his work and many recent news stories that have been misreported or underreported.

Question: We often itch and moan about what the mainstream media does and doesn't do and, frankly, you've been the godfather in tracking that for a long time.

Answer: I've been at it for over 30 years now. I guess that's a long time.

Q: Have you been able to determine at what point the delivery of mainstream news shifted from the Edward R. Murrow days of who/what/where/when to "whatever the focus group tells us they want"?

A: I would suppose it has grown pretty much in line with the explosion of polls and focus groups. That's probably about 20 years.

Q: I recently spoke with John Fund, from the Wall Street Journal, and he doesn't like the word "conspiracy." He doesn't think that is appropriate.

A: I'm all with John on that. Conspiracy has become a very pejorative word, as though there were no conspiracies. Anyone who is a "conspiracy theorist" is ipso facto a kook. But the fact of the matter is that it only takes two people to have a conspiracy when they agree to do something illegal or cover something up.

Q: I've asked Jack Germond and Bob Novak, arguably on opposite ends of the political spectrum, the same thing. I said the mainstream ignores stories like TWA Flight 800, the executive order on federalism, and "Know Your Customer." There is a long list of stories that would not have gotten any attention if it were not for the New Media. At what point would the mainstream recognize they might be approaching a point of diminishing return in lost audience unless they report this stuff that people now are getting anyway?

A: I'm not going to forecast when that might be, but I am certainly delighted that now we do have alternative media like WorldNetDaily and others on the Internet that provide people with information -- oftentimes before they get it through regular channels. Of course, with many stories, it is information they will never get on those regular channels. You mentioned TWA 800. We recently put an ad in the Washington Times on behalf of the eyewitnesses -- the hundreds of eyewitnesses -- who saw a missile or missiles go up and shoot that airplane down.

Q: The government just recently officially closed the book on that issue.

A: They had their last hearing. It wasn't really a hearing; it was a board meeting. It was a cut-and-dried affair. They are saying the same thing now that they were saying in January 1997 -- it was a fuel-tank explosion. They have never moved off that, although they have never been able to find a source for the ignition of that fuel tank. Indeed, the truth is they have never been able to demonstrate the fuel tank was heated to a point where the vapors would become explosive. What really irritates and infuriates me about their attitude is they totally disregard the testimony of these hundreds of eyewitnesses. The ones I have talked to are very credible people. Their accounts are remarkably similar.

Q: And a lot of them have aviation and combat experience too.

A: Absolutely, yet the government says that can't be true because there is no evidence in the plane that a missile struck the plane. That is absolute baloney. How many people with an independent investigator have had an opportunity to go in and examine that wreckage? The whole thing was under the control of the FBI and the NTSB. They got furious when someone who wasn't authorized went in there and actually looked at the wreckage.

Q: It has been suggested by some that the Navy may have accidentally fired a missile or missiles. One of the claims being made is the Navy was conducting tests in the area. Can you outline that?

A: There was a lot of Navy activity off of the southern coast of Long Island that night. There were over 30 vessels that were picked up on radar that have never been publicly identified. The FBI claimed they had identified everything and interviewed the captains and some of the crew. When the NTSB released the FBI interview reports for the eyewitnesses, we didn't see any reports in those 755 they released about the interviews with the captains of those boats. We've got a Freedom Of Information suit filed to force the NTSB and the FBI to tell us what those ships were.

After Jim Calstrom retired from the FBI in the fall of 1998, I raised this question to him. At the time, we only knew about four unidentified targets on the radar. I asked Jim about it and he said, "Well, you can get that from the FBI." I said, "Hell, the FBI won't tell you anything. They wouldn't even tell Congressman Jim Traficant what those four unidentified radar targets were." Calstrom said, "I can tell you what three of them were. They were Navy vessels on a classified maneuver." I've got that on tape. Jim says I have quoted him out of context. Well, I've given you the context. I don't know how he can in anyway get away with saying he has been misquoted or misrepresented.

Q: I've talked with Cmdr. Bill Donaldson about this and he has done some remarkable work.

A: Bill's take on this is the plane was shot down by stinger missiles and that it was a terrorist act.

Q: Wait a minute. If it was a terrorist act, wouldn't somebody be taking credit for it?

A: That's true. There was a message that was sent to a Saudi newspaper with offices in Washington and London the night before saying they were going to strike again -- this was the group that blew up the Khobar Towers -- and that the world would be astonished at the audacity of their action. So there was some speculation that these terrorists who did the Khobar Towers were behind this action. One of the calls we got in the wake of the ad we placed in behalf of the witnesses was from a retired Navy lieutenant commander.

Q: My take on this has been, if it was shot down by something, it was probably the Navy and it was probably a mistake.

A: That is a very strong theory. This Navy commander was told about six weeks after the crash that the Navy was going to bomb the Iranian training camps -- the Osama bin Laden training camps -- in Sudan that had trained the people who had brought this plane down with stinger missiles. He was told this because he heads a group of spotters and the officer that told him this reportedly was going on the mission to guide the bombs onto the targets. He said it never came through but had been bothering him ever since because he had been told the Navy believed terrorist missiles were responsible.

Q: The problem I have with the terrorist theory is, I've got to believe that somewhere, somehow, somebody has to be standing on a soapbox somewhere screaming, "We did it! We did it!" And that hasn't happened.

A: No, it hasn't. I agree with you.

Q: There are so many issues -- Waco, Oklahoma City, the death of Vince Foster -- where the government just digs in their heels and says, "This is the official story and we're sticking to it, notwithstanding any facts that contradict our preconceived position."

A: And I think it has become so much worse. In our ad, we asked people that had some idea or some information about why the government was ignoring the eyewitnesses to please give us a call and keep everything confidential. We had some pretty interesting calls come in.

Q: Whatever happened to just reporting who/what/where/when?

A: You're talking about the growth of interpretative reporting, interpretive journalism. It started 25-30 years ago; we were getting a lot of it in those days. I'm not so sure if you go back in history that there ever was much objective journalism as we sometimes think. We think there was some golden age when people were straight and non-political. But remember: a lot of papers had names like "Republican" and "Democrat" and they were partisan papers when they got started. Obviously, people were more candid under those circumstances in letting their views influence their selection of stories -- and the slant they were putting on their stories.

Q: Part of the problem is the attrition of newspapers.

A: That's taken quite a substantial dive. As I look at the young people today, I wonder how many of them are reading the papers for the news and how many are doing it just for sports or the ads.

Q: One of the saddest commentaries is when USA Today first came out. It was designed graphically to specifically target a television audience. Instead of trying to bring the reader up to a level of literacy, they are going to the lowest common denominator. It may, regrettably, make some kind of marketing sense but we lose a lot in substance along the way.

A: I agree. It ain't what it used to be. One paper in my view, I think, has suffered a great decline, especially since the young Salzberger took over as publisher, is the New York Times. It has become, in many ways, a really bad paper.

The editorial page of the New York Times is very liberal. They have adopted a maximum of 150 words on letters to the editor, which has virtually knocked out letters to the editor as a means of getting anything corrected. They don't know how to correct their errors. I have correspondence from them saying they are giving "serious thought" to the way they correct their errors. I first raised that question at their annual shareholders meeting in May and they haven't come up with an answer.

I pointed out that they recently ran two articles about John Stossel of ABC making a mistake on a segment he had on "20/20" in which he said laboratory tests had been run and showed no more pesticide residue on regular produce than on organic produce. It turned out there hadn't been any lab tests done on that. The Times wrote two articles, a total of 26-inches.

Q: Although John was given bad information from the researchers who were working the story with him.

A: Right. The Times were patting themselves on the back for having forced ABC to make the correction, which ABC did. But for their own corrections, it's a different story.

They sent in a story last June about how the Chernobyl power plant in Ukraine was going to be decommissioned and encased in concrete. The New York Times wrote that the Chernobyl accident was responsible for "untold thousands of deaths and injuries." I was looking into the Chernobyl accident because Andy Rooney had said something on CBS that sounded to me to be an exaggeration. I went to the Internet and found there had been a big international conference in the aftermath of the Chernobyl accident, held in Vienna, with a lot of very prestigious international scholars and organizations participating. They found there had been 48 deaths as a result of that accident, which surprised the heck out of me.

Q: I'm very surprised the number was so low.

A: I am, too. We heard what a terrible thing it was. But here's the New York Times -- and what were they basing this "untold thousands" on? They had read an article in Scientific American by a Ukrainian who was connected with Ukrainian Greenpeace. This was their authority.

Q: Some folks are going to assume, incorrectly, that the New York Times would have three corroborating independent sources before reporting a figure like that.

A: I wrote them a letter about it. I cited the evidence from this prestigious conference, which had just been confirmed by the U.N. Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation. They just put out another report confirming the death toll was below 50 as of now.

Q: So how did the New York Times correct their story?

A: They have a correction box on page two in which they correct misspelled names and wrong addresses and that sort of thing. They put four sentences in there saying there had been an error in the story. They did not put the facts in or say the experts had concluded that there had been less than 50 deaths. They just said the actual number of deaths has not been definitely determined.

The Times ran another column in which they pointed out these pesticide residues we used to get so uptight about. Remember alar?

Q: Yeah, it destroyed Washington state's agriculture business for a short time.

A: It cost millions of dollars in damage to apple growers. One of the people who got involved in that controversy was Dr. Bruce Ames at the University of California at Berkley. He was head of the biochemistry department at that time. He invented the Ames Test for an easy way to find which chemicals were carcinogenic and which were not. Bruce Ames, in his analysis of plants and vegetables, found that of all the chemicals found in various vegetables, a very high percentage of them are carcinogenic.

Q: "The News Manipulators" is the title of your last book. How much manipulation and how much malfeasance are involved?

A: We've been talking about stories that have been suppressed. This is one of the biggest ways of manipulating the news -- to simply not report things that ought to be reported as well as controlling where stories are placed. We recently exposed the fact that Richard Burke, one of the main political writers for the New York Times, revealed as he was talking to the gay/lesbian journalists at a function they were having, said, "On any given day, you will find a quarter of the people who decide on ... what goes on the front page of the New York Times will be gay." That's a pretty high percentage.

The gays are some of the greatest people in the world for manipulating the news.

Q: Just look at the Boy Scout controversy and the gay jihad against scouting.

A: Absolutely. When news unfavorable to them comes out -- like in the Jesse Dirkhising murder down in Arkansas last year, the terrible torture and murder of this boy -- it gets virtually no publicity. Whereas the case of the boy out in Wyoming -- you're still getting stories about that. The gays are very successful at keeping stories that are unfavorable about them out and putting in stories that are favorable.

Q: One encouraging point -- you can go back to the Monica Lewinsky story. All the enterprising work on that story was done by Mike Isikoff and Newsweek spiked it. It probably would have stayed spiked if it weren't for that annoying pain in the neck blessing, Matt Drudge. True story: Matt broke that story on a Saturday. I read it and made about a half dozen phone calls back east and confirmed it. I did a piece for WorldNetDaily that ran on Monday. I was working for ABC at the time and as soon as the story hit, I started getting calls from all over the country -- New York, L.A., Chicago, Detroit, crying, "Geoff you can't write stuff like that. You're crazy." That was on a Monday. By Wednesday of the same week, a proprietary interest was being proclaimed by a half dozen news organizations. It was Mike Isikoff who did the grunt work.

A: And Lisa Meyers of NBC did the pioneering work on the Juanita Brodderick stuff.

Q: And they tried to spike that, too!

A: You know who was responsible for spiking it? I talked to Bob Wright, who is the president of NBC, and he said, "Well, my people tell me the story isn't ready. There are some things that still have to be found." So I asked him, "Could you tell me what still has to be found?" And he said, "Well, they don't know the exact date this occurred. It might turn out Bill Clinton wasn't even in town on that date." So I said, "Bob, do you mind if I check that with Juanita Brodderick?" And he said, "No, go ahead." So I called Brodderick and she said, "What are they talking about? They found that date themselves through their research."

She was a very credible witness. She had what many rape victims don't have -- contemporaneous witnesses who had seen her after the event and saw that her lips had been badly damaged by his having bitten them. Yet, there he is, the president of the United States. The Juanita Brodderick case simply did not resonate and NBC didn't get around to running it until after the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post both published stories about it. And who was holding it up? The president of NBC News, Mr. Andrew Lack.

Q: In the wake of the most recent Clinton scandal, an interesting observation has been made. The people have become desensitized to it. There have been so many multiple scandals that people have almost come to expect that out of the White House.

A: What you get is scandal fatigue and one big reason is because no one ever seems to get prosecuted. In this administration, you have case after case after case after case. You have Janet Reno announcing she is not going to appoint an independent counsel again.

Q: That was the hat trick. We knew that was going to happen.

A: But she is so brazen about it. Look, Josef Stalin was never convicted of a crime. Why? Because he didn't commit any crimes? No. Because he controlled everything. He was the one who decided who was going to be prosecuted. This is what we've got here. We've got a regime in Washington that simply does not prosecute the people who are working in the administration.

Q: They have elevated abuse of power under the color of authority to an art form.

Please tell our readers how they can get in touch with Accuracy In Media.

A: Our website is www.aim.org. Our publications and other interesting stuff can be found there. Our phone number is 1-800-787-4567.