Associated Retired Aviation Professionals

FROM: Ian Goddard


TO: Roland De Wolk

Producer KTVU Investigative Reports

Executive Producer NewsPort

Dear Roland De Wolk,

Your scholastic text "Introduction to Online Journalism" presents erroneous information pertaining to events related to the TWA Flight 800 crash on July 17, 1996.  On page 172 you claim that when reporters asked Pierre Salinger about the source of his information that Flight 800 was hit by a Navy missile, "he said he had read it on the Internet." [1] That is not true. In reality Salinger attributed his information to a French intelligence source with close contacts to U.S. officials. His source gave him a document, which Salinger later discovered to be a copy of the so-called "anonymous Internet document" that had been circulating previously on the Internet. [2] That

document was written by retired 747 pilot Richard Russell and its contents were based on his anonymous source. [3] Your textbook misstates the source-chain and the facts.


You refer to "the sites Salinger used" but I don't know how you came to know about such specific sites since he used no sites. You also say "the sites Salinger used" have "no concern about accuracy." Did you inform any of the owners of those sites about inaccuracies before publishing such an allegation in a book? If you did not inform site owners about alleged inaccuracies, how did

you come to know that the authors had "no concern about accuracy" if they were not made aware of inaccuracies and given the change to show concern by correcting them?


People can make innocent mistakes, as I assume you have.  Please see my references below for a review of the facts about which your text errs. Thank you for your attention.



Ian Goddard




[1] De Wolk, R. (2001). "Introduction to Online Journalism, Publishing News and Information." Allyn & Bacon, page 172:


"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."



[2] CNN (11/8/96): "Salinger said he was basing the claims on information he saw in a document given to him six weeks ago by someone in French Intelligence with close contacts to U.S. officials. He refused to identify the source. Later, however, he learned from CNN that the document actually was a widely accessible e-mail letter that has been circulating for at least six weeks on the Internet's World Wide Web." (


[3] CNN (3/13/97): "Salinger first based his friendly fire claim on a memo [Richard] Russell wrote and circulated on the Internet." The New York Times (11/17/96): "[the] anonymous message that began circulating in late August ... was written on America Online by Richard Russell, a 66-year-old Floridian and former United Airlines pilot. ... Russell can't be accused of courting publicity. He says he has been contacted by several major television shows, but they've all lost interest because he won't give up his source."


USA Today (10/31/96): "Richard Russell, a retired United Airline pilot and former crash investigator, shouldn't have been surprised when an authoritative sounding e-mail he sent to fewer than a dozen friends Aug. 22--claiming a government cover-up in the crash of TWA Flight 800--was copied across the 'Net.'"

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