To the Program Director:
The July 28, 1996 edition of The McLaughlin Group can only be described as a raucous exercise in blatantly biased and irresponsible journalism and cannot be allowed to pass without comment. The reliance of Mr. McLaughlin and several of his guests, including one "counter terrorism expert", on the dubious and outright bigoted article appearing in Time Magazine (July 2, 1996) was great cause for surprise. One would think that journalists of the Group's stature should certainly be able to distinguish between reality and delusion. By somehow blaming the Greek-American community for having a role in the tragic TWA Flight 800 disaster, The McLaughlin Group has apparently reached a new low in public discourse.
Attributing the TWA tragedy to the supposedly lax security of the Athens Airport when the cause of that tragedy has not even been ascertained is nothing less than absurd. The facts clearly contradict both Time's and The McLaughlin Group's representations of Athens Hellenikon Airport's security. In March of 1996, Congressman John J. Duncan, Aviation Chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee of Congress, described Athens Airport as "one of the safest in the world", also citing the fact that it had won the Safe Skies Award from the World Development Council. In May of 1996, Transportation Secretary Federico Pena issued an order that Hellenikon Airport "maintains and carries out effective security measures" after the Federal Aviation Administration found that the airport clearly complied with international security standards.
The New York Times of July 27, 1996 published an article on the issue ("Experts Say Greek Airport's Precautions Against Bombing are Better Than Kennedy's", by Pam Belluck, 7/27/96), exactly one day after President Bill Clinton admitted the need for increased security measures at US airports. The article stated that Athens Airport's safety measures not only meet international standards but are sometimes regarded as extreme and burdensome. That same article goes on to say that "before the plane left Athens on the morning of July 17 as Flight 881 to New York, a security firm that is a subsidiary of TWA searched for bombs, contraband or suspicious items hidden in parts of the aircraft, like the panels that line the luggage compartment and the crevices underneath the toilet or other bathroom fixtures". Finally, adds the Times, "such a security sweep was not done when the plane landed at Kennedy Airport or before it took off for Paris." Perhaps Mr. McLaughlin and his guests would find the entirety of the New York Times article very enlightening as they were either unaware of the facts surrounding the tragedy of Flight 800 or they were simply looking for someone to blame, in this case the Greek and Greek-American people.
TWA itself, after the Flight 800 tragedy, confirmed that Hellenikon Airport's safety measures were trustworthy and doubted press reports of ineffective security as being responsible for the crash. As of July 30th, we still do not know what caused the fateful explosion of Flight 800. Yet The McLaughlin Group saw nothing wrong with its defamation of the Greek and Greek-American people, accusing them of applying pressure on the Clinton Administration through their supposed direct link to the White House, George Stephanopoulos.
This kind of wild speculation is not only fantasy but bad journalism as well. The Greek-American community has no more power or political clout to influence decisions at the highest level of US government than any other ethnic group in this country. Also, the reference by guest Michael Barone, editor of US News and World Report, to Greeks as "restaurant-owners", and the implication that Hellenikon Airport's directors are untrustworthy is yet another example of the worst kind of slander targeting an ethnic group.
Admittedly, it is always easier to designate a scapegoat for a tragedy of this magnitude--in this case the Greek and Greek-American communities. While it may be difficult to resist the seductive pull of conspiracy theories, certainly The McLaughlin Group owes its viewers responsible journalism in the place of shrill invective. Moreover, the Greek and Greek-American people deserve better than the hate-mongering remarks expressed by Mr. McLaughlin and his guests. As an example, however, of dangerous and malevolent ethnic baiting, The McLaughlin Group's report was clearly a success.
Associate Media Director
Two moving letters to AHMP from the father of Flight 800 passenger Michelle Bohlin, age 15