Kristina Borjesson, a client of
Paraview Literary Agency, has been an award-winning
independent producer and writer for almost twenty years. She
has produced investigative documentaries for
PBS. She currently produces
and co-hosts the
Expert Witness radio show
WBAI in New York and KPFK in
Los Angeles. Recently Borjesson edited almost two dozen essays
by leading journalists about the depth and breadth of
censorship in American journalism and collected those in the
Into the Buzzsaw. It includes,
among others, stories about POWs left behind in Vietnam, a
Korean War massacre by U.S. troops, the CIA involvement in the
War on Drugs, disenfranchisement of black votes in the Bush
presidential election, and Borjessons own essay about the
deception of the TWA Flight 800 crash. It paints a bleak
picture of the role mainstream media play in American
Alexander Dake interviewed Borjesson about her views on the
role of journalism in a democracy, conflicts of interests in
the media, and cover-ups by governments and corporations.
AD: You are an investigative reporter. What is the
difference between investigative reporting and more
KB: Investigative reporting is not just about getting
the facts, but also about why, how, and who. It usually is
about how a system works and it is often about criminal
activity. Successful criminals are among the most creative
people. As an investigative journalist you have to be very
creative yourself in following the trail of these criminals
and thats quite a challenge. It is an all-consuming activity
of doing research and trying to be as creative as the
perpetrators in uncovering what actually happened.
AD: How did you get involved in investigative
KB: First of all, I think that my subjects choose me
more than I choose them. But more generally speaking, I am
attracted to investigative reporting because of the way my
mind works. I always want to get to the bottom of something.
The first documentary I worked on was a biography of Thomas
Merton, the Trappist monk. He was a big rebel in the Catholic
Church, but also someone who made Catholicism and spirituality
accessible to many people. He wrote a lot about what was wrong
in our society. This was not typical investigative reporting,
but I did go into much detail about Mertons background and
history. Later on I used these same skills for more
controversial topics, such as in Legacy of Shame, a report
about Mexicans crossing the U.S. border to escape poverty at
home to work for low wages and no benefits on U.S. farms.
AD: Which TV programs are doing a good job at
investigative reporting nowadays?
KB: I would say
60 Minutes and
Frontline. Once in a while
HBO does good work although
often too much focused on sex and violence. Everybody does
some good work sometimes, but Into the Buzzsaw shows that
there are certain areas of interest to the American public,
where journalists are not allowed to go. This is what I call
the black hole of reporting. This black hole usually deals
with high-level corporate and government malfeasance. Examples
of the latter are dealing with institutions such as the
FBI and the
CIA. Even though most of our
tax dollars go to these institutions and their activities in
the U.S. or abroad are done on our behalf, they will do their
best in denying the American public from knowing what it is
they are actually doing.
AD: If what you are saying is true, how do you explain
the power of journalism in the Vietnam War, which was
essentially halted because of media attention, and in
Watergate, which was uncovered by journalists?
KB: Those were different times. On the one hand
government has learned its lessons from those days and is
better at covering up sensitive issues. On the other hand I
think that the major newspapers and TV stations are now more
driven by commercial interests than by the public interest.
Just look at the ongoing concentration of the major media
companies. I dont think that Katharine Graham of the
Washington Post if she were
alive today would have made the same decision as in the
seventies. The idea of serving the public interest was fairly
strong in those days and is now almost completely ignored.
AD: These days many people speak of conflicts of
interests in corporate America. Do you see a conflict of
interest among journalists?
KB: Yes. You cannot serve a bottom line and the public
interest at all times without a conflict. The corporate
interest is to serve its stockholders, not a nation, nor its
citizens. Also, if you would look at the corporations who own
media companies and their news departments, then you would
uncover so many areas of conflict of interest that there are
hardly any topics left they could report objectively on.
Robert McChesney, a media
academic and contributor to Into the Buzzsaw, is highly
critical of CNNs decision to have two different versions of
reporting of the war on terrorism, one for a U.S. audience and
the other for a presumably more critical international
audience. What is your view on having two versions of the same
KB: In some way you can present news differently for
different audiences. But the fact of the matter in this case
is that the bias of reporting in the U.S. on the war on
terrorism is tantamount to propaganda. It is not necessarily
just because the U.S. is pro-Israel. It is also because a lot
of American reporters, even the experienced ones, are pretty
provincial. They dont always have a good sense of history or
have cultural sensitivities. That creates a simplified and
colored reporting, which can be dangerous.
AD: Your essay in Into the Buzzsaw deals with your
experience in reporting the TWA 800 crash in 1996. What were
your expectations when starting your investigation into this
KB: Before I started my investigation I had no idea of
what had caused Flight 800s crash. My goal was to find out
what had happened. But when I didnt go in the right
direction with my investigation, I ran into trouble, at first
with the authorities and later on with my colleagues at CBS.
AD: What were your conclusions on TWA Flight 800?
KB: I felt that there was enough evidence to show that
something hit that plane at high speed. I dont have a smoking
gun, in the sense that there is no doubt about what exactly
did hit the plane. What I do show, however, is a pattern of
deception throughout the entire investigation that the FBI and
National Transportation Safety Board
engaged in. I also show how the press went along with that
deception and how certain high-profile members of the press
were being used to lie to the public and denigrate journalists
who were reporting things that the NTSB did not want to be
reported. An example is that when the head of the FBI task
force lies to Dan Rather of CBS about key evidence in the
investigation, that is news and should be reported. In this
case, however, due to the institutions involved, it was not
AD: How do you explain that CBS did not want to
continue with your story on this investigation?
KB: My assessment is that CBSs senior Washington
correspondent, Bob Orr, heard from his sources at the
Pentagon that a missile
theory was ridiculous and that a mechanical failure caused the
crash. Bob Orr has then two choices: He can accept what they
say, because they are legitimate news sources, or he can take
their statements at face value and try to confirm that with
other sources. He did the former, and in that way kept access
to these top sources. If he had done the latter, his sources
could have shut him off and he would be of no use as a
Washington correspondent anymore. An institution like the
Pentagon can not only shut off an individual correspondent,
but even block CBS from having access to government sources.
AD: So who is more powerful, the Pentagon or one of the
largest global media companies?
KB: The Pentagon, because there are so many ways for
government to force media companies to follow its way.
Examples are losing access to news sources, limiting the use
of military satellites for broadcasting news, as CNN once
almost experienced, and restricting the mobility of
correspondents in war zones. In other words, a media companys
bottom line can be hurt severely.
AD: In Into the Buzzsaw you say that your experience
with the TWA Flight 800 investigation changed your worldview.
In what way?
KB: I was brought up in
in the days of Papa Doc. It was very clear, then, that
you followed Papa Docs rules or else you and your family
would be killed. If you were, however, a member of Papa Docs
elite you could do almost anything. When you grow up in a
nation like that, you come to the U.S. with high expectations
of a democracy and civil liberties. The U.S. is a nation of
freedoms and liberties. However, since my experiences with TWA
800, I realized that here too there are tendencies which would
fit in a dictatorial country. Dont misunderstand me: For the
most part the people working in government and government
agencies are doing a good job, but there are abuses. Those
abuses have to be looked at if we want to remain a real
AD: What do you try to achieve with Into the Buzzsaw?
KB: I am trying to show there is something
fundamentally wrong with the system. I am trying to expose the
black hole of journalism. I am trying to show people what they
are not informed about. I am trying to inspire people that
there are journalists who do expose at their own peril the
things going on in our society. People, whether they are
journalists or private citizens, have to work at a democracy.
You cannot just sit back and focus only on making money,
raising a family, and enjoying life. Every once in a while you
need to stand up for your rights as a citizen of a democracy.
In my case I just felt that I could not call myself a
journalist if I had remained silent about what I found in my
investigations. That is my contribution to this society and to
democracy. Even though it wasnt easy, I feel empowered,
because even as one person I could make a difference.
AD: Let me quote Robert McChesney again, who claims
that the death of journalism has taken place over the last
ten years. What is your view?
KB: I dont believe in reforming the current system. I
think we should create a new system of truly independent
media, where journalism means being non-partisan and trying to
get to the truth, however hard it is to accept. Those of us
who believe that are already trying to create a system outside
of the mainstream. You can find it on the Internet, on the
radio, and in some magazines. It is not just about
independent-minded journalists, however. Without the
involvement and support of private citizens a new kind of
journalism will not survive.
Into the Buzzsaw: Leading Journalists
Expose the Myth of a Free Press edited by Kristina Borjesson
Manufacturing Consent by Edward S.
Herman and Noam Chomsky
Rule By Secrecy by Jim Marrs
non-profit organization dedicated to helping journalists who
are up against the buzzsaw
Witness Radio, a
weekly radio program by Mike Levine and Kristina Borjesson
non-profit website responding to a breakdown in decision
making and understanding (click on media and read about
Alternet.org, a site for
Investigative Reporters and
Editors, Inc., a grassroots
non-profit organization dedicated to improving the quality of
Our Media Voice, a
website campaigning for the voice of the public to balance the
power of the media conglomerates
Independent Press Association,
an antidote to monopoly media.
© 2002, Alexander M. Dake
can be reached at