NYT Gives "Bush-Caused-9/11" Conspiracists a Respectful Hearing

A wacky group of conspiracy theorists who think 9/11 was an inside job on the part of the Bush administration met in Chicago over the weekend, and got a respectful hearing from Times Metro reporter Alan Feuer.

“500 Conspiracy Buffs Meet To Seek the Truth of 9/11” made Page 1 of the Metro section, and that very headline gives the conspiracy-mongers the undeserved accolade of truth-seekers when they’re actually just crawling for scraps of evidence “proving” that Bush, not radical Islamic terrorism, was responsible for 9/11.

Feuer explains: “Such was the coming-out for the movement known as "9/11 Truth," a society of skeptics and scientists who believe the government was complicit in the terrorist attacks. In colleges and chat rooms on the Internet, this band of disbelievers has been trying for years to prove that 9/11 was an inside job.”

The text box puts this latest batch of conspiracists in the same box as other historical sceptics, to make them appear less wacky: “Some participants see an American tradition of questioning concentrated power.”

Feuer writes: “At the lectern Friday night, beside a digital projection reading ‘History of Government Sponsored Terrorism,’ Mr. Jones set forth the central tenets of 9/11 Truth: that the military command that monitors aircraft ‘stood down’ on the day of the attacks; that President Bush addressed children in a Florida classroom instead of being whisked off to the White House; that the hijackers, despite what the authorities say, were trained at American military bases; and that the towers did not collapse because of burning fuel and weakened steel but because of a ‘controlled demolition’ caused by pre-set bombs.

“According to the group's Web site, the motive for faking a terrorist attack was to allow the administration ‘to instantly implement policies its members have long supported, but which were otherwise infeasible.’

“The controlled-demolition theory is the sine qua non of the 9/11 movement -- its basic claim and, in some sense, the one upon which all others rest. It is, of course, directly contradicted by the 10,000-page investigation by the National Institute of Standards and Technology, which held that jet-fuel fires distressed the towers' structure, which eventually collapsed.”

“The movement's answer to that report was written by Steven E. Jones, a professor of physics at Brigham Young University and the movement's expert in the matter of collapse. Dr. Jones, unlike Alex Jones, is a soft-spoken man who lets his writing do the talking. He composed an account of the destruction of the towers that holds that ‘pre-positioned cutter-charges’ brought the buildings down.”

Feuer paints this rag-tag group in non-threatening, almost affectionate terms: “[Group press director Michael] Berger, 40, is typical of 9/11 Truthers -- a group that, in its rank and file, includes professors, chain-saw operators, mothers, engineers, activists, used-book sellers, pizza deliverymen, college students, a former fringe candidate for United States Senate and a long-haired fellow named hummux (pronounced who-mook) who, on and off, lived in a cave for 15 years.”

Feuer brings up more palatable conspiracy theories, as if to shield the 9/11-mongers: “Like a prior generation of skeptics -- those who doubted, say, the Warren Commission or the government's account of the Gulf of Tonkin attack -- the 9/11 Truthers are dogged, at home and in the office, by friends and family who suspect that they may, in fact, be completely nuts.”

Feuer even promotes evidence that “Bush was responsible for 9/11” is a relatively mainstream view: “It would even seem the Truthers are not alone in believing the whole truth has not come out. A poll released last month by Zogby International found that 42 percent of all Americans believe the 9/11 Commission ‘concealed or refused to investigate critical evidence’ in the attacks.”

But the poll’s co-author was David Kubiak itself, who spoke at the conference. And here’s the question that led to that “42%” answer.

“Some people believe that the US government and its 9/11 Commission concealed or refused to investigate critical evidence that contradicts their official explanation of the September 11th attacks, saying there has been a cover-up. Others say that the 9/11 Commission was a bi-partisan group of honest and well-respected people and that there is no reason they would want to cover-up anything. Who are you more likely to agree with?”

(Go here to see how slanted the poll truly is.)

The 42% figure is far too high and speaks badly of the gullibility of many phone poll-takers, but the question itself is loaded to deliver the first, skeptical answer. The second choice, with the sarcastic tone about “honest and well-respected people,” perks up knee-jerk U.S. cynicism of government -- the subtext is that only a chump would think the government is full of “honest and well-respected people.” People don’t want to be seen as naïve or unsophisticated, so they feign doubt where previously none existed.

The Times has not been nearly as respectful when it comes to right-wing conspiracy theorists alleging perfidy in Democratic administrations. See Times’ contributing writer (Times Select $ required) Philip Weiss’s “The Clinton Haters” for the February 23, 1997 edition of the Sunday magazine, on those who questioned the verdict of suicide in the Vince Foster case.

The Foster-suicide skeptics aren’t seen as lovable losers the way Feuer portrayed the 9/11 skeptics. Weiss’s 9,000-word article refers to Clinton “haters” six times, “Clinton crazies” 11 times and four “far rights” for good measure. While Feuer’s tone is sometimes skeptical, he doesn’t see a single hater or crazy among a sea of people holding up signs declaiming the “Bush junta,” or alleging that Bush instigated the destruction of the Twin Towers.

UPDATE: The folks at 911truth.org appreciated Feuer's story, linking to it yesterday and noting with approval that it was drawing attacks from the "rightist blogworld" (that would be, um, me).

"In the meantime allow us to share another bit of history, the New York Times' first recognition of our existence, which has been the most popular story on AOL News all day. Yes, there are the expected hits and snickers, but Feuer had to get it through his editors and to his credit he inserts enough meat and salient points to make our case quite clear, clear enough in fact to already draw attacks from the rightist blogworld. - Ed."

Clay Waters
Clay Waters
Clay Waters was director of Times Watch, a former project of the Media Research Center.