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Why is the establishment media so out of touch on 9/11?

Joseph Murtagh

Why is the establishment media so out of touch on 9/11?


May 22, 2007 -- Last Sunday, C-Span 2 aired a session from the 2007 LA Times Festival of Books, called the “Age of Spin Panel,” whose purpose was to explore media deception during the Bush years – a big topic.  The panel consisted of Newsweek journalist Michael Isikoff, political consultant Frank Luntz, Salon.com columnist Joe Conason, and Mother Jones magazine reporter David Goodman, all of whom, with the possible exception of Goodman, are well-known figures within the Washington media establishment.  A number of topics were discussed – the Iraq war, the outing of Valerie Plame – but I found the panel chiefly interesting for what was said about 9/11. 


During the question and answer session, the discussion turned to the attacks, and to what extent the U.S. media failed to do its job in reporting about them.  A woman stood up and said that she was from New York, that she had witnessed the collapse of the towers, that what she had seen she felt resembled a controlled demolition, and that she wanted to know what the panel thought about the media’s complicity in establishing an atmosphere of disinformation after the attacks.  Instead of responding to her question, however, Mr. Luntz ignored her completely and requested that a man in the back row please lower a sign reading “9/11 Truth Now” so that those who “had traveled a long distance that day” could enjoy the panel.  That,” said Mr. Luntz, “is civility.”   


Naturally somewhat annoyed, the woman then asked Mr. Luntz why he wasn’t answering her question, at which point Mr. Luntz aggressively interrogated her, “who do you think did it, who do you think did it?” which, as the woman then pointed out, was not the question she was asking.  What was so odd about all of this was to see how quickly the established parameters of the debate broke down as soon as the 9/11 question was introduced, how these four highly intelligent professional journalists who a moment ago had been calmly and rationally answering the audience’s questions were changed very quickly into four guys who clearly felt like they were being personally attacked by members of the audience, which, as far as I could tell, wasn’t the case at all.  In the end, the thing I took away from watching the whole scene was that, for whatever reason, when it comes to dealing with this 9/11 issue – i.e. how much did the administration know beforehand about the attacks, to what extent can our own government be accountable, just what happened inside the buildings that day, why building 7 collapsed when no plane hit it, all perfectly reasonable questions that the 9/11 Commission itself was at a loss to fully explain – public intellectuals and professional journalists like Michael Isikoff, Joe Conason, Frank Luntz, and David Goodman are liable to experience a certain hysterical excitability that causes them to dismiss the issue outright, without taking the time to have a more nuanced understanding of the facts.   


For instance, take the case of Joe Conason.  After Mr. Luntz had turned the question on the questioner, Mr. Conason chimed in saying, “Oh, by the way, as far as I know, bin Laden confessed to being responsible for 9/11, which is why I supported the war in Afghanistan.”  Now, it is true that Bin Laden mentions his involvement in the attacks in the so-called “confession” video released by the U.S. government on December 13, 2001, but what Joe Conason doesn’t mention is what Muckraker Report editor Ed Haas learned when he phoned the FBI last June: that apparently there’s no “hard evidence” linking Osama bin Laden to 9/11 and that the U.S. Justice Department has never formally indicted bin Laden for the attacks, as Ed Haas reported in his article “FBI: ‘no hard evidence connecting Bin Laden to 9/11,’” which was recently selected by Project Censored as one of the top 25 news stories censored by the corporate media.  A good journalist might have asked the questions Ed asked in that article, such as:

So why doesn’t the FBI view the “confession video” as hard evidence?  After all, if the FBI is investigating a crime such as drug trafficking, and it discovers a video of members of a drug cartel openly talking about a successful distribution operation in the United States, that video would be presented to a federal grand jury.  The identified participants of the video would be indicted, and if captured, the video alone would serve as sufficient evidence to net a conviction in a federal court.  So why is the Bin Laden “confession video” not carrying the same weight with the FBI?

Or a good journalist might have brought up what Seymour Hersh reported in the New Yorker in October of 2001, that prior to the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan there were a number of intelligence officials who expressed doubts about Osama bin Laden’s capabilities.  “This guy sits in a cave in Afghanistan and he’s running this entire operation?” said one CIA official.  “It’s so huge.  He couldn’t have done it alone.”  Or a good journalist might have pointed out that on September 23, 2001 Secretary of State Colin Powell told a television interviewer that “we will put before the world, the American people, a persuasive case” showing that bin Laden was responsible for the attacks, and a good journalist would have reminded his audience that, actually, that persuasive case was never made, and it wouldn’t be until mid-December that the Bin Laden confession tape appeared, which means we invaded Afghanistan in early October on pretences that amounted to little more than a hunch.


This aside, however, Joe Conason’s dismissal of the 9/11 issue pales in comparison to Newsweek’s Michael Isikoff’s, who in response to a second audience member’s question as to why the collapse of WTC 7 was never mentioned in the 9/11 Commission Report – again, a perfectly reasonable question – had this to say. (As you read it, imagine his voice escalating in excitement as he waves his hands above his head, the audience cheering him on):    

You know, look, I am a natural skeptic about everything, whenever I find any evidence of government malfeasance, cover-ups, it’s the kind of thing that gets my blood running, but I…this 9/11 stuff is nonsense, there was a thorough investigation by the 9/11 Commission, hundreds of investigators from all across the country, creditable people who looked at it, found not a scant of…nothing, nothing, to support any of this, and of course if you want to believe that this was all some giant conspiracy, that then involved not just the original thousands of conspirators who did it, but then the hundreds of people who were appointed to investigate it, and they all fell in on the same conspiracy, and none of them will talk to anybody, you’re off in some other world, where political dialogue doesn’t exist….my favorite one…you know, the pentagon, people say it wasn’t a plane that hit the Pentagon…I was at the Pentagon the day after!  I saw the plane wreckage…maybe it got planted in the middle of the day, by somebody and nobody noticed…and the other thing is - where’d the plane go?  A plane took off, you know, it just vanished!  This makes no sense whatsoever…it’s just…we’re already wasting too much time talking about it.    

This was met with enthusiastic clapping from Mr. Luntz, after which the moderator of the panel told the audience, “I guess I will take the liberty of saying, I don’t want to have that particular question raised again,” a clear act of censorship on a panel whose purpose was to explore, among other things, the damaging effects on society of censorship in the media.


Mr. Isikoff mentions the 9/11 Commission, with its “hundreds of investigators from all over the country.”  So let’s talk about Mr. Isikoff’s much-lauded Commission.  Here before me I have a copy of the “Family Steering Committee’s Questions to the 9/11 Commission with Ratings of its Performance in Providing Answers,” which was compiled by Mindy Kleinberg and Lorie van Auken, two of the 9/11 widows known as the “Jersey girls,” who led the drive to form the 9/11 Commission, and who assisted in drawing up the list of questions that was eventually used.  Unlike Mr. Isikoff, the widows were actually present at the 9/11 Commission and carefully monitored and graded the responses given to each question.  Let’s take a look at what they found:             

  • On who was in charge of the country on the morning of 9/11 while the president was away from the National Military Command Center, and whether the President was informed or consulted about all decisions made in his absence: No answer. 
  • On what defensive measures the President took in response to pre-9/11 warnings from eleven different nations about a terrorist attack, many of which cited an attack in the continental United States, and to what extent the President prepared any directives in response to these actions, and if so, with what results: No answer.
  • On why the President remained at the Sarasota, Florida elementary school for a press conference after he had finished listening to the children read, when as a terrorist target, his presence potentially jeopardized the lives of the children: No answer.
  • On what prompted the President’s refusal to release the information regarding foreign sponsorship of the terrorists, as illustrated in the inaccessible 28 redacted pages in the Joint Intelligence Committee Inquiry Report, and on what actions the President personally taken since 9/11 to thwart foreign sponsorship of terrorism: No answer.
  • On why the bin Laden family members were granted the special privilege of being flown out of the United States when all commercial flights were grounded, a privilege not available to American families whose loved ones were killed on 9/11: No answer.
  • On which individuals, governments, agencies, institutions, or groups may have benefited from the attacks of 9/11, and how specifically: No answer. 
  • On why no one in any level of the United States government has yet been held accountable for the countless failures leading up to and on 9/11:  No answer.
  • On the reasons for the President’s 14-month opposition to the creation of an independent commission to investigate 9/11 and why the President would have requested Senator Daschle to quash such an investigation: No answer.
  • On when the President first became aware of “Rebuilding America’s Defenses” [RAD] proposed by the Project for a New American Century (PNAC), on who introduced it to him, and on why after 9/11 the President seemed to have fully embraced the RAD plan: No answer.       
  • On why there has not been a consistently steady push since 9/11 to capture or kill bin Laden: No answer.
  • On the types of federal rescue measures in place in the event of an attack on the nation, in terms of personal and equipment: No answer.
  • On why Osama bind Laden’s profile on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted Fugitives poster does not include the 9/11 attacks: No answer.  [Actually, thanks to Ed Haas of the Muckraker Report, we now have an answer to this one: according to the FBI, the reason 9/11 doesn’t appear on the Most Wanted poster, is because there is “no hard evidence linking him to the 9/11 attacks.”]
  • On the advice and plans of the Energy Advisory Council specifically as they related to pipeline development and gas/oil exploration in Afghanistan, Iraq, and other Middle Eastern countries, and the feasibility of such development or exploration specifically in those countries in 2001: No answer.
  • On whether there is a defense protocol to be followed in the event the nation is attacked, besides ensuring the succession to the presidency, and whether it was followed: No answer. 
  • On why the White House set aside the recommendations of the Hart Rudman Report released in January, 2001, which predicted a catastrophic terrorist attack in the United States, passing all responsibility for dealing with the problem to FEMA, even though Congress had been willing to support the recommendations: No answer.
  • On addressing the issue of domestic terrorism, which the Vice-President was asked by President Bush in May, 2001, to oversee, on whom the Vice-President consulted and requested briefings from, on what his findings on the threat level were, on what the recommendations for improved security were that resulted from his study of domestic terrorism, on when they were made and to whom, and on what coordinated plans of action, directives, or protocols developed as a result: No answer.  
  • On the level of support the 9/11 Commission could expect with regard to enacting the changes that they recommend: No answer. 
  • On why the CIA didn’t share vital information about terrorists with the FBI: No answer.
  •  On the extraordinarily large number of stock puts on American and United airlines stock and others which were subsequently impacted by the terrorist attack, on whether the CIA was monitoring the financial markets in the weeks preceding 9/11, on whether such activity was viewed as a warning of an impending attack, on whether the CIA, in coordination with other agencies, both domestic and abroad, investigated the purchases of those stock puts, and on what the names of those individuals, investment groups, and others were who purchased the stock puts in question and the reasons they gave for anticipating a drop in the stocks of companies which coincidentally happened to have been severely impacted by 9/11: No answer.
  • On the role of the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency in aiding bin Laden and/or the al Qaeda from 1998 through the present: No answer.    

I could go on – all in all, 70% of the questions in Mr. Isikoff’s “creditable” report were never answered – but I’d be here all night.  The truth is that when it comes to 9/11, neither Mr. Isikoff nor anyone else on that panel has any idea what they’re talking about, and yet instead of learning the facts they patronizingly snub their audience for asking perfectly legitimate questions, questions for which the 9/11 families are still trying to get answers.  Mr. Isikoff’s solution to 9/11 is amnesia: let’s forget about all of that unpleasant stuff, let’s simply move forward, who cares about discovering the truth or holding people accountable or taking responsibility for our mistakes.  Let’s just be civil. 


Nothing showed this condescending attitude better than Mr. Luntz’s closing remarks.  In the end, the most important thing, he seemed to be telling his audience, was not truth, but happiness:

I don’t want you to walk away from here disappointed, and I don’t want you to walk away from here angry, because the best thing about this session is that you got a chance to challenge me and my colleagues here, you got a chance to challenge the media…I know that they are going to be more careful, that they are going to be tougher…and that this is actually an example of the American process working, not failing, so please walk out of here feeling that it is a good thing that on national television you can have your point of view and you can have your say.

 And the Jersey widows, Mr. Luntz?  When are they going to have their say?

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