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.”
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:
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):
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:
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
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:
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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