The Washington Post has a way of celebrating anniversaries in an odd way -- say, highlighting an anti-war activist on Memorial Day. Friday's Washington Post, just days shy of the fifth anniversary of 9-11, devoted a long lead article in the Style section to the idea that the Bush administration was behind the almost 3,000 deaths on 9/11. That's a horrendous concept to entertain. But reporter Michael Powell not only found it entertaining. He praised the reasonableness of its proponents.
Notice how he pays tribute to one liberal expert:
It was a year before David Ray Griffin, an eminent liberal theologian and philosopher, began his stroll down the path of disbelief... "To me, the report read as a cartoon." White-haired and courtly, Griffin sits on a couch in a hotel lobby in Manhattan, unspooling words in that reasonable Presbyterian minister's voice. "It's a much greater stretch to accept the official conspiracy story than to consider the alternatives."
"There was massive complicity in this attack by U.S. government operatives."
If that feels like a skip off the cliff of established reality, more Americans are in free fall than you might guess. There are few more startling measures of American distrust of leaders than the widespread belief that the Bush administration had a hand in the attacks of Sept. 11 in order to spark an invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq.
Notice how Powell qualifies reality for the conspiracy theorists, calling it "established reality." He then cites a poll showing 36 percent believe there's government complicity in 9/11, which is remarkably high. Powell includes the standard view of the conspiracy theorists:
You could dismiss this as a louder than usual howl from the CIA-controls-my-thoughts-through-the-filling-in-my-molar crowd. Establishment assessments of the believers tend toward the psychotherapeutic. Many academics, politicians and thinkers left, right and center say the conspiracy theories are a case of one plus one equals five. It's a piling up of improbabilities.
But Powell was still finding that Griffin was impressively calm: "Griffin took the podium and laid down his ideas with calm and cool." But the credibility of one's ideas is based on more than the tone of your voice. Powell doesn't seem to wonder how a theologian and philosopher is qualified as an expert in engineering or military matters.
Perhaps the most disturbing tic in the article is how Powell begins by calling it the "9/'11 truth movement" in quotes, and then he drops the quotes. Doesn't that suggest to the reader that the movement has the truth behind it? But it grew worse:
To make sense of the truth movement's anger, you need to hit the rewind button to early 2001, with the hindsight of today. There was, as the 9/11 Commission hearings made clear, a bad moon rising. Warnings kept coming of a "high probability" of a "spectacular" terrorist attack. A national security adviser warned Condoleezza Rice there were terrorist cells, probably al-Qaeda guys, in the country. CIA chief George Tenet said the "system was blinking red."
So give the truth movement, many of whom are based in New York City, their props. They may be paranoid, but something nasty came our way. They pore over the paper trail with a Sherlock Holmesian intensity, alert to intriguing discrepancy.
Former transporation secretary Norman Mineta told the commission he arrived in the presidential operations center -- under the White House -- at 9:20 a.m. on Sept. 11 and found Vice President Cheney. When an aide asked Cheney about the hijacked plane fast approaching the Pentagon, Mineta says the vice president snapped that the "orders still stand." Mineta assumed the orders were to shoot the plane down. Conspiracy theorists interpret this to mean: Don't shoot it down.
Cheney later said he was not in the operations center until after the plane hit. The commission never mentioned Mineta's contradictory version.
Leftist research Chip Berlet is used as one voice to disparage the conspiracy theorists. But at best, this is a fair and balanced presentation of a vicious conspiracy theory, with no comment from
Bush or Cheney or other supposed masterminds of mass murder. If you have trouble imagining the Washington Post would ever publish something like this during a Democratic administration, then that's a conspiracy theory worth entertaining.
Perhaps Powell was endorsing the quotes he salted the story with, such as this one from Krishnamurti: "It's no measure of health to be sane in an insane society." But that's a pretty awful motto for publishing a credible newspaper.