Why the media ignored 9/11
by Daan de Wit
August 22, 2006
[Note: The original article contains links to various sources. Those interested in the sources should read the original article, the URL of which is listed above. The article was translated from Dutch into English by Ben Kearney]
The official theory regarding the events of September 11th is a bad conspiracy theory. It's a shaky theory any way you look at it, it even runs counter to some laws of nature, and it relies entirely on the shock effect felt by the public, and in turn the media, for its success. Sometimes journalists are just people. They also felt the shock of 9/11, and they also went along with the Bush administration's flimsy theory. This consensus over what the truth is behind September 11th falls within a familiar pattern. According to this pattern, during the first few hours following a sudden, large-scale incident, there is a totally free press. What then follows is general agreement. Meanwhile five years have gone by, and the Old Media are lagging behind the facts that are being presented by the New Media.
Looking back we can see that the Old Media also followed the pattern on September 11th – on the day itself the spirit of journalism was alive and well, and everything under the sun was freely reported. Explosions in the WTC were reported by the major television networks. In an overview of the day, the major Dutch newspaper Trouw wrote: '09:58 Huge explosion underneath the WTC'; anchor Peter Jennings explains [WMV] on live television that during a controlled demolition explosions have to take place at the bottom of the building; another anchorman, Dan Rather, compares [MPG] the collapse of WTC7 to a controlled demolition; CNN is basically reporting that no evidence exists to suggest that an airplane crashed into the Pentagon, and FOX is saying that the only thing you can see in Pennsylvania is a hole in the ground. The consensus that Bin Laden was responsible for the attacks didn't evolve quite so organically though.
Even though the attack apparently was a huge surprise, President Bush was nevertheless quick to unravel the mystery, including the use of photos: Osama bin Laden and his 19 thieves had managed to surprise the U.S., and now it was time for revenge. The much-anticipated "father to the country", one who would provide comfort in a time of crisis and would call for the biggest CSI in the history of mankind, never showed up. No Crime Scene Investigation ever took place because all of the debris was immediately hauled away and sold to China as scrap metal, and while everyone was seeking consolation, Bush spoke of vengeance. Following Bush's revelation, the facts were adapted to fit the fiction – the explosions that were heard were hushed up along with the many other impossibilities, like the vaporizing of the airplanes in the Pentagon and in Pennsylvania, and inconsistencies such as the pools of melted steel at the bottom of the WTC towers, the free fall of WTC7 and, well, all the other facts that the internet is flush with.
Old Media caught in trap of patriotism
The spontaneous expression of straightforward reporting on September 11th was limited to the first part of the day, and wasn't used as a model for further investigation. Further investigation was not necessary now that President Bush had made it clear who the culprits were and that punishment now had to be handed out. It would have been unpatriotic to oppose the integrity of the stricken Bush administration. Everyone had to come together and put their shoulders to the wheel. The media worked in tandem with the neocons on the response, apparently out of sheer love of country. Objectively speaking, this lack of criticism was appalling. In the meantime The New York Times has already issued a mea culpa concerning their negligent coverage of the non-existent weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. That apology wouldn't have been necessary if cooler heads had prevailed and the journalistic work had been done right, such as it was by journalists from the New Media, whose activities since September 11th have taken flight. What was the reason for this – why did they keep a cool head and why did the Old Media trail so far behind in their coverage of all the things that don't add up regarding the events on and around 9/11 (and the lies during the lead-up to the Iraq war)? There are several reasons to be pointed out here.
Journalists from the New Media are internet savvy
The Old Media – newspapers, television, radio, also known as the Mainstream Media – are the dominant media of old. They've set the tone for September 11th by going along with the official theory of the attacks. Alternative views of 9/11 thrive primarily on and thanks to the internet – that is where it began. That this has largely passed up the Old Media is due to the fact that so many journalists from the Old Media are not very well-versed in the internet. Even I date back to the generation that learned to type on typewriters. Once classes were done for the day at the School of Journalism, I wrote my articles on typewriters that were screwed into tables in the corridor. Later on I bought my first computer of 12MHz; I purchased the computer that I'm writing this article on at the same store, but it's about 2500 times as fast. At the time that I graduated in 1995, there was just one computer at school with internet access – you had to make an appointment to be allowed to use the internet. Many somewhat older journalists have never really made a complete transition to the new media. The internet, which is the greatest source of information and which has brought about an information revolution, has for the most part passed them by. They don't actually take the medium seriously because they're not very familiar with it. The most reliable example of this for me is my father of 68 years. During his entire working life he has switched back and forth between being a journalist and doing public relations, and just recently has started using email, but has made and continues to make no use of the internet for his research. He and his colleagues are internet-handicapped.
The independence of the internet journalist
In a review of among others a book by journalist Greg Palast, the NRC Handelsblad (considered the most important Dutch newspaper) writes on August 18th: 'In the American media landscape, loyalty and docility dominate. The lice in the fur have emigrated to the internet. The noble tradition of the American muckrakers is not dead, it is alive and well. That's the good news. The bad news is that the work of these people has been pushed to the margins of American journalism, and sometimes must even be sent abroad to be published or printed. You can still write as controversially as you please in America. It's just that it's becoming extremely difficult to bring it to the attention of Americans'.
The lonely internet journalist has nothing to do with anything or anyone. This puts a distance between the journalist and the powers that be, which makes it possible to think – and above all to act – more objectively than for example a journalist with The New York Times or NBC. These kinds of organizations function at the top on the same level as that of other elites, such as that of the governing elite. The effects of this association trickle down to the lower echelons. The independence of the internet journalist translates into the freedom to not have to maintain friendly relationships, which is necessary in the world of the major media so as to be able to come knocking again for news the next time. Journalists who are not beholden to this, and who also have no sympathy for it, are in a better position to act in the spirit of true journalism. At times they stumble over their own amateurism or gullibility, but the better ones among them leave professional journalism in their wake. Mike Ruppert and Alex Jones are examples of this. If you on the other hand practice establishment journalism – traveling in closed quarters and being dependent upon those who supply you with news – then your possibilities are limited. At that point there is actually only one way to go, and that is to follow what the news dictates. The logical result of all these limitations is that RTL-Nieuws and NOS-Journaal (the only two serious Dutch daily news programs) end up being as similar to each other as two drops of water, and at the same time it has almost become a standard career move to go from being a news program journalist to a pr-person for a politician or administration spokesperson.
Not only have the major media blundered in their journalistic duty regarding 9/11, but they have also misjudged internet journalism. Internet journalists were looked down upon. In most cases they didn't have the benefit of journalistic training, and were unable to draw from the network, knowledge and tradition of a large medium such as a newspaper or a TV station. But what was forgotten were the enormous resources that the modern independent reporter has at his disposal due to the ever-increasing power of search engines and the sources from which they can pull their results. This was first recognized when the major media discovered the blogs, started blogging themselves, and then created a way for readers to start blogging, such as the Dutch newspaper de Volkskrant for example. In addition to the search potential of the internet, which in theory can place an article by an internet journalist in the top ten results of a Google search directly above or below that of a reporter from a renowned media outlet, internet journalists can also express themselves in audio and video thanks to technology that is becoming cheaper all the time. For a small amount of money you can record an interview on an mp3 player, or make a video that you can then put online for nothing and share with the world. A 22 year-old man from a small town in the U.S. reached millions of people with the 9/11 documentary Loose Change, which he produced in his free time on his laptop. There are a lot of internet journalists
The medium is the masses. There are a lot of internet journalists. Not all journalists on the internet make good contributions. But ultimately the best information and the best journalists rise to the top, due to the often harsh critique found on all sorts of blogs and internet forums. An essential component of this "survival of the fittest" is mentioning your source. As a New Media journalist, if you are going to assert the exact opposite of what can be read in the Old Media, you'd better have a number of good sources at the ready, if you at the very least want to survive and compete with the Mainstream Media. Then again, if you're satisfied with your little corner of Cyberspace and you focus on a none-too-critical readership, then you can have yourself a ball, but you'll find yourself on another playing field. If you want to play with the big boys, then you'll have to play by the rules of the game. Many of the internet journalists who write about September 11th abide by these rules.
It looks as if the people who organized September 11th come from the old school and have miscalculated the immensity of internet journalism. Looked at objectively, the time in which everything was broadcast in black and white, when investigation per se was old-fashioned detective work – the time of JFK for instance – is really not that long ago, but in the public consciousness it's ancient history. Everything is moving faster now, and large groups of people have access to information that they can process and in turn offer to other large groups of people. Not everyone is going to be happy with this. It is essential to actively protect this achievement.
Media not always so honest and independent
In the documentary The Myth of the Liberal Media, Professor Noam Chomsky, among others, demonstrates with hard data that the media is by no means as fair and balanced as you'd like to assume. For example, many more supporters of the Iraq war found their way onto American television than did opponents of that war. As the documentary makes clear, research also indicates that certain views by the current administration regarding the spending of public funds are conveyed via the use of specific angles toward the story, as well as by emphasizing some information while omitting still other information. For the media consumer, it's like watching the end of an American TV show at the moment when both of the lawyers get to make their arguments, but instead he only gets to hear one of the lawyers make his case, and thus can only nod in agreement with that argument. Concrete examples are cited in the documentary concerning the discrepancy between the coverage of revised health care policy, which the media suggests will increase the quality of health care, and the actual practice of overhauling health care, in which the quality actually decreases, just like social programs that in practice become much less social in reality. If these kinds of practices of selective omission and emphasis are employed on a large scale, i.e. by the majority of the media, then there are sure to be repercussions. Not everyone reads the thick reports containing all the precise details, not everyone watches documentaries in which fact is separated from fiction. If the masses are supplied with erroneous information or half-truths from the mass media, then the results are bound to be felt. It's for this reason that the media's responsibility is so huge, and because of this it's so wrong if they don't take that responsibility, as was the case for instance with September 11th.
Old Media coverage one-sided
If you hear one specific message coming from all directions, then another message that deviates from that will be received with skepticism. The message that deviates is by definition suspect, regardless of how true it is. This effect was once studied in a university experiment in which a group of students were asked to give their opinion on the dimensions of a number of shapes that were shown to them. One of the students in the group is unaware that all of the other students have agreed to say the exact opposite of what the facts support, namely that the one line in the picture is longer than the other. In many cases the student who is ignorant of this scheme conforms to the actions of the group. In other words, the dominant opinion becomes the truth, even though it is neither the truth per se nor is it believable, as unbelievable for instance as 19 hijackers getting all the time they need to attack the U.S. – a country in which more than half of the budget goes to defense – even though they are barely qualified to fly, yet still manage to hit the Pentagon while executing a 500mph diving u-turn without damaging the grass, and for the first time in history are able to cause three steel-frame buildings to collapse (whereby it should be noted that WTC7 was not once hit by anything, but nevertheless collapsed vertically at the speed of gravity). That's just one example. The Old Media has ignored these kinds of facts the past few years, but they've been picked up by the New Media.
The increased attention for the subject of September 11th has been discernible, and has reverberated with the Old Media. But it's a world turned upside-down, for this is a media that is reacting to what has been discovered by the public. The media has been roused by the public and sees that the train has already left the station, full of people who have done their own investigating, independent of the failing media. The reports that can now be seen in the media are in general factual statements concerning a phenomenon that you could call the 9/11 awakening, like the article in Vanity Fair on the producers of Loose Change or the Telegraaf (Netherlands) article on a 9/11 conference in Los Angeles. Sometimes the articles are a little bit biased, such as an article in The New York Times in which an obviously negative connotation was used, and sometimes the articles are flat-out intended to discredit the subject entirely, like the Volkskrant (Netherlands) which reported on a conference in Amsterdam, and like HP/De Tijd (Netherlands) in this month's cover story entitled Conspiracy Thinkers. The Belgian magazine HUMO, which is known for its excellent journalism in both form and content, was disappointing in its neglect of the 9/11 subject before making the announcement that Canvas (Belgian TV) would be broadcasting the film Loose Change in the third week of August 2006. When writing the article the writer of the HUMO article was clearly in an emotional state in which so many of his colleagues are now also finding themselves: not being willing or able to believe that what transpired on 9/11 is different than what he thought, but realizing full well that the evidence is nonetheless awfully persuasive. His solution was to make mention of the evidence, but then to place unsubstantiated criticism opposite that evidence.
Influence of a media organization's leadership
It's typical of the Mainstream Media to think along the same lines as the government, as the elite, as the powers that be. Looked at objectively, you might expect the MSM to have an effect on the status quo, but that's not the case. The explanation for this may be that the link between the heads of the media and the heads of the establishment is very close – at a given moment you find yourself at the top of the pyramid and it's no longer possible to purchase a more expensive car or a nicer suit. At a given moment you reach the top of what you do, and it's there that you run into other leaders. This is a logical process that is sometimes forced (Skull & Bones) and sometimes reinforced (Bohemian Grove, Bilderberg Group, Freemasonry), but is otherwise a logical process. All branches of society, such as the media, politics, and the corporate world, have leaders that associate with each other and exchange roles amongst themselves – a politician departs for a corporate job, a manager becomes head of a television station – and via their similarities they form a conformist culture that imposes their vision on the lower echelons of society by way of their underlying power and influence.
The trickle-down effect from the top is enormous. People at the top are looked up to by people at the lower echelons. So you're not going to call your leaders into question. Somehow we still have the impression and the vague recollection that the media and journalism are fighters for the truth. But you're not going to be a fighter if you want to be at the top. You're not going to fight if you want to hang out with the big boys, and certainly not if you are the one in the hierarchy who decides what does or does not get broadcast or printed. Such an unassuming approach influences decisions such as the subject matter and the angle taken, ultimately resulting in unambiguous memos being written to journalists (as seen in the documentary Outfoxed), in TV interviews that favor supporters of the elite's position by a ratio of 80% to 20% (as demonstrated in the documentary The Myth of the Liberal Media), and ultimately in news items that just don't get written any more because journalists conform and censor themselves, while rebellious aspiring journalists don't get accepted because they don't look like they'll fit into the team. And those who are part of the team but don't appear to be fitting in, leave of their own accord.
Establishment journalism neglects duty
The establishment is a component of a structure of which the MSM journalist is also a part. While you might not expect it, journalists are just as middle-class as their neighbor in the suburb where they live. They ride their bicycle – so to speak – with their lunchbox in tow right alongside their neighbor, and as their neighbor heads to the local bus station they part ways, with the journalist turning off in the direction of the editorial office of the newspaper or news desk of the national news broadcast. There are but a few journalists who will stay past 5:00pm to make one more phone call, or like Greg Palast, are not afraid to work a little overtime. The vast majority of journalists work with what is fed to them in the form of press releases that come from the PR people who greatly outnumber them – in The Netherlands three and a half times as many, to be exact.
This lunch-box mentality is also to blame for the biggest newspapers ignoring the issue of September 11th for almost five years. The Dutch major newspaper de Volkskrant was accused of negligent coverage of this subject by The Netherlands Press Council, but did not change course. In its defense the newspaper pointed to an article that dealt with the form of the subject: We have written something on the September 11th, namely about the phenomenon of the conspiracy theories… Later a journalist at the paper wrote an article in which he did his best to avoid the substance of the issue by ridiculing the form of the idea in general. The newspaper's ombudsman got so much feedback from the public that he did some investigating himself: "Editors familiar with this issue to whom I submitted these questions don't see anything in the conspiracy theories nor in the supposed evidence that is doing the rounds on the internet. September 11th has been thoroughly explored and analyzed, the culprits have been identified, and any further allegations are nonsense. […] 'He [Bush] also lied about Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction', is typically the response I get if I mention that the editorial staff doesn't want to accept it. That last point is valid, but in my opinion there's a world of difference between wantonly killing a few thousand fellow citizens on American soil, and the invasion of Iraq. What's most interesting is the question as to what the editorial staff would then need to investigate. Journalists have no access to the evidence found at the scene. This makes it extra-suspicious for those who support the conspiracy theory – "see, they're holding something back". But how should someone at de Volkskrant illustrate that a plenary investigative commission consciously committed fraud? The DeepJournal office looks out on the street where de Volkskrant offices are…
It wouldn't be the first time that the media failed
There is fear amongst the people who have expressed support for the official theory of 9/11 that they will be proven wrong. If September 11th proves to have been organized differently than has been portrayed by politicians and the media, then everything that has been based on that day – from wars, to legislation, to the Western view of Muslim society – will have to be reevaluated. The world was turned on its head by 9/11, but it will be turned on its head once again if September 11th turns out to be an inside job. One of the consequences will be that the media will have to admit to having made serious mistakes. That won't be the first time that that has happened. Shortly before the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7th, 1941, the American press was brought up to speed: 'Army Chief of Staff General George Marshall briefed the bureau chiefs of the New York Times, the New York Herald Tribune, Newsweek and Time in Washington. He swore them to secrecy over the news that the Japanese codes had been cracked and that the war was expected to begin during the first week of December. The journalists kept quiet, and behaved just as obediently as the Dutch press did during the Greet Hofmans affair, and as they still do today by maintaining their silence over the Bilderberg meetings', as I wrote in 2003 in an article for de Humanist. A different kind of example is the fall of the Ceaucescu regime in Romania. Journalists were forced to retract all kinds of wild reports about thousands dead and victims of torture. An even worse low point for the media was the lead-up to the war against Iraq in which the public was deliberately misled by politicians with the help of the press, which right afterwards (partially) admitted their guilt in not having been critical enough.
If it turns out that September 11th, 2001 was indeed not orchestrated by Bin Laden but by elements of the American government, then it won't be the first time that the media will have to own up to flawed reporting. Because the first indications of this admission can now be felt and are bringing about a further entrenchment of positions (previously) taken up, some in the media, like the aforementioned Volkskrant and HP/DeTijd, are choosing to discredit the substance of the issue by way of the form (by presenting the messenger of the alternative view as unbelievable, for instance). Others, such as researcher Benjamin Chertoff of the magazine Popular Mechanics, the nephew of Michael Chertoff, head of the Department of Homeland Security, do write about substance, but it's not always known that those assertions are in turn refuted. Other media, like the Dutch newspaper NRC Handelsblad for instance, keep silent for five years.
The influence of authority on the media
Before the dust had settled on September 11th, President Bush revealed that the Saudi terrorist Osama bin Laden was responsible for the attacks that had taken place earlier that day. The highest authority in the world – the head of the establishment – had spoken, and at that moment that was big news. No one knew then that Bin Laden would eventually declare that he had nothing to do with the attacks (while every person who does carry out an attack claims responsibility for the attack before someone else can walk away with it), or that the crime scene would be screened off – not in order to make room for the forensic investigation, but to be able to sell the left-over debris from the attacks as scrap metal to China and India. It was also not known at that time that the hijackers were not on the passenger lists and that a number of them still appeared to be alive. These facts and all the other facts that have filled up several DVD's, dozens of books and hundreds of websites, don't manage to find their way into the press anywhere near as often as the unfounded opinion of the highest authority. How is this possible?
The answer lies partially in the way that the news is dictated. The speed with which the news is spread, and the urgency to be the first to report the news to readers and viewers, is to blame for that news being subjected to little or no questioning. If an attack is carried out and the authorities disclose who the culprits are, then the attack is presented as a crime that has been committed by that culprit who has been offered up by the authorities: This morning Al Qaeda exploded a bomb in the city center. It's presented as fact, even though it has not yet achieved that status. That the national news would resort to this kind of coverage is par for the course; the national news is swayed by the issues of the day. But it's the documentary and news programs that should be taking a closer look at the issues and not simply accepting what is served up to them by the authorities as the last word. Nevertheless in the Netherlands it took four years before the current affairs show TweeVandaag devoted a segment to the alternative theories of September 11th.
Even though the facts speak for themselves, even though Helen Thomas – the best-known White House correspondent – calls the Bush administration the 'most secretive American administration', and despite all the scandals (Abu Ghraib, the CIA torture flights, Hurricane Katrina, the Plame affair, the lies about WMD's, the surveillance of American citizens, Cheney-shooting gate), it remains the case that if a member of the Bush administration makes a statement, it's placed at the top of the agenda. This is caused by several things. One of these is that the American government is such a huge center of power. But also important is the way in which children are raised to be adult citizens and whether or not the society is based on a patriarchal system. In addition to that is the phenomenon whereby many people are compelled to willingly surrender their own power so as to reduce the level of their own responsibility. These and undoubtedly other factors ensure that respect for authorities is so great that they end up getting the benefit of the doubt, even though they are often the ones with the greatest vested interests and should thus be approached with the utmost suspicion. To a large extent the establishment, which in so many ways has positioned itself above the fray, creates the status quo. The media maintains its neutrality far too seldom, depite the fact that it's the media's job to try and find out the truth, regardless of whether the truth is detrimental to the establishment.
Some subjects found to be too big by the Old Media
Contrary to what has been called for, it is very unlikely that there is one huge conspiracy by The Media against The Public. Even stronger, if you were to draw together all of the scattered reports from over the entire world, you find that a lot is being exposed. But that usually ends up being dispensed in small and easy digestable news items: a report on a malfunctioning voting machine, but not on the danger posed to democracy by electronic voting; a report on the scandal that emerged after the White House blew the cover of a CIA agent out of revenge for a revelation concerning the lead-up to the Iraq war, but not on the systematic lying that occurred during the lead-up to the war; on Al Zarqawi being killed, but not on the question as to whether he really was who he was supposed to be or whether Bin Laden is actually still alive and really is who he is supposed to be; or a report on the introduction of a new monitoring system in the subway, but not on the question as to whether the citizenry is being maneuvered into a totally controlled society. These questions seem to be too big – things that are of less consequence end up getting exposed sooner, like in the 90's when it was no longer possible to maintain the pretense that smoking didn't harm your health. This kind of revealing journalism is doled out in bite-sized pieces and falls within the social framework. Only rare exceptions such as the documentary series The Power of Nightmares go beyond this. "The individual is handicapped by coming face to face with a conspiracy so monstrous that he cannot believe it exists." This statement by the former head of the FBI, J. Edgar Hoover, which pertains to the Old Media, lies at the root of September 11th, 2001.
The New Media sets a new tone
What was put on display on 9/11 was intended to bring about a traumatic experience. Any other terrorist would have gone about his work much more efficiently – he wouldn't have flown over a nuclear reactor, but instead right on top of it. He wouldn't have veered his airplane away from the section of the Pentagon where the leadership was situated and then go around and crash into a part that was unoccupied due to recent renovations. It wouldn't have taken much of a terrorist to take the laws of nature into account and topple the three WTC towers onto the surrounding area in highly concentrated Manhattan for greater effect, instead of arranging a complicated controlled demolition of the buildings directly into their own footprint. Instead of attacking a city's subway system with a 'dirty bomb' for example, the terrorists gave the biggest kid on the block a mere slap in the face – neither astute nor logical. Unless of course the attacks were made for TV and designed only to achieve maximum effect. This effect has also had its influence on the media. So while we have 'appointed' the media to go out and uncover the truth that is kept hidden by influential interests, this same media has positioned itself squarely behind those interests and has thereby neglected its duty, and worse yet, it has done damage to the truth. With the possibilities that the internet offers to a curious public, that public has gone past the Old Media. It will take some time for the street cleaner to cross over the center line. It will do that on it's own, don't sit around waiting for it. In the meantime stay curious, and stay informed.