Jonathan Kay of the National Post reveals just how ignorant he really is about 9/11.
(Edit: I changed the headline of this blog from an insult directed at Kay generally, referring to how big of an 'a-hole' he is, to something a little less offensive, and a little more apt. My apologies, Mr. Kay, you are just ignorant. -rep.)
He admits he's never read the 9/11 Commission Report or any of its rebuttals.
Jonathan Kay on the humbling frustrations of debating 9/11 "Truthers"
Posted: October 27, 2008, 1:30 PM by Jonathan Kay
Want to fill up your inbox? Write a column denouncing the “9/11 Truth Movement.”
These are the people who dismiss the “official” 9/11 explanation as a White House-peddled lie. One Truther sect believes the American government (or rogue elements within it) planned the Sept. 11 attacks under a false flag. Another concedes al-Qaeda’s involvement — but insists the plot was known to a warmongering Bush administration. Other Truthers favour more exotic explanations — featuring missiles, remote-controlled airliners, the Mossad, mini-nukes, and even space weapons. What they all have in common, I’ve learned, is a hate-on for journalists who blithely dismiss them as “nutbars,” as I did a few weeks ago in a blog post about ex-Liberal candidate (and unapologetic Truther) Lesley Hughes.
Normally, I confess, these are the sort of correspondents I delete from my inbox without much guilt. As with all conspiracy theorists, debate is pointless. Since they have no chance of convincing me, nor I them, why waste my time parsing their arguments?
But something about the Truther e-mail I got aroused my interest.
For one thing, there was a lot of it. Which perhaps should not surprise me: As the Post’s Adrian Humphreys reported last week, 39% of Canadians either reject or doubt the official explanation for the 9/11 attacks.
Secondly, many of the messages — a majority, in fact — were lucid and coherent, well-written even. Some of the senders had letters after their names, and their e-mail addresses contained the domain names of recognizable universities. Conspiracy theorists, they may be. But they’re certainly not the subhuman weirdos who try to convince me the Holocaust never happened, nor the anti-social paranoiacs who send me weekly updates about their decades-long litigation campaign against their ex-landlords.
Thirdly, they have a point — something that hit home when I read this stinging comment in a message from Winnipeg-area writer Dallas Hansen: “Take a look at the mountain of evidence suggesting a black op … I’m sure you’re a smart guy, but posturing as though you’ve got all the answers to 9/11, and defaming those who question the explanation we’ve been given, is a little much.”
Sept. 11 wasn’t a “black op.” But Hansen is right that, like most mainstream journalists, I overplay my intellectual hand when it comes to 9/11 — and just about everything else besides.
I could lie to Mr. Hansen, and to my readers, and tell them that I’ve read the U.S. government’s 571-page 9/11 Commission Report, or Popular Mechanics magazine’s authoritative report on “Debunking the 9/11 Myths.” But the truth is that I haven’t. I never felt the need to because, on a purely instinctive level, I always believed the Truthers’ case was complete nonsense.
I don’t believe any group of people — let alone any group of people in government — could possibly pull off such a fantastically elaborate plot as 9/11, one involving hundreds, if not thousands of conspirators, without being definitively outed many times over. If 9/11 truly had been a U.S. government conspiracy, dozens of collaborators would have come forward by now for their multi-million dollar book deals; the mainstream media, always desperate for a scoop (trust me), would have broken the story open long ago; and respectable peer-reviewed journals would have published the work of professionals debunking the official account of the World Trade Center’s destruction.
Since none of that has happened, I have never bothered schooling myself in the minutiae of 911-ology — the microscopic examination of photos and videos, the comparison of melting points and mechanical properties of this or that construction material, the second-by-second timetable of U.S. Air Force activity on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001. I have never done so because it is tedious and time-consuming.
This admission does not disqualify me from commentary on 9/11 — just as my lack of knowledge about astrophysics doesn’t disqualify me from treating the 1969 moon landing as historical fact. But it does mean I have to concede something morally important to the Truthers: We are discussing a subject that they have bothered to study, and which I (and you) haven’t.
This information imbalance is a problem that crops up whenever I find myself debating any sort of conspiracy theorist. For the ordinary fellow, the moon landing or the holocaust or 9/11 is just something he knows about from school and television. For the conspiracy theorist, it’s something he’s studied to death. His heterodoxy is central to his ultra-skeptical world view — perhaps even a defining feature of his human identity. So when you pair the former up against the latter in a one-on-one argument, it’s usually the obsessive oddball who has the upper hand.
Michael Shermer and Alex Grobman captured this frustration well in their outstanding 2000 book Denying History. Even actual Holocaust survivors, they noted, often get made to look like fools when they go up against hatemongers who’ve spent their whole lives trying to make nonsense of history: “Most Holocaust deniers are very knowledgeable about very specific aspects of the Holocaust — a gas chamber door that cannot lock, they temperature at which Zyklon-B evaporates, or the lack of metal grid over the peephole on a gas chamber — so that anyone who is not versed in these specifics cannot properly question and answer their claims.”
Truthers, with a few anti-Semitic exceptions, aren’t on the same moral plane as holocaust deniers — but their arguments tend to follow the same pattern: a succession of isolated, niggling details that, strung together a certain way, make a superficially plausible case for the “black op” thesis. In the past, when confronted with Truthers on a radio or television show, I’ve taken the coward’s way out — demurring that I wouldn’t “dignify” the Truthers’ claims with a response. The truth is that I can’t dignify their claims with a response.
In fact, I’ll go further: Most of us don’t even have the basic vocabulary to take on the Truthers. A few weeks back, I was at a party hosted by my aunt when one of my adult cousins casually said of 9/11, “I don’t buy the official story. If you ask me, it was an inside-outside job.” A few faces in the room looked to me, assuming that a veteran opinion journalist at a national newspaper could be counted upon to debunk this idea. But the best I could do was to sit there eating my almond mandelbrot, pretending I hadn’t heard the comment. Truth is, I don’t even know what an “inside-outside job” is.
How does a non-Truther reclaim his intellectual self-esteem amidst the Truther onslaught? The hard way: I’m going to slog through the 9/11 Commission Report — and maybe even some other texts besides. I don’t suppose this will earn me more than a draw in my arguments with Truthers. But at least I won’t have to pretend that I can’t hear them talking.