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22 August 2006  |     mail this article   |     print   |   
Why the media ignored 9/11
Part 1 of 2
[Part 2] By Daan de Wit
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.


The Dutch in the original article has been translated into English by Ben Kearney.
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.

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