If the doubt about the exact nature of the attacks of September 11 was quickly established in the public opinion, it took time to be structured and to spread. All the more so since the media, overwhelmed both by the emergence of this questioning and by the democratization (no pun intended) of the Internet that propagated it, deployed all possible stratagems to try to stem the hemorrhage of meaning.
On September 11, 2001, despite the (almost) worldwide shock caused by the attacks, a small minority of viewers immediately asked themselves disturbing questions. Or because their scientific expertise leads them to understand that not everything has been said, like this specialist in controlled demolitions who asserts the very next day, in a New Mexico newspaper, that the Manhattan towers were trapped from top to bottom. He retracted his statement a few days later, as it was so inaudible. Or that, experienced in the secret operations of an Empire that has become a master of the strategy of shock, they are no longer surprised: if the world’s leading military power, whose supremacy is overwhelming, is attacked on its own soil with such efficiency, they reason, it is because it has allowed this to happen, or even contributed to the organization of the operation. However, in the days and weeks that followed, the patriotic psychosis — and, abroad, the Atlanticist psychosis — was so skilfully maintained by the authorities and their media relays that any potentially dissident word was nipped in the bud. Several journalists, for example, lost their jobs for daring to criticize President Bush’s attitude on the day of the attacks, while various artists who adopted an overly acerbic tone were subject to show cancellations or radio bans. Nostalgic McCarthyites are purring with ease, and the whole world seems American.
It is only six months later that the first constructed and mediatized contestation of what becomes, consequently, the ‘official version’ of the attacks of September 11 will emerge in France. It comes from Thierry Meyssan, an anti-fascist and pro-security activist, president of the Voltaire Network, who published in L’effroyable imposture a set of unsubstantiated theories: the Pentagon would not have been hit by flight AA175 (the most commented statement in the book), the Twin Towers and WTC7 would have been destroyed by explosives, the White House would have also been hit by an attack, and above all, the operation would have been organized by a shadow government that would have pressured Bush to give in to its demands, which were aimed at conquering the Middle East. In the absence of any evidence, the media are at liberty to dismiss Meyssan as an odious conspiracy theorist, and to condemn in passing any word, present or future, that would call into question the official version of the attacks. In spite of himself, in opening the Pandora’s box, Thierry Meyssan made sure that it was violently closed, and for a long time.
birth of a movement
In the years that followed, various films appeared on the net to challenge the official version. The inevitable documentary » Loose Change », declined in several successive versions, viewed in total more than 100 million times, is for many Internet users the gateway to doubt about the attacks. Other films focus more specifically on the demolition of the towers or the struggle of the victims’ families to get answers to their many questions. The only other channel of expression that still seems to function freely is the world of independent publishing, with books having the advantage of allowing for a much more in-depth examination of the facts and/or analysis. Several authors, such as David Ray Griffin, Webster Griffin Tarpley, Nafeez Mossadeq Ahmed and, to some extent, Peter Dale Scott, are stepping into the breach. From these disparate and sometimes very contradictory efforts, a real movement is emerging, commonly called the 9/11 Truth Movement.
In a few years, this movement will see the birth of associations of professionals from the many disciplines involved in challenging the official version of the events of September 11. Indeed, an easy and often justified criticism that was initially directed at those who expressed doubts was that many experts had examined the facts and produced several reports, including that of the official Commission of Inquiry into the attacks. The protesters, on the other hand, often used Google to find out what little knowledge they had in the relevant scientific fields. This is how associations of experienced professionals from the world of architecture, civil engineering, aviation (civil and military), firefighters, etc. were born. Each of these associations, with its own expertise, has produced reports challenging the official conclusions in its field of competence. The most recent development in the movement is the 9/11 Consensus Panel, a committee of the most recognized experts in challenging the official narrative of the 9/11 attacks, which has been working to identify points of undisputed consensus among the sometimes contradictory mass of facts and analysis put forward by protesters since the movement began. It should be noted that if these experts and authors are sometimes criticized for engaging in this fight for fame or money, it is on the contrary to serious trouble that they expose themselves. For example, physicist Steven Jones was removed from his teaching position at Brigham Young University, which was keen to distance itself from Jones’ positions on 9/11.
If doubt about the attacks circulates freely on the Internet and in certain books, the situation is quite different as far as the media is concerned, the classic relay to public opinion. In 2002, at the time of the publication of the first book of Thierry Meyssan on the subject, they had given themselves to joy by shooting at red balls on the impudent contestant. However, the years that followed were characterized by ostracism. Meyssan’s account, and by extension any challenge, was settled, so what’s the point of coming back to this case? During the obligatory annual commemorations, we only talked about the emotion surrounding the event or the consequences of the attacks. But of the growing protest in the background, not a word…
the pipole avant-garde
… Until this position becomes untenable. Indeed, while the media was looking the other way, the truth movement had become structured and professionalized, and its arguments were reaching a growing number of people, which began to spill over the web. The fact that experts and professionals of all kinds radically contest the conclusions of the investigation does not merit a topic on the news or an article in the newspaper. On the other hand, when it’s celebrities like Marion Cotillard, Jean-Marie Bigard or Mathieu Kassovitz — or in the United States, actors Charlie Sheen and Woody Harrelson or country singer Willie Nelson — the media are at attention: as they are fueled by celebrities, they are obliged to relay, but taking care not to appear to endorse. We then witness moments of anthology of the militant journalism, tendency braying, deaf and blind. Bigard and Kassovitz, invited to a « serious » television debate on the subject, agree to participate on condition that they are accompanied by two experts more experienced than them in the subtleties of 9/11. They only learn at the last minute that they will finally be alone against the ‘counter-experts’ lined up by France2, in order to » avoid the battle of the experts « , according to the host Guillaume Durand — whereas this was precisely what was expected and hoped for by a good part of the viewers. As a result, the ‘debate’ between the two artists and their ill-informed opponents will logically — and deliberately? — to a dialogue of the deaf. Special mention also for Franz-Olivier Giesbert, for his quotation of Voltaire, in front of the journalist Éric Raynaud, invited in his program for his book compiling the numerous elements against the official version. After having cut him off for fifteen minutes with jokes, with the help of his colleague Mohamed Sifaoui, and without having listened to the slightest argument, Giesbert had the nerve to say to Raynaud: » I don’t agree with what you say at all, but I will fight to the end to make sure you have the right to say it. » We also saw on Arte, a channel with a reputation for seriousness, an evening devoted to equating challenges to the government’s version of 9/11, opposition to the war in Iraq and anti-Semitism and neo-Nazism. Except that on closer inspection, the director of the two documentaries shown, a good part of the speakers in these two films, as well as the authors of a book recommended at the end of the program were all members of the same Atlanticist think tank, the Cercle de l’Oratoire, which conveniently militates for the acceptance of the war in Iraq by French opinion. The prize for finesse, finally, goes to Philippe Val, who in a column on FranceInter — of which he is now the director — lamented in choice terms the fact that nearly 10% of French people, according to a poll, were sensitive to questioning the official version of the attacks, » which, with all due respect, makes for a lot of dirty idiots .
the mite scarecrow of anti-Semitism
In addition to these subtle rhetorical effects, we were able to witness above all dubious but proven journalistic procedures. The scarecrow’s trick is to assimilate the opponent into a repulsive category beyond question. At the beginning, after Thierry Meyssan’s descent into flames, anyone who dared to doubt was still kindly called a Meyssan follower, an eccentric or a joker. But as the unbearable doubt spread, the tone hardened, and we saw a big string that had proved itself in many other debates: the blackmail of anti-Semitism. Since the skeptics « denied 9/11 », they were therefore deniers, revisionists and anti-Semites. Besides, didn’t they say that the Jews working in the Twin Towers had been warned, and that the Mossad was an accomplice? Anathema is as effective as fly glue, at least in the media sphere.
Another classic: the double standard. When the host Thierry Ardisson gave the floor to Thierry Meyssan, at the time of the release of his first book, propelling the subject to the front page of the media, it took only one month for the French CSA to call France2 to order so that » the truth be re-established and that such mistakes not be repeated ». More recently, Caroline Fourest, in the first episode of a series of 4 reports dedicated to The« Networks of the Extreme » (!), cut a cloth to the ‘conspiracy’ with amalgams, stigmatization, untruths and omissions. The association ReOpen911, which campaigns in France for the reopening of the investigation, sent a file to the same CSA last March listing all the obvious breaches of journalistic ethics by Fourest. Five months later, the only reaction from the media watchdog remains an embarrassed silence. More generally, journalists questioned about 9/11 by ‘truthers’ often reply that the subject is stale and that no one is interested anymore. However, it is enough for a new fact relating to 9/11 to appear on the front page for several days… provided that it does not call into question the government’s version, as when fragments of human bones were found, several years after the event, on the roof of a building near the Twin Towers.
the threat of the web
Basically, almost the entire catalog of bad faith drawn up by Arthur Schopenhauer in The Art of Being Always Right can be found in the media coverage of the questioning of the official truth about 9/11. It is because the media, which traditionally break only small taboos, feel put on the spot in front of the rise of the Internet as a source of information, and that the irruption of a subject which arouses such a polarization allows them to measure the ground lost in the fight for the available brain time. It is significant to note that both RTBF and France2 and Arte have each devoted, besides their efforts to defend the official version, and in the same program or thematic evening, reports to this alleged threat, implicitly enjoining the spectator to remain in the safe bosom of television rather than to go and get tangled up in this hazardous Web. Here again, it was Philippe Val, in his column already quoted above, who expressed most poetically his aversion to the propagation of doubt: » The Internet is the ideal sewer where all this rot circulates. »
Faced with a populace that thinks badly — as when it voted against the European Constitutional Treaty in France in 2005 — and that informs itself on the Internet, the media set themselves up as the last bastion of self-righteousness and comfortable certainties. Their affinity with official truths is therefore natural. Therefore, one should not imagine in the press a great conspiracy, intended to cover up this other great conspiracy, supposing that it took place. The fact that they do not tolerate the slightest questioning of the official truth does not make journalists accomplices of a hypothetical inside job. Simply, as some intellectuals, such as Chomsky or Bourdieu, have finely analyzed the media and their structures of influence, Journalists have a community of ideas and values with the powerful and their interests, which has allowed them to enter the media microcosm and make their way in. Faced with a major taboo such as questioning the official conclusions on 9/11, logical thinking is short-circuited, and it is instinct that senses where the wind is coming from and dictates which direction to look. In good faith, the journalist feels that what he or she is viscerally led to believe is true and right, and that what is opposed to it is necessarily in error and bad intention. And if this mechanism does not work in full, there is always the ripple effect, which journalists denounce as a flaw of the Internet, but which they themselves had inaugurated long before.
In this respect, the experience of Asch, an American psychologist, is enlightening. When a subject is placed in the middle of others who are stating an obvious untruth — line A is shorter than line B, while line B is obviously longer — he or she will follow them in a majority of cases, in order to avoid standing out from the general trend, having to justify and defend his or her position. It should be noted that in this experiment, the subject was not subjected to any other pressure than that of the group, and would not have had to face any inconvenience from standing out, where a journalist risks his credibility, his advancement, even his career. One would go back to less, and as such, it is useless, if not counterproductive, to see in individual journalists those responsible for what is more produced by an entire system. In the meantime, this system has still not been able, in twelve years, to relay a social reality, that of doubt and contestation, without ridiculing it, without distorting its discourse and without prescribing to its public what it should think. Beyond the questions that arise on the substance of the September 11 attacks, this observation alone is enough to make you want to reread Orwell.
Translator, journalist, director of « Scarecrows, ostriches and parrots — 10 years of journalism on 9/11 », visible on www.epouvantails.net