What was Matt Taibbi thinking?

There’s little doubt that Matt Taibbi is one of the foremost journalists and commentators working today. In part, that’s either despite or because of the righteous outrage he shows few qualms in expressing. Others who write about politics or policy may fear that revealing their feelings exposes them to criticism that they’re compromising their objectivity. Taibbi’s talents, however, are prodigious enough to override such concerns.

Aside from Sarah Palin and what she says about us (see “Mad Dog Palin” at Rolling Stone) nothing seems to aggravate Taibbi more than the 9/11 Truth movement. This is shown to full effect in “The Ultimate 9/11 ‘Truth’ Showdown,” which had its origins in an invitation by AlterNet to engage in a months-long email debate with David Ray Griffin, one of the godfathers of the 9/11 Truth movement.

In his haste to jump at the chance to accept the challenge, Taibbi may have overestimated his ability to meet it. Griffin has been living and breathing this stuff for seven years while Taibbi only seems to have sampled it enough to have his sensibilities offended. Also, acting as the interrogator, Taibbi not only jumps around from one outrage to another as it captures his fancy, he looks like a bully teeing off on the gentlemanly Griffin, a former theology professor who’s the soul of equanimity.

For instance, Taibbi writes, “Captivated by the comic possibilities of Truther literature. … I even spent a lot of time pulling what’s left of my hair out over your answers to questions that even I admit now go beyond inane. … All the same, some of the stuff you came up with, Professor, sheesh! And I thought I was loony!”

In response to another question, he writes, “I was greatly saddened when I read this answer, because it forced me to rewrite the entire first chapter of my next book, The 10 Most Retarded Things I Have Read This Year.” Also, “The ‘theory’ you provide isn’t even your own, just something you scared up while digging through the steadily-expanding mega-landfill of Truther lore — and recently, it seems to me, perhaps even in response to my questions. This is the very definition of half-assed thinking, half-assed research.”

What’s Taibbi’s central objection?

“All of this 9/11 Truther stuff, it’s a silly distraction. A country whose economy is [on] the brink of depression. . . just can’t afford to be wasting its time arguing about thermite reactions and ‘morphing technology’.” [The latter refers to telephone simulations of an individual’s voice.]

Taibbi’s objection proves all too easy for Griffin to refute:

“The official account of 9/11 has been used to justify a new doctrine of preemption. . . to ram the. . . PATRIOT Act through Congress; and to justify torture. . . and other practices that violate our Constitution. If the official account of 9/11 is false, the effort to expose this fact, in order to put an end to the policies that have been justified by this account, cannot reasonably be called a distraction from real problems. It is instead an attempt to strike at the root of most of our new problems.”

Taibbi does, however, succeed in taking chunks out of the soft white underbelly of Griffin’s argument. Those include the aforementioned morphing technology, remote control of the planes, and supposed foreknowledge of the event on the part of Rudolph Giuliani. Anyone serious about convincing the public at large about 9/11 Truth needs to steer clear of those issues. If he did though, Griffin might lose his reputation for being on the leading edge of 9/11 –- and his readers.

Even though 9/11 occurred seven years ago, explanations, however tempting, are premature. After all, we’re just now figuring out that dropping atomic bombs on Japan didn’t end the war in the Pacific. In other words, start with, and stick with, the facts until enough are accumulated to construct a story.

As Griffin himself advises, a good place to start is with Professor Steven Jones, whose peer-reviewed scientific studies, such as “Environmental anomalies at the World Trade Center: evidence for energetic materials” –- for “energetic” read “explosive” — appear in magazines like Environmentalist.

His work can also be found at the site of the group with which he’s affiliated, Scholars for 9/11 Truth and Justice, as well as its sister site, Journal of 9/11 Studies. You can then read “Steven E. Jones Thermite/Thermate Claims,” a rebuttal by Mark Roberts, who’s been called the “Obi-wan Kenobi of debunkers” or the “Yoda of 9/11 reality.”

When individuals refuse to listen to an alternative history of 9/11 — or even to consider that one could exist –- they’re not revealing their view of the event, but of themselves. They fear squandering their precious store of credibility, which they think could result in not only the marginalization of their voices, but of their place in society itself.

Out of deference to forensics, then, this author ventures no opinion. Okay, cowardice plays a role — the last thing he wants is to be canned by Scholars & Rogues, as sure as Christopher Buckley was at National Review.

Still, we’d be remiss if we failed to mention that a critical mistake made when drawing up an alternative history to 9/11 is laying the blame squarely at the feet of Dick Cheney. Some who dismiss that narrative, in this case Taibbi, reject the idea that Cheney needs a pretext to impose his agenda since the country wouldn’t have objected anyway. Others think about all the people such a plot would entail and can’t believe none would leak the truth. Still others suffer from the opposite of empathy — an inability to imagine evil on that scale.

Those attributing the plot to Cheney, as well those objecting on the grounds noted above, overlook the possibility that the executive office could have been bypassed. Imagine an alternative to the alternative: A rogue element within an intelligence organization reads a signal from a superior as he sees fit. For comparison, think of a capo interpreting the look in the eye of a mob boss as giving him license to kill.

Whatever one thinks of alternative histories of 9/11, it’s a disgraceful commentary on the government when the first instinct of a significant number of Americans is to default to the worst-case scenario. If, by some chance, it turns out that the administration staged 9/11, those reluctant to compromise their credibility by considering alternative histories may find their credibility as devalued as their IRAs.

(Plea to readers: This post is not about 9/11 per se but the difficulties many experience in accepting the existence of alternate histories. Kindly refrain from turning the comments section into yet another battlefield between Truthers and those who consider them a menace to society.)

Also, see Mike Sheehan’s interview with Matt Taibbi, “The horror is getting to Mike Taibbi.”

13 replies »

  1. I read through most of that Ultimate 9/11 Truth Showdown, but had to stop when Taibbi went into rampant ad hominem towards the later questions. I remember one of his big recurring criticisms of Griffin was that he didn’t do any firsthand research, didn’t phone anyone personally to ask them questions.

    I did get a kick out of when Taibbi claimed in his profession there needs to be an element of truth to be accepted by the whole community, and that he isn’t free to just spout any sort of nonsense. Man, did I laugh…

  2. This is the most succinct expression I’ve ever read of the effect of fearful egoism on intellectual courage, rational curiosity and the capacity to learn.

    When individuals refuse to listen to an alternative history of 9/11 — or even to consider that one could exist –- they’re not revealing their view of the event, but of themselves. They fear squandering their precious store of credibility, which they think could result in not only the marginalization of their voices, but of their place in society itself.

  3. You’re welcome. Of course, having no public credibility to lose, it’s easy for me to say.

  4. I’ve been reading Matt for a good many years now, since back when he was eXiled in Russia and addling his brain with Mark Ames: drugs, whores, and day to day life in the “new” Russia. So i took a look at what he was saying then:

    Who was really behind the attacks on the World Trade Center? Are we really sure it was bin Laden? And even if it was bin Laden — do we even know who he is, really?

    There was something incredibly suspicious about the rapid announcement on the part of the United States that Osama bin Laden, a figure the world had scarcely heard of before 1998, was responsible for the New York and Washington attacks. Less than eight hours after the attack, CNN — acting on leaks from unnamed Washington sources that there were “strong indications” of bin Laden’s guilt — had already exonerated some six billion suspects of the crime, and settled on the shadowy cleric.

    There are a great many reasons to question the American government’s guilty verdict in this matter.

    For one thing, there is the experience of Oklahoma City, when our government publicly pointed the finger at Islamic terrorists in the first hours after the bombing.

    More importantly, there was the fact that so many of the people who were telling us that the culprit was bin Laden were long ago proven to be completely without credibility when it comes to terrorism and identification of the enemy. The first night of CNN coverage featured Richard Holbrooke, who lied to the world about Rambouillet, and a parade of ex — Iran-Contra Defendants, who previously covered up their own ties to terrorist states. Osama bin Laden himself was once a beneficiary of U.S. government funding, a fact that is now being carefully covered up in the American media. Take, for example, this bio of the Enemy published in The Christian Science Monitor last week: . . .

    You can read the whole article here: http://exile.ru/articles/detail.php?ARTICLE_ID=6292&IBLOCK_ID=35

    Why Taibbi changed his tune i don’t know. Perhaps David Ray Griffin should have asked him.

    As i see it, we are basically choosing between two conspiracy theories. The only significant difference is that one is proposed by the United States government.

  5. For me, I guess the lies that go with it, combined with reality and other facts makes it near impossible for me to “accept the official story”. Too many things don’t add up.

    Rice told Congress “we had no idea it could have happened”. Then answers the question of the title of the “daily brief” as “bin Laden determined to strike within the United States”.

    Rice tells Congress “I don’t think anyone could have imagined someone using planes as missiles”, yet Cheney was running that exact combat simulation that day. In fact, they claim that the reason the jets weren’t properly deployed is because they didn’t know if it was “real or exercise”. CLEARLY, the administration responsible for our protection that day COULD imagine such a scenario, they were WAR GAMING IT.

    Not before or since has ANY plane been off it’s flight path for more than a few minutes before fighter jets intercepted. Yet, on that one day.. not 1, but 4 planes were off course for over an HOUR.. There’s the rebuttal that “their transponders were off, no one knew where they were”, but there’s footage of radar contact with the planes, they knew EXACTLY where “planes with no transponders” were, and where they were going.

    Not 1.. not 2.. but 3 buildings fell at free fall speed that day.

    dozens and dozens of “on the street” reports of “multiple explosions” just before the buildings started falling.

    Why were the bomb sniffing dogs taken off their inspections 2 weeks before the attack?

    Isn’t it very convenient for Rumsfeld that the building holding the paperwork that showed where his missing $3 trillion dollars was was destroyed that day, but not hit by planes? Rummy was before Congress the day before trying to explain where that money had gone.

    The guy running the Sept. 11 commission was a ardent Bush supporter. The commission needed unanimous consent to put information into the report… and the Chair was the sole veto voice on many facts that the public never got to hear about, and the commission just ignored Tower 7. The whole thing wreaks of a cover up for massive failures, if nothing else.

    I don’t know that it was an “inside job”, but it sure seems plausible. What seems LIKELY to me is that our leaders at a minimum let it happen. Just like the bombing of Pearl Harbor.

    What bothers me is the most criminal and secretive Administration in American history ran a white wash commission on the whole thing, and we might never find out the truth.

  6. “Okay, cowardice plays a role — the last thing he wants is to be canned by Scholars & Rogues, as sure as Christopher Buckley was at National Review.”

    Hahaha… the worst that could happen to you here Russ is someone following up your post with a mocking refutation pointing out how ignorant and unpersuasive a creature of passion you are. It shan’t come from me.

    Your post, despite me being a big Taibbi fan, is a damned good one by the way.

  7. Thanks, Lex, for digging out that old Taibbi material.

    Regarding Ames, the demise of the eXile seems to have rejuvenated his career. He’s now a regular at places like Radar and the Nation.

  8. Russ,

    You’re welcome. And thanks for the tip on where to find Ames. BTW, i agree with Ann @2.

  9. I read Taibbi’s exchange with Griffin and thought it was shameful. Taibbi responded to thoughtful assertions with insults, dodges and ridicule. One side was debating and the other was ranting.
    I think that’s what bothers me most about Taibbi: He’s not just a hack (not entirely, but largely), but a hack who pretends to be a gonzo, speak-truth-to-power maverick. Lex’s excerpt above furthers my opinion. Taibbi obviously saw problems with the official conspiracy story in the immediate aftermath, but now that he’s published in the lofty precincts of Rolling Stone, any questions about 9/11 are to be dismissed out of hand as lunacy. It looks like Taibbi’s a maverick only when it doesn’t threaten his membership in the club.
    As for the 9/11 truth movement, all many of us are asking for is an independent investigation with subpoena and prosecution powers. Let the facts fall where they will. Personally, nothing would make me happier than to learn that Bushco and its friends weren’t so evil as to murder thousands as a solution to various of its problems and plans. Unfortunately, a whole lot of evidence suggests that that’s exactly what they did.

  10. I’ve skewered Taibbi for his crass ignorance on several occasions. He is doing his gatekeeping job by ignoring the mountain of damning evidence which implicates US and foreign intelligence agencies. He is not actually interested in the truth, and has been hostile to everyone who is.

    Why don’t you ask Taibbi to name the “foreign governments”, indicated by Senators Graham and Dorgan, which participated in the 9/11 attacks on America — and have him explain why keeping their identities “classified” is not the Constitutional definition of “treason.”

    “The amendment is as follows:

    (Purpose: To urge the President to release information regarding
    sources of foreign support for the 9-11 hijackers)

    At the appropriate place, insert the following:
    Sec. . Sense of the Senate on declassifying portions of
    the Joint Inquiry into Intelligence Community Activities Before and After the Terrorist Attacks of September 2001.
    (a) Findings.–The Senate finds that–
    (1) The President has prevented the release to the American public of 28 pages of the Joint Inquiry into Intelligence Community Activities Before and After the Terrorist Attacks of September 2001.
    (2) The contents of the redacted pages discuss sources of foreign support for some of the September 11th hijackers while they were in the United States.
    (3) The Administration’s decision to classify this
    information prevents the American people from having access to information about the involvement of certain foreign governments in the terrorist attacks of September 2001.
    (4) The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has requested that the President release the 28 pages.
    (5) The Senate respects the need to keep information
    regarding intelligence sources and methods classified, but the Senate also recognizes that such purposes can be
    accomplished through careful selective redaction of specific words and passages, rather than effacing the section’s
    contents entirely.
    (b) Sense of the Senate.–It is the sense of the Senate
    that in light of these findings the President should declassify the 28-page section of the Joint Inquiry into Intelligence Community Activities Before and After the
    Terrorist Attacks of September 2001 that deals with foreign sources of support for the 9-11 hijackers, and that only
    those portions of the report that would directly compromise ongoing investigations or reveal intelligence sources and
    methods should remain classified.

    -Congressional Record: October 28, 2003 (Senate)
    Page S13349-S13372

    “SEN. BOB GRAHAM: Yes, going back to your question about what was the greatest surprise. I agree with what Senator Shelby said the degree to which agencies were not communicating was certainly a surprise but also I was surprised at the evidence that there were foreign governments involved in facilitating the activities of at least some of the terrorists in the United States.”

    “Phone records revealed Bayoumi called local Saudi officials, including the consulate in San Diego, 34 times. He called Saudi officials in Washington D.C. 141 times in the same period, according to the memo — more than twice a day on average.”

    California Resident Who Helped 9/11 Hijackers Was Closely Linked To Saudi Government

    2002-04-15: FBI Letterhead Memorandum, Omar Al Bayoumi Contacts With Saudi Government

    Click to access 2002-04-15-FBI-LHM-omar-al-bayoumi2.pdf

    PS – POLL


  11. It is interesting that the general public is not more appreciative of the really spectacular feats accomplished by the perpetrators of the destruction of the World Trade Center (WTC) buildings and the Pentagon during the events of Sept 11, 2001. As described in great detail on many websites, the selective destruction of such huge and sturdy steel/concrete structures as the WTC buildings (with minimal damage to their foundation) was a truly remarkable accomplishment in demolition technology. That such a large number of American observers of these spectacular events have been so incurious/compliant should they even appear to question the government’s ‘official’ stories/versions over the years suggests that they are (a) very poorly educated, (b) so gullible that they believe any irrational story, or (c) they fear rejection/retribution. It goes, without saying, that facilitated access to mass propaganda media (tv and newspapers) in the USA is the major device which facilitated the deception. Again, the super-rich corporate owners have been able to limit propaganda dispensation to apologists for the mind-controller specialists – Matt Taibbai is only one of the more recent of these.

  12. Until someone can convince me that a conspiracy large enough to surreptitiously blow up (using C4 or whatever) the WTC was kept secret, I just can’t buy it.

    I can buy the “Bush let the attacks happen” idea – the required conspiracy there isn’t anywhere near as large, and so secrecy could be maintained. But planting explosives throughout the building is just beyond credibility.