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.”