As I commented on this at Jarvis' blog, I think this criticism is unwarranted, by virtue of the fact that there was already an alarming level of "credence" in this delusional propaganda without Der Speigel's attempt to debunk them.
Conspiracy theorists have long offered the fact that they are largely ignored in mainstream media as further proof that they're on to something big. If the theories are so absurd, they argue, why don't they debunk them? What are they hiding from? This obviously puts reasonable people in a quandary. No one likes to give undue attention to this kind of nonsense, but what else are they supposed to do? Ignoring them obviously hasn't worked out for them, but when they attempt to unload on them, they're accused of giving them "credence." Last year's aborted attempt by NASA to publish a book debunking the moon landing conspiracy theories is instructive on this point.
Apart from the editorial judgement of running such a story at all, I also have to say that the Der Spiegel cover story is an excellent piece of journalism, not only because it slams a lot of the internet disinformation so definitively. It also offers a great deal of insight into how these ideas gain traction:
Charles Ward, a former assistant of the leading Kennedy murder conspiracy theorist, Jim Garrison, described the way this method works as follows: "Garrison drew a conclusion and then organized the facts. And when the facts didn't fit, he liked to say that they'd been changed by the CIA."
This method of finding conspiracies where there are none has also been helpful to the September 11th conspiracy theorists. Otherwise, one could simply include that the reason many a controversial report never resurfaced is that it was resolved, as the story of the "living assassins" demonstrates. It is no secret, but rather an important lesson about a highly competitive news market, one in which journalists copied from one another so as not to miss a single story, and were ultimately all wrong and had all dispensed with any principles.
At this point, the story only seems to live on where Br?ckers, Bülow and the like seem to prefer looking for their information: in the "global memory of the internet, which, in its archives, registers, collects and provides access to all these discarded crumbs" (Br?ckers/Hau?).
And it is only there, where the old and the new, the incorrect and the correct are placed on equivalent footing, that these kinds of reports still appear to possess the currentness from which these authors fashion their suspicions and accusations.
The authors explain in great detail the anatomy of one of the more popular internet memes associated with 9/11 -- that many of the hijackers are still alive:
Take the BBC, for example, which did in fact report, on September 23, 2001, that some of the alleged terrorists were alive and healthy and had protested their being named as assassins.
But there is one wrinkle. The BBC journalist responsible for the story only recalls this supposed sensation after having been told the date on which the story aired. "No, we did not have any videotape or photographs of the individuals in question at that time," he says, and tells us that the report was based on articles in Arab newspapers, such as the Arab News, an English-language Saudi newspaper.
The operator at the call center has the number for the Arab News on speed dial. We make a call to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. A few seconds later, Managing Editor John Bradley is on the line. When we tell Bradley our story, he snorts and says: "That's ridiculous! People here stopped talking about that a long time ago."
Bradley tells us that at the time his reporters did not speak directly with the so-called "survivors," but instead combined reports from other Arab papers. These reports, says Bradley, appeared at a time when the only public information about the attackers was a list of names that had been published by the FBI on September 14th. The FBI did not release photographs until four days after the cited reports, on September 27th.
The photographs quickly resolved the nonsense about surviving terrorists. According to Bradley, "all of this is attributable to the chaos that prevailed during the first few days following the attack. What we're dealing with are coincidentally identical names." In Saudi Arabia, says Bradley, the names of two of the allegedly surviving attackers, Said al-Ghamdi and Walid al-Shari, are "as common as John Smith in the United States or Great Britain."
The final explanation is provided by the newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat, one of the sources of Arab News, which in turn serves as a source to the BBC. Mohammed Samman is the name of the reporter who interviewed a man named Said al-Ghamdi in Tunis, only to find that al-Ghamdi was quite horrified to discover his name on the FBI list of assassins.
Samman remembers his big story well. "That was a wonderful story," he says. And that's all it was. It had nothing to do with the version made up of Br?ckers' and Bülow's combined fantasies.
"The problem," says Samman, "was that after the first FBI list had been published, CNN released a photo of the pilot Said al-Ghamdi that had been obtained from the files of those Saudi pilots who had at some point received official flight training in the United States."
After Samman's story was reported by the news agencies, he was contacted by CNN. "I gave them Ghamdi's telephone number. The CNN people talked to the pilot and apologized profusely. The whole thing was quite obviously a mix-up. The Ghamdi family is one of the largest families in Saudi Arabia, and there are thousands of men named Said al-Ghamdi."
When we ask Samman to take another look at the FBI's list of photographs, he is more than happy to oblige, and tells us: "The Ghamdi on the photo is not the pilot with whom I spoke."
The investigative journalists should have been able to figure out just how obvious the solution to this puzzle was. They all write that a man named Abd al-Asis al-Umari had been named as a perpetrator by the FBI, and that there are apparently many individuals with this name. Br?ckers and Hau? even noticed that the FBI had initially released an incorrect first name to the press. All of this certainly suggests that there was a mix-up, but it's also something that the conspiracy theorists apparently did not consider plausible.
In the case of the supposedly surviving terrorist Walid al-Shari, the truth is even more obvious. At least Bülow had the opportunity to avoid making this mistake. In his book, he writes that the alleged assassin Shari "lives in Casablanca and works as a pilot, according to information provided by the airline Royal Air Maroc."
If Bülow had inquired with the airline, he would have discovered that the name of the pilot who lives in Casablanca is Walid al-Shri and not, like that of the assassin, Walid al-Shari. This minor detail makes a big difference, namely the difference between a dead terrorist and a living innocent man. But to conspiracy theorists, discovering the truth is like solving a crossword puzzle for children: What's a four-letter word for a domesticated animal? Hrse.
While doing research for my conspiracy page last year, I had e-mailed several different desks at the BBC to inform them that their story was being used all over the internet as grist for these conspiracy theories, and asked if they had ever followed up on their apparent bombshell story. How, I asked, could they just do one story on such an accusation, and never make an attempt at closure one way or the other.
I never got an answer. I'm afraid that's all too common in journalism today. Headlines like "Initial Reports Proven Untrue" just don't sell newspapers, and I guess there just isn't a commensurate sense of accountability among reporters and their editors to clear up speculative nonsense for which they were responsible in the first place.
Later, the Philly Daily News ran an "unanswered questions" piece that included the same "hijackers still living" canard. I e-mailed the columnist, Will Bunch, primarily to inform him that one of those still-living hijackers was recently featured on an al-qaeda recruiting video -- reading his will, no less. I also asked him why he didn't try to solve any of these mysteries himself, rather than whining, "So why did this story line vanish into thin air?" A rather odd question for a reporter to be asking his readers, I thought.
Bunch's response: "I'm a good reporter, but if I tried to solve all 20 questions myself I'd be 96 years old by the time I was done!" With this level of laziness among professional journalists, it's no wonder the conspiracy loons are able to point to so many "inconsistencies" and "unanswered questions."
:: COINTELPRO Tool 11:41 AM [+] ::
:: Friday, September 12, 2003 ::
Is This Even Necessary?
Al-Jazeera has aired a recruiting video on which 9/11 hijacker Said al-Ghamdi reads his will.
This may be of interest to some of the loonier conspiracy theorists, who have been wailing that al-Ghamdi is still alive, as are six other of the hijackers.
:: COINTELPRO Tool 8:41 PM [+] ::
:: Wednesday, September 10, 2003 ::
9/11 Conspiracy Theories and Anti-Semitism
The ADL has released an exhaustive report on the various Jews-Were-Behind-9/11 theories, tracking their origins and prevalence in both the Western "conspiracy theory industry" and mainstream Arab media.
:: COINTELPRO Tool 9:29 AM [+] ::
Everyoneandtheirdog have already given Meacher's grab bag of conspiracy theories the what-for, so my two cents might be overkill. In fact, I've already addressed just about every inane assertion the man makes, and some well over a year ago -- that by itself should give you some indication of just how intellectually lazy and unoriginal his arguments are.
Nonetheless, and because I think there's no such thing as overkill when dealing with this garbage, here's a brief recap of what I've written on the subject:
"The US chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, General Myers, went so far as to say that "the goal has never been to get Bin Laden" (AP, April 5 2002)."
... but will now. Here is a bit of context to GEN Myers' quote:
Hunt: The Big Question for General Myers: One embarrassment for the U.S. has been that, in almost seven months after 9/11, we still haven't captured Osama bin Laden. With the apprehension this week of one of his top lieutenants, have we gotten enough information to be any closer to maybe finally getting bin Laden?
Myers: Well, if you remember, if we go back to the beginning of this segment, the goal has never been to get bin Laden. Obviously, that's desirable.
Interesting, I just read a piece by some analysts that said you may not want to go after the top people in these organizations. You may have more effect by going after the middlemen, because they're harder to replace. I don't know if that's true, or not, and clearly we would like to eventually get bin Laden.
But I think the fact that we've been able to disrupt operations, get a lot of the people just under him and maybe just a little bit further down, has had some impact on their operations. We know have disrupted, you know, four, five, six, seven active operations that they had planned and probably more that we don't know about.
So we're going to keep the hunt on. Finding one person, as we've talked about before, is a very difficult prospect, but we will keep trying.
Fact checking is not that difficult. These twits should try it some time.
:: COINTELPRO Tool 9:24 AM [+] ::