Why I am a disappointment to J. Kelly Nestruck: Part 2

Kenneth Tynan

Kenneth TynanBy Frank Moher

In the last episode of “Kelly and Me,” I wrote about an exchange via twitter with the Globe and Mail theater critic J. Kelly Nestruck, in which he expressed his disappointment in me for supposing that we might not have the full story of what happened on 9/11. That was over a month ago. I would have followed up sooner, but I felt I should pause to give Mr. Nestruck time to defend the orthodox position on the authorship of Shakespeare’s plays. We conspiracy theorists are everywhere these days; a rational man’s work is never done.

Perhaps J. Kelly will be glad to know I have no position on the Shakespeare authorship issue. That’s because I have not looked into it. I have, however, looked extensively into the matter of 9/11, which has led me, along with a whole lot of other people, including the 2000+ architects and engineers I mentioned last time, to suppose that what we nutters like to call “the official story” is about as likely as the one Rob Ford offered about his drug-taking habits a few months ago. Nestruck apparently hasn’t looked into 9/11 much, but he’s pretty sure we’re full of it.

Fair enough. As I said last time, I’m not interested in debating the subject. I am, though, interested in the turn of mind which reflexively rejects challenges to the status quo, and whether that can possibly be a good thing in a critic whom I otherwise admire.

The three greatest theatre critics I have read — Harold Clurman, Kenneth Tynan, and Robert Brustein — were all serious kickers at the status quo. (Brustein still is.) That’s not to say a radical turn of mind is inherently a good thing, or a necessary part of the job. The greatest critic-qua-critic of my lifetime, Pauline Kael, while she embraced the adventurist filmmakers of the 1970s, was a traditionalist at heart. She was never as much a shill for the studios as Roger Ebert, but she was also Pauline Kaelnever more rhapsodically eloquent than when she was extolling the virtues of, say, Steven Spielberg movies, which she loved — when she loved them — for their old-school values. (E.T. put her in mind of Meet Me in St. Louis.)

Nor does the urge to kick shit have much to do with a critic’s politics. Tynan may have been a champagne socialist and Clurman a “left wing aristocrat,” as he styled himself, but Brustein is constantly getting into trouble for criticizing fashionable liberal positions. (It took his famous, extended debate with playwright August Wilson, who had adopted a fundamentalist view of racial politics by the end of his life, to finally make Brustein look progressive.) But, of course, arguing contrarian views in the largely lefty world of theatre is itself a radical thing to do.

What all three had/have in common as critics is that they are, by nature, disrupters. I once watched Clurman, at the O’Neill Theatre Center in Connecticut, listen to his old pal and colleague Arthur Miller expound to young playwrights and actors from under some leafy tree. After awhile, Clurman began to do an odd little dance behind Miller; think of an old man moving like Natalie Merchant and you’ll get the idea. At the time I thought it was just competitiveness and vanity — Miller was getting all the attention, and Clurman didn’t like it. Now I think maybe he was signalling to us not to take any establishment figure too seriously — even Arthur Miller.

Their disruptiveness may have something to do with the fact that all three were also creators, Clurman successfully so, Tynan and Brustein spottily. I suppose one could argue that all writing is creative, hence all critics are creators, too, but I think I’ll let somebody else make that argument. At any rate, all three understood that to really get anywhere in an art form, you had to begin by stirring things up a little. What they did not do is invite the still waters of the status quo to close over any hint of controversy, as Mr. Nestruck seems inclined to do.

You may ask, what could it possibly matter if J. Kelly Nestruck does or doesn’t think 9/11 was an inside job? (By the way, I don’t think 9/11 was an inside job; I don’t even know what that means.) And you may be right: It probably doesn’t, not much. It matters when his colleagues in more powerful, influential positions in journalism use their powerful, influential positions to discourage inquiry into such events, and it matters if Robert BrusteinNestruck aspires to go the way of Brustein and Frank Rich and comment on more than theatre someday, but in the great scheme of things, what a theatre critic has to say, or not say, doesn’t matter much outside the little halo of light he and I and other votaries of the form occupy.

But as one inside that circle, who thinks good theatre criticism leads to better theatre, and who’d like to see Canada have a worthy successor to Nathan Cohen someday (speaking of grade-A disrupters), it’s disappointing to learn that Nestruck is, well, conventionally-minded. There are worse things, I suppose. Except perhaps in a theatre critic.

By the way, this being the week of the 50th-anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s assassination, I should mention that there are some people who think we don’t yet have the full story of that one, either. Quite a few people actually. I know — crazy! It looks like Mr. Nestruck has his work cut out for him.

Why I am a disappointment to J. Kelly Nestruck

J. Kelly Nestruck

By Frank Moher

I had an interesting conversation with the critic J. Kelly Nestruck recently, if an exchange on twitter can be called a conversation. I am in the habit, on September 11th of each year, of posting to facebook and twitter a message along the lines of:

The best way to honour the victims of 9/11 is to find out what really happened that day.

Pretty innocuous, it seems to me. This year I also included a link to Architects and Engineers for 9/11 Truth, an organization of 2,000+ professionals who similarly think we don’t know everything we ought to about what happened on 9/11.

Not innocuous enough for Mr. Nestruck, however, who I am honoured to have among my followers on twitter (though I haven’t checked to see if that’s still so):

I pretty much knew what was coming, but inquired anyway:

In other words, J. Kelly was concerned that I’d turned into his crazy uncle, the one with the conspiracy theories and bad neckties, which is touching, given that we don’t really know each other. I replied to say that if he’d looked into the matter extensively and come to a different conclusion than I, that was fine; if not, I suggested he check out the ae911 link. Nestruck seemed simply embarrassed by the whole thing. “I’m not going to unfollow you,” he tweeted back (phew!) “because I’ve long been a fan” — as I say, very nice — “but let’s never speak of this again” — which I’m pretty sure is a line from Act Two of Private Lives.

I don’t know what happened on 9/11 and neither does J. Kelly Nestruck, even if he thinks he does. We know that it’s not what we were told at the time (and if you think otherwise, you simply haven’t been paying attention), but beyond that, we don’t know. Now, it’s possible that Mr. Nestruck, like most people. simply wishes to be among the cool kids, and that explains his curled lip. Tinfoil-hat wearers are manifestly not among the cool kids. Or perhaps, like a lot of journalists, he finds it easier to accept the official explanation of 9/11, because that makes it easier to move along. But somehow I doubt it. That would be like receiving a press release from a theatre company that tells you its latest show is a masterpiece and duly reporting in your review that their latest show is a masterpiece, and I think Nestruck is a better critic than that.

J. Kelly NestruckHe is, in fact, probably the best of the theatre critics working on the major Canadian dailies these days. Some of his value lies in the fact that when he expresses even the mildest of doubts about the work of Morris Panych, his reviews draw riotous and brilliant ripostes from the playwright and director. But Nestruck is a better writer and thinker than most of his colleagues, which is why it’s too bad to see him reflexively joining the herd on 9/11 (though his herd is getting thinner; according to recent figures from the polling firm YouGov, 38% of Americans have doubts about the official account of 9/11, 10% reject it outright and 12% are unsure. Mind you, that poll was conducted on behalf of that group of architects and engineers, so make of it what you will).

I tweeted Nestruck to say that I was going to write this article and that I began from the assumption that he hadn’t looked into 9/11 in any significant way. “Do whatever you want,” he replied, perhaps a bit sulkily. I’ll take that as confirmation. So, the interesting question for me becomes: Can a critic really be any good, even if he’s a good writer and thinker, if he’s also reflexively given to orthodoxy? I have zero interest in convincing Nestruck or anyone else about my views on 9/11; that’s a mug’s game. I am, though, interested in what makes for good criticism, especially in theatre.

More on that, and our boy from The Globe, in the next installment of “Kelly and Me.”

The Protocols of Jonathan Kay


among-the-truthersAMONG THE TRUTHERS
By Jonathan Kay
Harper Collins
368 pages, $32.99 hardcover, $25.99 ebook

Reviewed by Frank Moher

On the evening of Saturday, June 26, 2010, Jonathan Kay headed out on his bike into the streets of Toronto to see what was up with the G20. What he saw, he wrote early the next morning in the National Post, convinced him of “”the extraordinary professionalism of the police patrolling Toronto this week.” The city was intact: tourists thronged Yonge Street, a band played on the corner. He toodled west along Queen, where he found a line of police staring down protestors. But: “There wasn’t any violence — at least none that I saw.”

Er, not so much.

We know now, of course, that the police were engaged in widespread brutality and violations of civil liberties all over Toronto that day. But Jonathan Kay didn’t see any of it and, so, of course, the police acted with “extraordinary professionalism.” Or perhaps he would argue that a little head-bashing and snatch-and-grabbery is not really violence, as in, you know, violence, and the police and state agree with him, and so that is that.

We don’t really know what Kay was thinking in the wake of the G20, as he didn’t blog much about it after that, except to call Toronto a “city of wimps.”

And so we come to Mr. Kay’s latest item of “reporting,” a book titled Among the Truthers: A Journey into the Growing Conspiracist Underground of 9/11 Truthers, Birthers, Armageddonites, Vaccine Hysterics, Hollywood Know-Nothings and Internet Addicts. All the tropes evidenced in his G20 coverage are present here, too: perception peddled as reality, ad hominens, and a firm conviction that anyone who sees things differently than he does must be a nut. Kay, Managing Editor of Comment at the Post, bills himself on his twitter feed as an “Engineer-turned-lawyer-turned-journalist-turned-book-writing-guy.” But while he is indubitably a journalist and a book-writing-guy, he is not a reporter; he is an editorialist, and remains so here.

I should mention that I am referred to in passing in the book, which identifies me, bizarrely, as a “poet.” (I have worked in theatre and journalism for some 35 years, but the last poem I wrote, other than this piece of doggerel, was in high school.) It also lumps me in with the rest of its specimens as a “Truther,” which is more arguable, though I don’t identify myself as such, not only because the term is subject to the sort of mish-mashing Kay gives it here, but because it strikes me as pompous (kind of like calling oneself a “pro-lifer”). In any event, if I am a Truther, I’m a pretty bad one: I don’t think George Bush or Dick Cheney or anyone in the White House hatched the plot, I do think an airplane flew into the Pentagon, I’m agnostic about what brought down World Trade Centers 1 and 2 (though not so much 7), I regard Alex Jones as a highly unreliable (if entertaining) source of information, and I think Ron Paul would be a disaster as president. If the Truther movement issued membership cards, I’d probably be required to turn mine in.

I also wrote for the National Post for 11 years (including a piece with Jonathan Kay as editor). It was their itchy-trigger-finger syndrome when, in a book review, I alluded to the suspicious stock trading that preceded 9/11, that caused me to stop doing so.

What I certainly am is a sceptic — about the official version of 9/11 as well as much else I am told, whether by government or others who have a stake in a story. That, to me, is what is involved in being a journalist. But Jonathan Kay tells us that too much of that sort of thing can get out of hand. “Voltaire understood that man cannot survive on skepticism alone,” he writes, in the sermonly conclusion to his book — “that society requires some creed or overarching national project that transcends mere intellect.”

One thing that can be said for Among the Truthers — it certainly transcends “mere intellect.”

Kay’s tactic here is the same one used by Michael Shermer of the seriously missnamed Skeptics Society, which is, as the subtitle indicates, to mix up the 9/11 truth movement with The Protocols of Zion, holocaust denial, birtherism, moon hoaxism, etc., into one big wacky ball of racism and lunacy. And his method is as dishonest as Shermer’s as well. Thus, in his interviews, he emphasizes figures he can most easily characterize as charming but quaint, such as Ken Jenkins, a “Bay area flower child” who “embodies the sixties soul of the 9/11 truth movement’s older members.” Or, where he does speak with Truthers who are more immediately credible, he makes short work of their bona fides before reverting to the book’s default mode — a sort of bland superciliousness. Thus Barrie Zwicker, a journalist of longer standing and quite a bit more distinction than Kay, becomes “an amiable crank,” of interest mostly because he insisted on conducting his own counter-interview when they met, complete with “a chess clock to regulate our usage of time.” (Update in video below: Zwicker says it wasn’t a chess clock.) And David Ray Griffin, who has spent not two but eight years studying his subject and published 11 books about it, is also, simply, a “crank.”

Kay never addresses the arguments of his interlocutors, because, he tells us late in the book, a New York City editor warned him that “Debunking books don’t sell.” Instead, he refers the reader to various of those books, and sites. This is defensible on editorial grounds; were he to get into his own reasons for rejecting 9/11 Truth theories, the book would be even weightier than it is. But it is also a convenience; it means Kay never has to address what he calls the “anomalies” in the official story of that day. We never learn why his interviewees are so head-shakingly wrong — they just are.

He does, though, fall back on some of the easier explanations for why so-called conspiracism has thrived since the Kennedy assassination: the world is too complex, conspiracy believers can’t deal with its chaos, and so they develop over-arching narratives to make its unpredictability more palatable. All of which is nonsense; the notion that one could take comfort from the idea that Kennedy was killed by a cabal, still unidentified to this day, or that somebody blew up the World Trade Centre towers (and got away with it), is sillier even than the most exotic conspiracy theories. But there’s more where that came from. Kay is a proponent of the “If I Write It, Maybe It’ll Become True” school of prose. As I got deeper into his book, with its explanation that conspiracism is the result of “midlife ennui” (or that, as an alleged “poet,” my day job requires me to “weave a self-invented reality”; I wish), I began to find Among the Truthers as ludicrously entertaining as any Alex Jones broadcast.

Kay does offer an interesting history of conspiracy movements (though this leaves him in the uncomfortable position of having to acknowledge that some are legitimate; again, we never find out what makes one plot real and another not). And he is right that, for some adherents, 9/11 Truth evolves into a kind of religion. The comfort believers find in it, however, comes not from a simplifying explanation of the world, but from a group of shared verities, repeated over and over in incantatory fashion. Mind you, this could also describe the editorial pages of the National Post.

Less harmless than Kay’s pop-psychologizing is his zeal to eradicate ideas other than his own. Having concluded that “any effort to engage committed theorists in reasoned debate is a waste of time” — because, of course, they refuse to come around to his way of seeing things — he offers, in his final chapter, a proposal to jonathan-kayshame them out of their wrong-thinking, by “applying the same self-critical, self-aware mindset that has served to stigmatize racism, overt anti-Semitism, and related forms of bigotry in recent decades.” What he has in mind are first-year university courses using an “anticonspiracist curriculum” to teach students “to recognize the patterns of conspiracist thought.” In other words, if you can’t beat ‘em, kill their young.

Well, okay. Sounds like an interesting course. Of course, the problem is that if it were taught in any way other than Jonathan Kay, dreamer-upper, envisions — if, say, discussion as to the merits as well as the vagaries of the 9/11 Truth movement were allowed — then Jonathan Kay, National Post writer, would no doubt take off after it. Kay got his start on this beat when, as he reminds us, he discovered that a Liberal candidate in the 2008 federal election had six years earlier reported on some of the findings of various independent researchers into 9/11. He immediately employed the Post in a successful campaign to have her turfed as a candidate. More recently he’s been trying to work the same voodoo on a student at the University of Lethbridge. For all that Kay affects to be really, really interested in 9/11 Truth as a sociological movement, and to really, really want to understand its actors, Among the Truthers is of a piece with his daily journalism. He isn’t out to understand them; he’s out for their scalps.


Six months after the G20, Jonathan Kay had a bit of a rethink. “A few weeks ago,” he wrote in his Post blog, “I thought the police response to the G20 protests was yesterday’s news — and I never really reconsidered the opinion I formed at the time of the event, based on what I saw with my own eyes.” But then the Toronto Star got on the case of Adam Nobody, the G20 peaceful protestor tackled and beaten by cops, and lo-and-behold: “. . . it’s now clear that there was some thuggish police behavior that that went on.”

“Thuggish.” So it’s a start.

We can hope that someday some mainstream publication gets on the case of 9/11, thus allowing Jonathan Kay to reconsider that also. We can hope, as he approaches midlife ennui, that he decides it’s okay after all to have heretical thoughts — or, at least, to let others have them. We can hope that he learns to use YouTube. Meantime, we can be reasonably sure Among the Truthers will have little impact, except to buttress the beliefs of the orthodox in the same way he claims (quite rightly) that the outpourings of the Truth movement reinforce its gnosticism. It’s a Battle of the Bibles, whether Kay accepts their equivalency or not, and, Brother, it’s not going to be settled in my lifetime.

But while debunking books may not succeed, neither do books that aren’t better at peddling their hortatory wares than this one. I would have liked to read an insightful study of conspiracy movements. Among the Truthers, on the other hand, is a failed salvo, that might just as well have been titled The Protocols of All Those People Who Make Me Think Twice.


Jonathan Kay in debate with Richard Gage, Barrie Zwicker, and Paul Zarembka on TVO’s “The Agenda”:

Citizen Kos


By Frank Moher

You might suppose that as the editor of an online magazine, I’m glad to see the collapse of the old-school, dead-tree print guys. You might suppose wrong. I say that partly because I still write for what we used to quaintly refer to as “the papers” (ask an anthropologist near you), markos-moulitsas_no_cap_croppedbut also because, when I look around at their would-be online successors, I don’t see a worthy among them. It’s not just that they don’t have the money to pick up where print journalism will soon leave off, but because they haven’t the ethical testicles to do it either.

A case in point is dailykos.com, as presided over by publisher Markos Moulitsas. For a guy who claims to be a Democrat, Moulitsas acts an awful lot like the boy-emperor of a walled kingdom. Odd behaviour for the author of a book about the power of web-driven populism.

Moulitsas’ tyrannical instincts manifest themselves most plainly, and shamelessly, in his ban on discussion of 9/11 on his site. Correction: you can discuss 9/11, but only so long as it’s within the parameters set out by Mr. Big:

“DailyKos accepts that the 9/11 attacks were perpetrated by agents of Al-Qaeda. It is forbidden to write diaries that:

1. refer to claims that American, British, Israeli, or any government assisted in the attacks

2. refer to claims that the airplanes that crashed into the WTC and Pentagon were not the cause of the damage to those buildings or their subsequent collapse.

Authoring or recommending these diaries may result in banning from Daily Kos.”

I like that “forbidden.” Dr. Evil, pinky raised: “Don’t you know that disagreeing with me is . . . forrrrbiddddennnnnn!!!?”

Readers of this section of backofthebook.ca will know that I’m sympathetic to 9/11 scepticism, but mostly what I’m sympathetic to is scepticism in journalism. The notion that the publisher of a major website would forbid discussion of a topic, any topic, is anathema to me. Not that this sort of thing hasn’t gone on for eons, but at least traditional print publishers could claim they only had so many column-inches available and so couldn’t accommodate every point-of-view. Moulitsas has no such excuse, which makes his behaviour all the more retrograde. (Let’s also mention his sidekick, Timothy Lange, who, as “Director of Community” — pretty fancy name for a censor — often takes care of the banning.)

Moulitsas may have learned this behaviour in the U.S. military, in which he enlisted immediately after high school. As he wrote when he first delivered his edict: “I can’t imagine what fucking world these people live in, but it sure ain’t the Reality Based Community.” (“Reality Based Community” is his handle for the site, and only about 10 times more overweening than The New York Times‘ “All the News That’s Fit to Print.”) Translated into army-ese, this would be: “SOLDIER! THAT SOUND LIKE SOME KINDA COMMUNIST FAGGOT BULLSHIT TA ME!” And his decrees haven’t been limited to 9/11. “[Hillary Clinton] doesn’t deserve ‘fairness’ on this site,” he advised his audience in March, 2008. He had various internecine Democratic party reasons for saying so, but mostly his beef was that she couldn’t win the presidential nomination. Of this are Kossian principles made.

Moulitsas’ defenders say it’s his website, so he can do what he wants with it. Sure. And William Randolph Hearst was able to use his papers to plump for war, but that didn’t make it good civic practise. There have always been sleazoid publishers who’ll pursue an agenda not just via convincing argument but also by suppressing dissent, but why Kos wants to join their ranks is beyond me. Maybe he needs to re-read his own book.

Or perhaps what he should do is institute a ban on all conspiracy theories. Here’s one now, uncovered just the other day on Daily Kos: “Something is not quite right here: The San Diego Union-Tribune reports that a fundraiser for Francine Busby, who previously ran for the deeply-Republican Fiftieth District and came close to winning in the 2006 special election and subsequent regular election, was raided by sheriffs after an unnamed neighbor made a noise complaint . . . . Here’s the twist: The fundraiser was hosted by a lesbian couple, and shortly before the sheriffs came a particular neighbor had shouted anti-gay slurs at the assembled crowd . . . . So San Diego cops usually respond to a noise complaint with eight patrol cars and a helicopter? Really?”

Sounds like the author might be on to something. His name? Markos Moulitsas.

“Something is not quite right here.” Said like a true Truther.

Remembering Yazamy — badly

By Frank Moher

When it comes to Canadian deaths in Afghanistan, our media’s sentimentality knows no bounds. Each time a soldier dies, we are assured that the young person — for they are almost always young persons — loved animals, or to make people laugh, or, in the case of 22-year old Marc Diab, killed by a roadside bomb on March 8th, “that he wanted to make a difference in peoples’ lives. Inevitably, the article goes on to quote the Prime Minister or some Brig.-Gen. about how heroic and noble the mission is.

This kind of thing is unavoidable. It’s the sort of boilerplate propaganda that journalists pump out as coolly as if they were reporting on sewer upgrades. You’d think, though, that when one of their own is killed they might work up enough outrage to offer something better. But no. Rosie DiManno’s March 11th column in The Toronto Star, on the killing of Javed Yazamy, is a case in point.

Yazamy, also known as Jawed Ahmad, was a 23-year old Afghan cameraman, translator, and all-round “fixer” who worked primarily with Canadian journalists. He was killed March 10th in Kandahar city. He was driving through one of the most secure parts of the city, near the governor’s palace, when another car pulled alongside and a gunman opened fire. This has become the murder method of choice in Afghanistan.

DiManno tells us that when she first met Yazamy, while on assignment for The Star, she assured friends: “Here is a future president of Afghanistan.”

Yazamy drove her and others around the countryside. “We felt relatively safe . . . . knowing the Taliban had more or less agreed to our unmolested passage. We paid Jojo and he paid them and, yes, it was a deal with the devil.

“That devil, never to be truly trusted, apparently took his due yesterday for reasons not yet understood.”

“I am so sorry, Jojo,” she concludes.

I don’t doubt that Ms. DiManno is genuinely upset by her colleague’s death, but this is journalistic pap. On the basis of who-knows-what, she lays the blame for his killing at the feet of the Taliban — “the devil.” But this is the same Yazamy who was imprisoned by the American military for 11 months at Bagram prison, without explanation, without charges, and without, of course, due process, the American military having dispensed with due process long before.

DiManno writes that “there were rumours that Jojo had actually been taken into protective custody by the Americans because he’d purportedly fallen afoul of the Taliban.” She doesn’t mention that, when he got out, he claimed to have been tortured by his soldier-keepers. “His hands were bound with plastic ties, and he was hooded with a heavy bag,” Graeme Smith wrote in The Globe and Mail shortly after his release. “In the following days, he says, he was questioned, taunted, screamed at, beaten with chairs and slammed into walls.”

Then it got worse. “After the initial questioning he was flown to Bagram airbase north of Kabul . . . . Still badly sleep-deprived, he was unloaded at the U.S. base and forced to stand for six hours in the snow wearing only a thin jumpsuit — no shoes, no hat — and he fell unconscious twice. Each time the guards forced him to stand up again.

“‘It felt like I had no skin left on my feet,’ he said.”

Yazamy had recently told Reporters Without Borders that he was planning to write a book about his experiences in prison. So, who else do you think might be placed on the list of suspects in his murder? The people who’d already done violence to him? The ones he’d snitched on, and now was going to write a book about?

Nahhhh. At least not on DiManno’s list. The U.S. doesn’t murder people — just like it doesn’t torture. Instead she does a fine job for the U.S. Department of Defense, Office of Public Affairs: “If the enemy can kill Jojo — so agile and plugged in, keenly alert to danger — they can and will kill anybody.”

Good thing we have those “devils” around to blame everything on.

If DiManno really wants to do justice to the memory of a man she calls a “colleague and dear friend,” she might mention that we invaded his country on the basis of a lie. (Here in Canada, we’re still waiting for Colin Powell’s promised proof of Bin Laden’s involvement in 9/11.) She might ask if a phony war is a good reason for her friend to have lost his life, not to mention the 122 Canadian soldiers who’ve also been killed, not to mention the estimated 19000+ total casualties. She might point out that Bagram prison remains open, and that the U.S. continues to maintain that it is outside the jurisdiction of the Geneva Convention. That means we have no idea what is being done, even now, to all the other Javed Yazamys incarcerated there

Or she could tell us that “He laughed. He was always laughing.” Oh wait. She did.

Yazamy, and our Canadian kids, deserve better than these glib farewells. They deserve an accounting. But that might raise uncomfortable questions, and lead to some damning answers. Better to lay on the sentiment, and wait for the next young person to die.

“We do not talk about things that we do not have enough experts to tell us about”

By Frank Moher

While researching my next-to-last post (and did you realize that “blogging” and “research” are not necessarily mutually exclusive?), I came across the following video:

In it, a very earnest and nervous woman confronts Alan Gregg, Chantal Hébert, and Andrew Coyne after a taping of the CBC political panel “At Issue,” with a question about the media’s handling of the events of 9/11:

“Why has the media failed to investigate the most glaring anomalies of 9/11, like the freefall collapse of the third tower, Building 7, or interview any of the high-ranking dissenters of the official 9/11 conspiracy theories –”

The Truther doesn’t get to finish her question. Before she can, her companion notes that the events have affected Canadian policy, and Hébert humbly interjects that “It’s the strength of our panel that we do not talk about things that we do not have enough experts to tell us about” (at least that’s what I hear; judge for yourself).

Some screenshots from along the route of the questioning may be instructive:

Also before our Truther finishes, Gregg insists “I’m completely unqualified to answer this question.” This, mind, before the question has actually been posed. Granted, the preamble is a bit long-winded, but that’s entirely because most mainstream pundits need to be informed of basic facts surrounding 9/11 before they can be asked about them.

After expressing their regret at being uninformed, Gregg and Hébert make for the exits. Coyne, to his credit, remains to engage the woman. What follows is less admirable.

Now, I was going to take off after Coyne for his responses: that you couldn’t keep quiet “all the people who’d have to be involved” in the demolition of the towers, or that “people have actually looked at this in some detail, and the people whose judgment I trust have looked at this in some detail and don’t find it credible.” But I think, first, I’ll ask some questions. After all, maybe Mr. Coyne will have some better responses this time around.

So, Andrew. (May I call you Andrew? You may remember that we worked across the hall from each other for a few months. Or maybe not.) Here are my two, simple questions:

– Who do you mean when you talk about the people who have looked at this in some detail?

– And, who are the people “whose judgment [you] trust who have looked at this in some detail and don’t find it credible”?

Maybe they’re the same people in both instances, in which case that’s a single question. Even simpler.

Now, you may suppose that Andrew Coyne doesn’t check into backofthebook.ca on a regular basis, and you’d probably be right. So, in addition to e-mailing him a link to this article, I’m going to advertise it on a few sites — including andrewcoyne.com. One way or another, hopefully he’ll see it. I’ll let you know if he replies (or he can simply click on that Comment link down there).

Mr. Gregg and Mme. Hébert are also welcome to respond, but I wouldn’t count on it. After all, we already know they’re too busy to answer questions after the cameras are turned off.

Part 2

Handling the Truth

By Frank Moher

On the weekend we began posting daily updates from the three-day Vancouver 9/11 Truth Conference. You can check out my dispatches on the special 9/11 conference page we’ve created for this purpose.

The 9/11 Truth community — and you’ll note that I haven’t put Truth in ironic quotes — wonders with varying degrees of outrage why the mainstream media ignores alternate theories as to what happened that day. Or why they treat the movement strictly as a social phenomenon, without going on to investigate just what it’s saying.

But the reasons aren’t that hard discern. As anyone who’s worked in a newsroom knows, the very facility that in theory gives journalists access to the wider world more often functions as a cocoon, insulating reporters in a combination of orthodox news sources, conventional wisdom, camaraderie that often congeals into a distrust of “civilians” (and their crazy letters and phone calls), and the natural conservatism of corporate structures. Then there are the long working hours that pretty much guarantee reporters won’t be exposed to much beyond home life and office culture.

And, of course, newspapers are struggling simply to find a way to survive lately. So even if a reporter managed to verse herself in the wide range of research being done on 9/11, much of it producing results that are at the very least intriguing, and overcame the natural disinclination to be labelled the newsroom’s resident conspiracy nut long enough to propose writing on the subject, it’s unlikely any editor these days is going to shell out the $$ necessary to really do the job — to investigate the investigation. I’m not saying that if somehow it did happen, there aren’t evil publishers and executives waiting to spike the whole thing. I just don’t think it’s likely they’d ever get the chance to.

And yet the 9/11 movement is becoming a social phenomenon, in part because a significant majority of people in the US and Canada think the government is lying about what happened that day. Maybe they are, maybe they aren’t (though can anyone imagine that what the White House says about the matter could be wholly the truth?). Nevertheless, a major constituency is going unaddressed.

And if even a fraction of what various scientists, architects, engineers, airline pilots, political scientists, and others who have aligned themselves with the movement proves out, it is almost certainly the biggest story of many lifetimes. An odd thing to turn away from. (The Truthers would say, I think, that it’s important not because it’s a great story but because it has seismic global implications. They would be right.)

I have read and heard and even researched enough of what the 9/11 Truth movement has uncovered to say that their call for a new investigation into the events before, during, and after that day is entirely justified. Other than that, I present the information in our report on the Vancouver conference without comment. I don’t know enough to say with any integrity that they’ve latched onto something real. But I certainly don’t know enough to say that they haven’t. And the more I listen, the more I think that such a place of dubiety is, for now, the only defensible place for a journalist to reside.

Facts, and other dispensable truths

By Frank Moher

So, this one should have been easy. At a star chamber-style military trial, the Pentagon releases the transcript of testimony by Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, purported Al-Qaeda mastermind, in which he admits to a laundry list of atrocities and would-be atrocities. Not only was he responsible for the 9/11 attacks, it says, but also for the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, the Bali terror bombing, the murder of Daniel Pearl, the attempt by bumbling shoe-bomber Richard Reid to down a trans-Atlantic airliner, assassination attempts against former Presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton as well as Henry Kissinger and Pope John Paul II, and a score of other terrorist plots. He stopped just short of claiming responsibility for the explosion of the Hindenberg and Britney Spears’ career. It was, as Fox News reported in an inadvertent fit of truth-telling, an “incredible confession.”

There was, of course, no reason to regard the Pentagon’s assertions as trustworthy, given that reporters and independent observers have been barred from the military tribunal from which they issued; that Mohammed’s admissions may very well have been elicited under torture; that the American government has rather a poor record of truth-telling lately; and that KSM may be either a self-aggrandizing liar or a convenient construct.

Nevertheless, here’s how our press handled the story:

The National Post: Al Qaeda Confessions
“Khalid Sheikh Mohammed told a military tribunal at Guantanamo Bay that he was ‘responsible for the 9/11 operation from A to Z,’ the 2002 Bali bombings, the 1993 World Trade Center attack and a long list of other, thwarted plots.”

The Globe and Mail:
‘I decapitated . . . Daniel Pearl’
In U.S. interview, Sept. 11 suspect admitted role in 31 terrorist plots

The CBC: Suspected 9/11 mastermind confesses at hearing: U.S.
“The suspected mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States confessed to the 2001 attacks and others when he appeared at his military hearing in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, a transcript shows.”

That CBC hed at least suggests, dimly, that this is the US version of the truth, although the paragraph that follows presents it as gospel. And the Globe article does offer some qualifiers. The Post barely allows that Mohammed “may be overstating his prowess as an international terrorist leader” before bringing in an expert to throw cold water on that possibility.

Regardless, the credulity of the Canadian media itself beggars credulity. Instead of presenting the facts as they have them — which is that the U.S. claims this was said by someone whom they claim to have in custody — they cough up the official version as news. We saw the same sort of wide-eyed reporting last summer, when the RCMP busted an alleged terrorist ring in Ontario. The CBC in particular got right on it: Linden McIntyre “exclusively” interviewed the paid informant, then-29 year-old Mubin Shaikh, who helped implicate the accused.

McIntyre was not interested in the fact that Shaikh had organized the training sessions in the northern woods that eventually led to the arrest of the 10 men and five youths — at least, not interested enough to ask about it. Nor was he interested in the mole’s motives. Said the not overly-articulate Shaikh, explaining himself: “Like to do it because — I would have to be malicious, I would have to try to like set somebody up, and what would motivate me to do that?” Good question. Could it have been the $77,000 he said he’d been paid, plus the $300,000 he said he was owed? McIntyre didn’t inquire.

The accused are also alleged to have planned bombings of various Canadian institutions, including CSIS, the Toronto Stock Exchange, and the CBC. A mole, it later transpired, was also involved in that plan. He turned out to be an agricultural student who, handily, was able to help the alleged conspirators gain access to large amounts of ammonium nitrate, a bomb-making component. McIntyre reported that the second mole said he “felt compelled to work through the authorities because he feared a civilian calamity.” (video) A few months later it was reported that Mole No. 2 had been paid $500,000 — and had requested $14 million.

Of course, it is doing these news organs a favour to assume that they are merely credulous. Otherwise, we would have to believe that they are in some way complicit in helping governments shape official reality, which would be to believe in conspiracy theories. And being reasonable, non-nutty sorts, we don’t believe in those. Do we?