Speaking of 9/11

You know the most obnoxious thing about 9/11 conspiracy theorists? They make idiots like Jonah Goldberg look right about something.

Goldberg, who as far as I can tell has never made an accurate prediction, finally has figured out a great way to make Democrats look bad rather than just embarrass himself and the Republicans. He writes for the LA Times “Just How Crazy are the Dems?”, and sadly, he’s got a point. The Democrats, their candidates, and sites like Daily Kos have failed miserably to quash support for conspiratorial thinking about 9/11. And it makes them look, really, really bad.

MOST FAIR-MINDED readers will no doubt take me at my word when I say that a majority of Democrats in this country are out of their gourds.

But, on the off chance that a few cynics won’t take my word for it, I offer you data. Rasmussen Reports, the public opinion outfit, recently asked voters whether President Bush knew about the 9/11 attacks beforehand. The findings? Well, here’s how the research firm put it: “Democrats in America are evenly divided on the question of whether George W. Bush knew about the 9/11 terrorist attacks in advance. Thirty-five percent of Democrats believe he did know, 39% say he did not know and 26% are not sure.”

So, 1 in 3 Democrats believe that Bush was in on it somehow, and a majority of Democrats either believe that Bush knew about the attacks in advance or can’t quite make up their minds.

There are only three ways to respond to this finding: It’s absolutely true, in which case the paranoid style of American liberalism has reached a fevered crescendo. Or, option B, it’s not true and we can stop paying attention to these kinds of polls. Or there’s option C — it’s a little of both.

Oh the pain! It hurts. How could so many people believe in such an idiocy? Goldberg even has the correct advice for dealing with the problem.

No, the right response to the Rosie O’Donnell wing of the Democratic Party is “It’s just make-believe.” But if they really believe it, then liberals must stop calling themselves the “reality-based” party and stop objecting to the suggestion that they have a problem with being called anti-American.

Worst of all, this polling is so embarrassing, it gives Goldberg the opportunity to look generous in his criticism of Democrats and liberalism.

And then there’s option C, which is most assuredly the reality. The poll is partly wrong or misleading, but it’s also partly right and accurate. So maybe it’s not 1 in 3 Democrats suffering from paranoid delusions. Maybe it’s only 1 in 5 , or 1 in 10. In other words, the problem isn’t as profound as the poll makes it sound. But that doesn’t mean the Democratic Party doesn’t have a serious problem.

This is what I hate about the 9/11 conspiracy theorists the most. They make Republicans look so reasonable when they call liberals crazy. The Democratic leaders in response to the 9/11 truthers have said stupid things like “they’ll look into it” or act like it’s some position worthy of study. Even worse, prominent activists like Cindy Sheehan have expressed support for 9/11 truth, making the anti-Bush crowd look like raving crackpots. This behavior should be unacceptable. It isn’t enough to just ignore the truthers or delete their contributions as Daily Kos, or worse humor them by saying “you’ll look into it”. It’s time for the Democratic party and the netroots to actively denounce conspiratorial thinking about 9/11 or else risk looking more ridiculous on this issue.


26 responses to “Speaking of 9/11”

  1. I think there are 2 things going on here that are less dramatic than Mr. Goldberg suggests.

    Thing one: The question is badly “framed”. Did Bush know about the attacks beforehand? Would a “yes” answer to this question include that he knew of a generic plot to attack the U.S.? He had the now infamous briefing in August with the title of “Bin Laden determined to attack U.S.”, or something like that. So, back to my question, would someone who considered that foreknowledge of the attacks have answered “yes” to the polling question? Most polling questions are asked in such general useless ways, that you can rephrase the question and get a completely different poll result. I think that’s part of the problem.

    Thing two: If you ask the general public *any* question, you will always get 10-20% who will answer the batshit crazy result. I read a year or two ago that a poll in Russia suggested that 15% of Russians would welcome the return of Josef Stalin. This is why no president ever drops below 20% approval ratings. Do 10-20% of Democrats think that Bush planned 9/11? I would be surprised if they didn’t. Quite frankly, that 10-20% of humanity is stark raving mad.

  2. Ah yes, good point. And Goldberg actually addresses the framing problem in his article and decides that part of the problem was the poor construction of the polling question.

    That does not change the tacit tolerance of the left wing for the batshit ideas. It’s a little bit like how no Republicans will say they believe in evolution, they’re beholden to the 20%.

    I think being beholden to the 20% makes you look like an idiot. (and since it’s a different 20% on either end of the spectrum it actually suggests about 40% of the population is totally nuts.

  3. Raymond

    I agree completely; it’s embarrassing to me as a liberal (or progressive, or Democrat, or whatever I am) to be associated with this 9/11 conspiracy nonsense.

    Sharing a disdain for 9/11 conspiracy is the only time I’ve ever agreed with Michelle Malkin.

  4. Mark C. Chu-Carroll

    I’m (shockingly) going to have to agree with factician.

    If someone had asked me that poll question, I would have answered “Yes”. Not because I believe that Bush knew, specifically, that a group of loonies was going to crash planes into buildings on 9/11 – as much as I despise Bush, I’m absolutely sure that he didn’t know that, and that if he had, he would have done something to prevent it.

    But: he had been warned, repeatedly, about the fact that terrorists were planning to attack the US. By any reasonable definition of “knew”, he knew that someone was planning to attack the US. He didn’t know exactly how, or exactly when. But he knew that something was in the works, and he chose ignore it, because he didn’t take it seriously as a threat.

  5. Anonymous

    I’ll get on board with Mark C-C and factician. The table of all voters sampled at Rasmussen’s site gives what I hope are the interview questions verbatim:

    Survey of 800 Likely Voters
    April 30-May 1, 2007
    Did the CIA Know About the 9/11 Attacks in Advance?
    Yes 29%
    No 41%
    Not sure 30%
    Did Bush Know About the 9/11 Attacks in Advance?
    Yes 22%
    No 55%
    Not sure 22%

    Either 22% to 29% of Americans are batshit crazy, or a large number of interview subjects considered (for example) the PDB headed “Bin Laden Determined to Strike inside America” as a pretty damn good reason for Bush to “Know About” the attacks, or some combination of the two.

  6. MOST FAIR-MINDED readers will no doubt take me at my word when I say that being compassionate about the poor, caring about universal health care and the income distribution of the last six years makes one a raving Marxist.

    Rasmussen polls are the absolute fave with the Freepers — Gosh, I wonder why?

  7. Janine

    I would have answered not sure to those question for the simple reason, those questions are poorly worded. I do not think that the Bush administration nor the CIA knew of the attack and allowed it to happen. In other word, there is no conspiracy. But as for knowing that such a type of attack were possible yet had their concerns else where, I would say yes. But these question throw people like me with those who believe that Bush either allowed or caused this to happen.

  8. Rasmussen Reports, the public opinion outfit,…

    Wait, …it’s not run by this guy, is it?

    Goldberg, who as far as I can tell has never made an accurate prediction, finally has figured out a great way to make Democrats look bad rather than just embarrass himself and the Republicans.

    It’s not really that much of a stretch H-Dog. If one phrases the questions to suit the outcome, you can justify most anything. It’s on us to be question the validity or accept it. Not that Rasmussen would taint the outcome, but I’m just saying…

    Oh, dang. I think I just inferred that Jonah and Rasmussen are a part of the vast right-wing conspiracy. Disregard, because that would be too loony for a reality-based community.

  9. Baratos

    I read a year or two ago that a poll in Russia suggested that 15% of Russians would welcome the return of Josef Stalin.

    I know just after WWII and the death camps were revealed, there was a poll in Germany about its future. At least 30% said they needed “another Hitler”.

  10. bigTom

    Mark is right. There were plenty of warnings that some sort of big attack was up. That information containing enough detail to be useful in their prevention was available is unlikely however. So depending upon what an individual thinks is meant by “knew about them in advance”
    one could reasonably say yes.

  11. I just don’t know guys. I hear the question “Did Bush Know About the 9/11 Attacks in Advance?” and the only possible interpretation of the “know about” to me is that he was aware not just about threats, but that the specific attacks were coming.

    Yeah, even Goldberg craps on the poll. But this is not the only poll that has consistently shown about 20-25% of Americans believe that there is some kind of conspiracy behind 9/11. And the fact that prominent politicians and people like Sheehan have given at least tacit approval of 9/11 conspiracy theories. Kucinich in particular seems interested in recruiting the wackos to his side.

    If I had to guess what the actual numbers are, I’d say about 1% of the population might harbor some serious troofer ideas – cruise missiles/the pentagon was a hoax/detonation of the buildings etc. It’s about the number of people in the population who have paranoid personality disorder anyway, so that’s a safe minimum bet.
    1-5% believes that Bush is some evil monster who is partially or wholly complicit in the scam, either by inaction or actual encouragement.
    the remaining 20% that tends to get picked up by these polls are probably the credulous types who seem to think Bush is capable of anything, and just won’t shoot down a theory as long as it’s negative about Bush.

    But that’s from the pulling numbers out of my ass department. I’d like to see some real polling that dissects out these views rather than rely on what is probably selection bias from my surveys of people’s beliefs on websites and discussion threads. There are definitely more people who are just Bush-hating (not that I say anyone should love the guy – but he’s not some evil genius) than who actually believe in the planned demolition/fake airplane crankery. It’s easy to think the worst of Bush, but he’s no genius, and even Cheney and Rumsfeld, whatever their flaws, aren’t that evil.

  12. Add to the “Bin Laden determined…” PDB the warnings from Richard Clarke and other Clinton-era counter-terrorism people, and the warnings from FBI offices in Minnesota and Arizona about people with student visas who only wanted to learn to fly jet airliners, and didn’t care so much about landing, and you’ve got a pretty good case that someone knew (or should have known) that something was coming.

    Part of Jonah’s error is going from “the question of whether George W. Bush knew about the 9/11 terrorist attacks in advance,” to “Democrats believe that Bush was in on it somehow.” One could have a certain degree of knowledge without being “in on it.”

    For instance, the 9/11 commission begins a chapter about the summer of 2001 (titled “The System was Blinking Red”):

    As 2001 began, counterterrorism officials were receiving frequent but fragmentary reports about threats. Indeed, there appeared to be possible threats almost everywhere the United States had interests – including at home. … There were more than 40 intelligence articles in PDBs from January 20 to September 10, 2001, that related to Bin Ladin. … At the end of March, the intelligence community disseminated a terrorist threat advisory, indicating a heightened threat of Sunni extremist terrorist attacks against U.S. facilities, personnel, and other interests.…

    A terrorist threat advisory distributed in late June indicated a high probability of near-term “spectacular” terrorist attacks resulting in numerous casualties. Other reports’ titles warned, “Bin Ladin Attacks May be Imminent” and “Bin ladin and Associates Making Near-Term Threats.” The latter reported multiple attacks planned over the coming days, including a “severe blow” against U.S. and Israeli “interests” during the next two weeks.…

    [CIA Director George] Tenet told us that in his world “the system was blinking red.” By late July, Tenet said, it could not “get any worse.” … On June 30, the [Senior Intelligence Executive Briefing, an abridged version of the PDB] contained an article titled “Bin Ladin Threats are Real.” … To give a sense of his anxiety at the time, one senior official in the Counterterrorist Center told us that he and a colleague were considering resigning in order to go public with their concerns.

    Did the CIA know something was coming, that would be big? Yes. Did they know it would involve airplanes? Probably not. Did they know the World Trade Center would be a target? Yes, it’d been on al Qaeda’s target list since 1993. Did George Bush appreciate the seriousness of the threat? Hard to say. The 9/11 Commission explained (in an ellipsis above) “[Deputy National Security Advisor] Hadley told Tenet in July that Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz questioned the reporting.” Wolfowitz probably carried more weight with the President than Tenet, who was a Clinton appointee, after all.

  13. Mark,

    I think you’re too optimistic about humanity in general. The 20-25% of respondents who think that Bush had something to do with 9/11 fits in with batshit crazy humanity. (Note 20% of democrats and 20% of republicans doesn’t make 40% – it’s still 20% of Americans).

    The Roper poll showed that 2% of Americans thought they themselves had been abducted by aliens at some point. 15% thought that they had either seen a UFO or knew someone who had. 30-50% thought aliens regularly visit earth.

    If you believe that aliens regularly visit earth, is it that hard to believe that Bush used swamp gas and mirrors and holograms to blow up the world trade center? Hell, why not go all out and say that he’s working for the aliens?

  14. bigTom

    I judge this thing by a standard of proof of no conspiracy. I have a very intelligent co-worker who believes it was, and I don’t like the fact that insufficient detail was released for me to disabuse him of his belief. This seems a pretty high standard -perhaps impossibly high. I saw the effect of Kenndy assassination conspiracies on some of my classmates, and believe that poorly refuted conspiracies can have a corrosive longterm influence on the public. It seems to me that the political sensibilities of the 911 commision were such that we will never get enough disclosure to properly bury this.

  15. Pieter B

    Has Rasmussen got any numbers on what percentage of Fox viewers believe that Saddam was responsible for 9/11, had an active nuclear/biological/chemical weapons program and was an imminent threat to the US?

  16. I wonder what Mr. Goldberg thinks about his mothers’ claim that she had an affair with Harry Truman?

  17. Booker

    Whether the poll is completely accurate or not, the 9/11 conspiracy nuttery is far to prevalent amongst my fellow left-wingers. It’s depressing the hell out of me, and I can no more comprehend how someone could accept it than I could comprehend someone thinking Ronald Reagan was a good president. It’s almost enough to make me think that a third of our fellow citizens are actually aliens from another galaxy. What is going on in their brains?! Is there a doctor in the house who can explain this to me? Is this some form of PTSD?

  18. jtdub

    Are we really surprised that there are people who believe incredibly dumb things on both sides of the political spectrum?

    I consider myself further to the left than the right (overall), but am constantly upset by the company that puts me in.

    To wit: social construction of reality. The hard core postmodernists (who seem to be all liberals) drive me CRAZY on this point.

  19. Did the CIA know something was coming, that would be big? Yes. Did they know it would involve airplanes? Probably not. Did they know the World Trade Center would be a target? Yes, it’d been on al Qaeda’s target list since 1993.

    The problem with your last bullet is that there’s a lot of things on al Qaeda’s ‘target list.’ At least twenty-five European capitals, 50 US state captials, and that’s just the capital cities. All of these cities have airports, major rail stations (frequently more than one), heavily trafficed streets/buildings, power plants, water supply, etc.

    All in all, you have maybe one suitable sabotage target for every thousand citizens or so – and that’s only if you count ‘hardware.’ You can add to that thousands of people who are central to the function of government, infrastructure or business. You simply cannot protect everything.

    I could point you to several suitable sabotage targets in and around Copenhagen (where I live and so have some local knowledge), that you could hit for great structural damage, great loss of life and great panic and confusion effect. And still have a better than even chance of getting away if you leave the country immediately or in short order.

    With the benefit of hindsight, yes, it seems obvious that WTC was a likely target – but wouldn’t it have been equally effective to – say – crash your hijacked planes into the New Orleans dikes? Or, for that matter, break into a water processing facility and contaminate the drinking water with some kind of toxin?

    Was it reasonable to believe that al Qaeda warrented action? Maybe. I haven’t seen the reports myself. But remember that as causes of death go, terrorism is statistically insignificant. On a population level, it’s noise. The same money directed at policing the use of trans fats would give you a greater return in terms of lives saved for less intrusion into civil liberties. That was true before ’01, and it remains true today.

    The crux of the argument should not be that ‘Bush should’ve guessed.’ It should be ‘nothing much changed – if action wasn’t warrented for the first 6 months of the Cheney presidency, it shouldn’t be warrented for the next six years either.’

    To wit: social construction of reality. The hard core postmodernists (who seem to be all liberals) drive me CRAZY on this point.

    Oh, no, the right has them as well. Only, on the right, the po-mos call themselves Intelligent Design ‘theorists.’

    – JS

  20. bigTom

    Good points. It is difficult to know detailed enough target information -or even if an alleged plan is real. Nevertheless the prfessionals were concerned enough to bring this to the white house, where they were essentially rebuffed. Whether any reasonable actions could have actually prevented 9-11 seems unlikely. The fact that they weren’t taken I think is the prime reason for official foot dragging on the investigation of the atacks.

    I think its not so much that these sorts of conspiracy loving individuals are mostly lefties. Clearly anyone who believes any sort of nefarious 9-11 conspiracy will become anti-administration, and hence likely politically pretty far left.

  21. Ktesibios

    To judge paranoid conspiracy theories by a standard of “proof of no conspiracy” is to fall into exactly the trap the woo-woos want you to.

    One constant theme of any discussion between the reality-based and the PCT devotee is that the PCTer will keep throwing out unsupported claims and demanding that they be definitively debunked or else considered true.

    Allowing this to happen not only permits the discussion to sink into a state where the argument from ignorance and displacement of the burden of proof are acknowledged as legitimate, but encourages the PCTer in the belief that they have an inalienable right to hold up an endless series of hoops and expect skeptics dutifully to jump through them.

    Creationists like to use the same bogus rhetorical trick- since it’s possible to spew specious talking points much faster than they can be refuted in detail, it’s easy to give the uninformed the impression that one has “won” the debate by doing so.

    The standard should be “present a coherent theory of the conspiracy and demonstrate that it better explains the entire set of observations about the event alleged to be the result of the conspiracy than what you slag as the ‘official story’. If you can’t do that, don’t waste my time with a load of handwaving.”

    It is a source of constant irritation to me to see people who would doubtless self-identify as “progressive” happily carrying on what anyone who has a basic familiarity with the history of paranoid conspiracism will recognize as the cultural tradition of the John Birch Society. That troofers, with their guilty-until-proven-innocent worldview, inability to evaluate evidence, hatred of genuine expertise and eagerness to revile anyone who doesn’t buy into their Party line as a “shill” or “disinfo agent”, are demonstrating an authoritarian psychology that would glad the heart of a John Ashcroft or Abu Gonzales makes it even more irritating.

    BTW, I’m curious about the claim that Kucinich is trying to woo the troofers. While he can be something of a flake, I have a hunch about where this impression comes from. If I’m right about that, the claim fails due to subverted support.

  22. On Kucinich what the hell is this?, or this, or this? He’s lost his mind.

  23. Nevertheless the prfessionals were concerned enough to bring this to the white house, where they were essentially rebuffed.

    As I said, I’ve not read the reports, so I’ll defer judgement to those who have. That being said, you wouldn’t have to argue too hard to get me to accept that the Cheney presidency essentially sat on their ears while a known threat was building… It would be kinda consistent with their pre-Katrina (and post-Katrina, for that matter) behaviour.

    For what it is worth, pretty much that picture is my personal belief, but without having read the primary material, I am loath to state with certainty that it was the case.

    Further, I think it’s important in this day and age to remember that even if they could have prevented 9/11, they could more likely than not not have prevented the next one – or the one after that. Not even if they were top-of-the-line professionals without political blinkers.

    The current American focus on ‘it must never happen again’ is doing Bad Things to your society as far as I can tell. Combatting this mentality is more important, IMO, than assigning blame for 9/11, however personally satisfying it would be for me and others to see the Cheney presidency be saddled with the blame.

    – JS

  24. I have a hunch about where this impression comes from.

    Come on man, out with it.

    I find it suspicious that an old, short guy with weird Marxist health care views landed that hot, 27 year old babe. What are the odds if she wasn’t a mole 🙂

  25. That does not change the tacit tolerance of the left wing for the batshit ideas.

    At that makes them different from the right how, exactly?

    Political orientation is not strongly predictive of tolerance for wierd / stupid ideas. We may wish that it were, but it’s not.

  26. Ktesibios

    What I was expecting was that the claim about Kucinich would be based on tinfoil-hat fantasies posted on http://www.denniskucinich.us . This was a topic of conversation at the JREF forum some weeks ago; it takes only a quick WHOIS and a bit of Google-fu to discover that that site is the leftover campaign site from 2004.

    Lately posts have been made on the front page espousing both 9/11 troofism and fantasies that are straight outta the lving-in-a-fortified-compound-in-Idaho-fondling-our-guns-and-waiting-for-the-NWO’s-black-helicopters “patriot” catechism. Whether the guy who built the site in 2004 actually believes that crap, or is disgruntled about not being the Web honcho for the 2008 campaign and is trying to link Kucinich with outright loonery in retaliation, or someone has got hold of the keys to this Mary Celeste of cyberspace is impossible to determine.

    My hypothesis that this would be the source is falsified by the links MarkH posted.

    Even though troofers will sieze upon any expression of doubt about any aspect of the existing investigation as “proof” that someone supports their loony Bush-did-9/11 fantasies, despite the fact that it’s possible to entertain reality-based criticism of the 9/11 Commission as being too charitable towards the quality of officialdom’s performance without espousing paranoia- troofers are kind of dishonest that way- this shit is bad.

    Kucinich has apparently learned nothing at all from the “chemtrails-in-a-bill” debacle of a couple years past. This behavior bespeaks either a loon or an attention-seeker with an absolutely tin ear for language and a complete ignorance of how others will make use of his ambiguous language.

    Either should be a disqualification for holding elective office.

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