Austin Bay

The 9/11 conspiracy theories have overt and covert promoters. Some are more nuisance than threat. Howard Dean verbally toyed with 9/11 conspiracy theories when he was playing primary election footsie with hard-left constituencies. Others seek nuclear weapons and finance terrorism. "Debunking" notes Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's rambling May 2006 letter to President George W. Bush included "broad hints" that the U.S. organized the attacks.

"Debunking's" afterword, written by Popular Mechanics editor in chief James Meigs, deserves special plaudits. Journalism and rhetoric professors should make use of it in undergraduate classes. The afterword's first sentence sets the stage: "On February 7, 2005, I became a member of the Bush/Halliburton/Zionist/CIA/New World Order/Illuminati conspiracy for global domination." That's the day his magazine's "debunking" issue appeared in print.

Meigs, however, quickly moves from hate mail to a discussion of "conspiracism" techniques. ("Conspiracism" is a term coined by Chip Berlet of the liberal Political Research Associates think tank.)

Meigs analyzes eight 9/11 conspiracy-spinner techniques. I'll mention two:

(1) Attempts to "marginalize opposing views." Meigs says thousands of eyewitness 9/11 accounts and the analyses of numerous universities and professional organizations (including Underwriters Labs and the American Society of Civil Engineers) are dismissed as "the government version."

(2) Circular reasoning. Meigs writes that " . . . among 9/11 theorists, the presence of evidence supporting the mainstream view is also taken as proof of conspiracy." He concludes: "Like doctrinaire Marxists or certain religious extremists, conspiracists enjoy a world view that is immune to refutation."

Meigs' analyses of "demonization" and the "paranoid style" are particularly crisp and compelling.

I also wrote a book blurb, calling "Debunking" "a victory for common sense . . . ." The world deserves more victories just like it.

Austin Bay

Austin Bay is the author of three novels. His third novel, The Wrong Side of Brightness, was published by Putnam/Jove in June 2003. He has also co-authored four non-fiction books, to include A Quick and Dirty Guide to War: Third Edition (with James Dunnigan, Morrow, 1996).
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