This is the second of two columns that explore the relationship between popular movements and the news media. Read Part 1 -- "Made for each other."
If the Tea Party movement is the spoiled stepchild of the American news media, then the 911 Truth movement is the mad woman in the attic of U.S. journalistic culture.
As I suggested in my previous column, the Tea Party's notoriety and popular appeal is fueled by press coverage that is, by turns, wildly enthusiastic and wholly uncritical. In contrast, American news workers have long ignored, shunned or ridiculed the 911 Truth movement. Likewise, relatively few international news outlets have taken the 911 Truth movement seriously. Until now.
"News reports that bring up troubling questions about the official story surrounding the events of Sept. 11, 2001, are gaining traction in the international press."
According to a new study published by Global Research, a Canadian-based independent research organization, news reports that bring up troubling questions about the official story surrounding the events of Sept. 11, 2001, are gaining traction in the international press.
Significantly, these news narratives no longer frame the 911 Truth movement as so much conspiracy theory. Rather, independent, commercial and public service news organizations the world over are giving serious consideration to allegations that challenge the veracity of the official story that emerged in the days and weeks following the 911 attacks.
Authored by Elizabeth Woodworth, a freelance writer and former health sciences librarian, the report surveys international press coverage of the 911 Truth movement during 2009. Woodworth's study makes for compelling -- and deeply unsettling -- reading.
Woodworth examines a growing body of news reports featuring prominent members of the 911 Truth movement. Many of these news stories are based on the findings of independent scientific studies that refute the official story of the 911 attacks. Woodworth's analysis reveals a new pattern in press coverage of the 911 Truth movement: one that views the movement's claims as a legitimate controversy that merits public inquiry and discussion.
One story in particular seems to have created an opening for subsequent reports that challenge the official story: the April 2009 publication of a peer-reviewed study appearing in Open Chemical Physics Journal. The journal article presents the findings of an examination of dust from the site of the World Trade Center. The dust sample revealed traces of nano-thermite, a highly explosive substance that has been linked to classified military research.
"Domestic reporting on the 911 Truth movement has been left to independent and community media organizations."
The lead author of the study, Dr. Niels Harrit, a specialist in nano-chemistry at the University of Copenhagen, has since discussed his findings in interviews with several international news organizations, including Danish TV2 News, Good Morning Denmark and Russia Today. According to Woodworth, the European mainstream media's growing interest in this study would help re-frame international coverage of the 911 Truth movement.
For example, the April 25, 2009, edition of Canada's Financial Post features an interview with Richard Gage, the San Francisco-based architect associated with Architects and Engineers for 911 Truth. As Woodworth notes, this interview is one of the first of its kind, "a truly comprehensive profile or investigation of the Truther movement."
A few weeks later, Gage appeared on KMPH, a Fox affiliate in Fresno, Calif. Over the course of the seven-minute interview, Gage points to the presence of nano-thermite as a plausible explanation for the collapse of the Twin Towers. Gage also addressed the inexplicable collapse of WTC 7, a topic that has long been taboo in American newsrooms.
Finally, Gage dismisses the notion that Al-Qaida might have had access to either the secretive explosive material or the towers in advance of the attacks. Gage concludes, "Somebody else has to be investigated. And that's why we have 700 architects and engineers demanding a real investigation."
For the most part, however, domestic reporting on the 911 Truth movement has been left to independent and community media organizations. For instance, in September 2009 two independent newspapers in California -- Silicon Valley's Metroactive and the Santa Barbara Independent -- ran separate versions of a profile of Architects and Engineers for 911 Truth. According to Woodworth, these stories "represent a 180-degree turnaround in American newspaper reporting, providing a useful introduction to the long-ignored research by independent professionals."
"Bloomington's Cable Access Television Services (CATS) has been out front on coverage of the 911 Truth movement."
Closer to home, Bloomington's Cable Access Television Services (CATS) has been out front on coverage of the 911 Truth movement. Over the years, CATS has run a variety of programs, including provocative documentaries like Loose Change and public lectures by scientists and skeptics who challenge the official story. Likewise, community radio WFHB has conducted in-depth interviews with so-called truthers, including members of the Bloomington 911 Working Group, on several occasions.
Meanwhile, the international press continues to dig further into the claims of the 911 Truth movement. For instance, in a story pegged to the anniversary of the attacks, the Sept. 11, 2009, edition of London's Daily Mail draws on the work of Dr. David Ray Griffin whose book Osama bin Laden: Dead or Alive? suggests that bin Laden died of kidney failure -- in December 2001. Griffin goes on to challenge the authenticity of audio messages attributed to bin Laden since that time.
Soon thereafter, Griffin -- one of the leading spokespeople for the 911 Truth movement -- was named one of "The Fifty People who Matter Today" by Britain's New Statesman. In November 2009, Griffin joined other prominent truthers on the Canadian Broadcast Corporation's award-winning series The Fifth Estate. The report, aptly titled "The Unofficial Story," explores a number of inconsistencies in the dominant media narrative surrounding 9/11.
Changing journalistic attitudes toward the 911 Truth movement is a welcome and long overdue development. We also owe a debt of gratitude to international news workers who have shifted the terms of the debate away from conspiracy theory to a legitimate scientific debate worthy of public scrutiny.
"Changing journalistic attitudes toward the 911 Truth movement is a welcome and long overdue development."
By the same token, we should acknowledge the vital work of domestic, independent and community media in breaking the silence surrounding legitimate concerns with the official story of 911 -- a story that the U.S. corporate media helped construct in the wake of the attacks and which it continues to cling to today, despite growing evidence to the contrary.
All of which is to say that the news media are the lifeblood of social movements. In the absence of thorough, substantive and accurate reporting of social movements, taboo subjects and uncomfortable truths remain out of sight and out of mind.
When it comes to the legitimate concerns raised by the 911 Truth movement, the U.S. media would do well to lose the ostrich routine.
Kevin Howley is associate professor of media studies at DePauw University. He is editor of Understanding Community Media (Sage, 2010). He writes regularly on media, culture and politics at e-chreia.