On Thursday Aug 17 my Green opponent Carol Brouillet invited me to be a "skeptic" on a Palo Alto community access TV show about the 9/11 "Truth Movement". I agreed, even though I had been stunned by the size of the 9/11 conspiracy industry that was evident in the 200-page color biannual 9/11 "truth" magazine she gave me when I bought her lunch that Monday. I had in the 1980's and 1990's been immersed (as a skeptic) in the deep and fascinating world of JFK assassination conspiracies, but my only inkling of 9/11 conspiracies had been the occasional reference by Libertarian kooks to controlled demolition of the World Trade Center and a missile hitting the Pentagon. I knew that as a stay-at-home mom of teenagers, Brouillet had been a full-time student of 9/11 for five years, and I had just one weekend to get ready to take on her and two other conspiracists.
So it seemed like roughly even odds.
I started devouring the leading pro- and anti-conspiracy web sites, trying to anticipate what my opponents would say and what the best available rebuttals are. I got a huge break Friday when one of Brouillet's fellow conspiracist panelists sent a longish email explaining that a 9/11 government conspiracy is as "obvious" as was the JFK conspiracy, of which he (Robert Forte) had made "a very thorough study".
In my response to him I slapped down his hopelessly uninformed assertion about the JFK Zapruder film, with a frame-by-frame analysis of the crucial head-shot sequence and a link to a web-based frame Z frame comparator.
Forte's co-panelist Dennis (galen) Mitrzyk was much more cautious about risking his credibility by directly engaging in the discussion, and so he instead forwarded a 9/11 conspiracist essay that nonetheless violated my advice that the conspiracists not invoke JFK. In this case, it was Paul Crag Roberts invoking Oswald's marksmanship as the key to realizing a conspiracy. I informed Mitrzyk et al. that Roberts' understanding of the JFK case was at least twenty years obsolete, as new studies in the 1970's and 1980's overwhelmingly substantiated the single/magic bullet theory that completely undercuts the marksmanship objection.
Forte still didn't quite take my advice, and weakly stood behind his Zapruder assertion with a defensive and vague one-sentence argument, giving me a chance to expand my earlier five-point rebuttal into a nine-point one. He then committed a series of major gaffes:
- To divert attention from my Zapruder argument, he made a blatantly uninformed claim that Clay Shaw (the peripheral JFK assassination figure played by Tommy Lee Jones in the Oliver Stone movie JFK) had been a CIA "agent". Bzzzt.
- He claimed the collapse of WTC 7 was "totally ignored in the official report", when in fact it's been discussed in two official reports totaling 86 pages.
- He claimed "the CIA was holding exercises" on 9/11, when in fact it was a simple office evacuation exercise at NRO building 4 miles from Dulles airport. NRO manages spy satellites, and has nothing to do with air defenses.
- He claimed that "the FBI admitted they have no evidence that bin laden had anything to do with 9/11", and I showed that this is blatant disinformation.
I couldn't resist closing my email by telegraphing the question that I think is most devastating to the conspiracist position: why does al Qaeda take credit for 9/11 instead of denying responsibility for it? As it turned out, my opponents did not take advantage of this by preparing very well for this question when I asked it on the show.
Next installment: highlights of the debate, and online video.