Media Reinforcement and Revisionism: Our Way from Here
September 11, 2011
Paul Rea MountingEvidence.org
The publicity for today’s event speaks about the “story of struggle”—and even more importantly, “the struggle for story.” To be sure, the recent media coverage of 9/11 has overwhelming reinforced the Official Story. A key question, however, is this: What features of the Story have the re-tellers highlighted, what did they change? We need to be aware of their retellings because to change someone’s mind, we need to know what they’re likely to believe. A Frenzy of Media Myth Reinforcement Several of us have been watching ways in which the mass media have reinforced or altered the traditional narrative of 9/11. Project Censored, led by Professors Peter Phillips and Mickey Huff, are tracking the media’s handling of the standard narrative. We’re interested in how cultural myths change over time to serve the interests of those in power. As myth reinforcement occurs, it necessarily involves ignoring obvious questions. For example, let’s take coverage of the Dawdler in Chief at the Bowker Elementary School. Recently the BBC interviewed Andy Card, the president’s press secretary, who repeated the mantra about the president not wanting to scare the second graders. Never did the BBC interviewer think to ask, But was that as important as protecting the rest of the country? The interviewer also failed to ask an even more crucial question: Why, for over half hour after the second strike, would the Secret Service allow the president to linger at a well publicized location? Why would the Secret Service dawdle if it didn’t feel confident that the school wouldn’t also be hit? Instead, the interviewer allowed Card to imply that the Secret Service was especially protective, even to the point of having the engines of Air Force One running when the presidential entourage arrived at Sarasota Airport (BBC 9/8/11). New emphases have already emerged in these re-tellings of the Official Story. Already we’ve noticed a new emphasis on the supposed flaws in the Trade Towers. While this misconception is not entirely new, it wasn’t a big factor in either the 9/11 Commission’s Report or the NIST study of the buildings. But in recent weeks, media coverage has amplied this idea of flawed design. This past week NOVA ran a special which highlighted the new designs for tall buildings that would supposedly eliminate collapses. Cement columns, it said, would avoid the problems with steel that caused the Towers to fail. Such programs have presented a completely false analysis. For one thing, the current design standards have actually changed very little, as one might infer from photos of the soaring iron work at the new One World Trade Center. Moreover, as the blueprints show, the Towers were almost over-engineered; they were designed for redundancy, with interlocking columns, trusses, and girders designed to pick up the load should some of them fail. In addition, the Twin Towers were designed both to withstand hurricane-force winds and to take hits from jetliners. In the 1960s, the state-of-the-art jetliner was the DC-7, a plane nearly as heavy as those that hit the Towers. It was also assumed to be flying over a hundred miles and hour faster than the Boeings that actually hit. And, in contrast to the aircraft that struck the Towers, the DC-7 was a four-engine plane, which meant that it had twice the potential to inflict damage from the impact of its engines. While no designs are perfect, it’s misleading to contend that the Towers came down because of design flaws. That said, we can expect that intelligent people will tell us just that—and that, hey, they saw it on PBS NOVA. Revisionism presents a big problem because we have so few correctives; the latest official narrative tends to stick. American Exceptionalism is Another Obstacle For years, theologian David Ray Griffin has called for understanding 9/11 in the light of a unique American character. It’s not helpful, really, to say that, “Hey the European mass media are able to handle 9/11 realities, why can’t ours?” We have to examine our culture—and thus ourselves. This factor is most apparent in Griffin’s “9/11 and Nationalist Faith,” a video which Ken Jenkins is selling just outside. Basically, Griffin tells us, it’s tough for Americans to accept the fact that our government betrayed us in murderous ways. On a deep level, most of us continue to believe in America’s inhereent moral superiority. We have to consider, Griffin tells us, “the blinding power of this dominant faith.” The Cult of Noble Victims Or, more currently, we can consider the characterizations of victims of the 9/11 attacks. The other night, NPR ran a segment on a priest who unselfishly ran into a burning Trade Tower, only to perish when it came down. Persons who knew this priest described him as “saintly,” and perhaps he was. But when, over the whole ten years, have we heard a more complete characterization that includes not only saintly priests and heroic first responders, but also the cops who ran away and the stockbrokers still speculating as the Towers came down? How might this cultural tendency play out more broadly? Well, it manifests in ways we’ve all noticed. Think about how media commentators tell us about veterans of many wars who are traumatized by “what they saw,” never by what they did. Until proven otherwise, everyone in our military is considered an honorable hero. And America has a Department of Defense, implying that it’s mission is solely defensive. So whether in the Trade Center, Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan, whether in the White House or at Pentagon, we Americans tend to deny our shadow stuff. We have difficulty looking at American soldiers at Mai Lai and wondering, Are their faces really that different than ours? As Freud and Jung agreed, to repress our shadow stuff leaves the person less able to control it. To lose a cherished belief is a loss, so we might consider the Kubler-Ross stages for Coping or Grieving: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Acceptance. DABDA. Skeptics and truthers tend to focus on the Denial stage, attributing denial to weakness and forgetting that the person they’ve introduced to their perspective is probably struggling with the other stages. I hear many activists say things like, “I almost had her there, but the next time I saw her, she’d slipped back into quibbling.” Could this mean that she is struggling with Acceptance, but is reverting to Denial, Anger, or Bargaining? Since the process of change is not linear, this happens a lot. Today we need to ask not just where do we go from here, but how should we approach our work. At the Grand Lake Theater on Thursday, former steelworker Mike Daly spoke about health and compensation issues, underscoring not just passion, but also compassion. Recently national 9/11 coordinator Gabriel Day emphasized this same challenge: “We gotta develop not just our I.Q, but our E.Q., our emotional intelligence.” What might this mean? At this event, we’re talking about turning fear into love. This can start in the way we do our work. It can mean that we become more kind to one another, supporting one another and letting one another know we understand the work is difficult. Doing this would help to prevent, or at least mitigate, the common scourges of activists: alienation cynicism and burnout. Gabriel also remarked we've got to be there for people.” By that he likely meant that when we approach someone, possibly giving them a book or a video, we watch their faces —and that we consider giving them a call to see how they’re doing with the revelations. We can’t just pathologize people and say they’re deep into denial or suppose they lack the ego strength that we have. We need to show our fellow human beings that we care. We can’t blow people’s minds and then expect them to join the parade. We need find ways to be there, so we don’t just serve up reality sandwiches but also show that we care about the person’s digestion. This is where, on a concrete, not a metaphysical level, we can move from intellectual analysis to heartfelt caring.
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