Friday, May 08, 2009

Was Popular Mechanics Fair?

This is something that Stew and John Michael brought up in the interview with Michael Woolsey that I linked to the other day, and it's a common enough claim that I thought it would be worth talking about.

I'm going to suggest a rating system for the claims that Popular Mechanics debunked. I will grade the claims on a 1-10 scale on how common they are in the Truth Movement back then or today. 1-2 points means barely mentioned, 3-4 means mentioned by some, 5-6 means fairly commonly mentioned, 7-8 means very commonly mentioned, and 9-10 means virtual 100% agreement within the 9-11 "Truthers".

There is a problem, of course; if the claims were common in the past and yet have since been dropped, the argument of course is that Popular Mechanics did such a good job of debunking that claim that even the packrat Truthers have abandoned. So I will look to see if the claim appeared in Loose Change, or in DRG's 115 things he thought the 9-11 Commission got wrong.

Claim: Photographs and video footage shot just before United Airlines Flight 175 hit the South Tower of the World Trade Center (WTC) show an object underneath the fuselage at the base of the right wing. The film "911 In Plane Site" and the Web site claim that no such object is found on a stock Boeing 767. They speculate that this "military pod" is a missile, a bomb or a piece of equipment on an air-refueling tanker. points to this as evidence that the attacks were an "inside job" sanctioned by "President George Bush, who planned and engineered 9/11."

This is the pod theory, and of course right away we get into the problem that I noted at the top, which is that the theory is dead now, but it is very hard to argue that it was dead in 2005, when the piece came out. Indeed, the original version of Loose Change opened with the Pod theory, and while it's tempting to congratulate Dylan for dropping it from the second edition, the fact is that in one of the Loose Change Vanity videos, Dylan announced that they dropped it because they didn't have room, not because they changed their mind on the issue. It was also featured in Dave Von Kleist's In Plane Site. But Griffin does not mention it. So on current relevance I'd give it a 1, but on past relevance I'd put it at no less than a 5.

Claim: No fighter jets were scrambled from any of the 28 Air Force bases within close range of the four hijacked flights. "On 11 September Andrews had two squadrons of fighter jets with the job of protecting the skies over Washington D.C.," says the Web site "They failed to do their job." "There is only one explanation for this," writes Mark R. Elsis of "Our Air Force was ordered to Stand Down on 9/11."

The stand down order is a staple of the conspiracy theorists. David Ray Griffin pushes it to this day, as does everyone who mentions Norm Mineta. Dylan Avery acknowledged that there was no stand-down order a couple years ago, but he's very much in the minority on this issue, even among the LIHOP crowd. I have to give this one a 9 on current relevance and 10 on the past.

Claim: On Sept. 11, FOX News broadcast a live phone interview with FOX employee Marc Birnbach. states that "Bernback" saw the plane "crash into the South Tower." "It definitely did not look like a commercial plane," Birnbach said on air. "I didn't see any windows on the sides."

This is not something that is commonly mentioned anymore but it did appear in Loose Change both I and II. Griffin does not mention it in his list. I'll knock it down to 2 currently with a 6 at the time.

Claim: "It has been standard operating procedures for decades to immediately intercept off-course planes that do not respond to communications from air traffic controllers," says the Web site "When the Air Force 'scrambles' a fighter plane to intercept, they usually reach the plane in question in minutes."

If this one isn't a 10 both now and then, I don't know what is. This claim is made in LC I and II, and by Griffin:

67. The claim that the Payne Stewart interception did not show NORAD's response time to Flight 11 to be extraordinarily slow

Claim: The first hijacked plane crashed through the 94th to the 98th floors of the World Trade Center's 110-story North Tower; the second jet slammed into the 78th to the 84th floors of the 110-story South Tower. The impact and ensuing fires disrupted elevator service in both buildings. Plus, the lobbies of both buildings were visibly damaged before the towers collapsed. "There is NO WAY the impact of the jet caused such widespread damage 80 stories below," claims a posting on the San Diego Independent Media Center Web site ( "It is OBVIOUS and irrefutable that OTHER EXPLOSIVES (... such as concussion bombs) HAD ALREADY BEEN DETONATED in the lower levels of tower one at the same time as the plane crash."

This is an extremely common claim. Willie Rodriguez made his claim about an explosion in the basement in Loose Change II, and would have done the same in LCFC if Dylan had given him enough money. DRG does not mention it in his list of 115 things wrong, but I believe that was put together before W-Rod went Troofer. I'd put the explosions in the basement at 9 today, maybe 7 before.

Claim: "We have been lied to," announces the Web site "The first lie was that the load of fuel from the aircraft was the cause of structural failure. No kerosene fire can burn hot enough to melt steel." The posting is entitled "Proof Of Controlled Demolition At The WTC."

Fire can't melt steel? Wasn't that Rosie's claim? Clearly this is very common in the movement; Loose Change I and II both made that claim as did Griffin in a slightly different form:

. The omission of the fact that fire has never, before or after 9/11, caused steel-frame buildings to collapse (25).

I'd give that one a 9 then and a 9 today. Certainly Gage talks about how fire can't melt steel all the time.

Claim: As each tower collapsed, clearly visible puffs of dust and debris were ejected from the sides of the buildings. An advertisement in The New York Times for the book Painful Questions: An Analysis Of The September 11th Attack made this claim: "The concrete clouds shooting out of the buildings are not possible from a mere collapse. They do occur from explosions." Numerous conspiracy theorists cite Van Romero, an explosives expert and vice president of the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology, who was quoted on 9/11 by the Albuquerque Journal as saying "there were some explosive devices inside the buildings that caused the towers to collapse." The article continues, "Romero said the collapse of the structures resembled those of controlled implosions used to demolish old structures."

The infamous squibs. Cited by Dylan in both Loose Change I and II. Not cited by DRG in his list of 115 omissions and distortions, but something I hear quite often. I'd give it a 7 both now and then.

Claim: Seismographs at Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory in Palisades, N.Y., 21 miles north of the WTC, recorded the events of 9/11. "The strongest jolts were all registered at the beginning of the collapses, well before falling debris struck the earth," reports the Web site

I don't think this made it into Loose Change, or into DRG's manifesto. I certainly have heard it but it's not all that common; I'd give it a 3 now and then. If you argue that this is about the "missing jolt" of Tony Szamboti, then clearly it's more relevant than I am saying.

Claim: Seven hours after the two towers fell, the 47-story WTC 7 collapsed. According to "The video clearly shows that it was not a collapse subsequent to a fire, but rather a controlled demolition: amongst the Internet investigators, the jury is in on this one."

WTC 7 as controlled demolition is about as common as they come, but there are some who still say the movement is not about controlled demolition, so I'm going to be generous and say this one's an 8 now and then.

Claim: Two holes were visible in the Pentagon immediately after the attack: a 75-ft.-wide entry hole in the building's exterior wall, and a 16-ft.-wide hole in Ring C, the Pentagon's middle ring. Conspiracy theorists claim both holes are far too small to have been made by a Boeing 757. "How does a plane 125 ft. wide and 155 ft. long fit into a hole which is only 16 ft. across?" asks, a Web site "dedicated to discovering the bottom line truth to what really occurred on September 11, 2001."

These claims were made in both Loose Change I and II, and also on Griffin's list:

18. The omission of the fact that there are photos showing that the west wing's façade did not collapse until 30 minutes after the strike and also that the entrance hole appears too small for a Boeing 757 to have entered (34).

However, I'm again going to be generous to the "Truthers" and say that this theory was an 8 before, and is now down to a 5. I don't think there's any doubt that "no-plane at the Pentagon" is becoming less popular.

Claim: Many Pentagon windows remained in one piece — even those just above the point of impact from the Boeing 757 passenger plane., an online animation widely circulated in the United States and Europe, claims that photographs showing "intact windows" directly above the crash site prove "a missile" or "a craft much smaller than a 757" struck the Pentagon.

This fits in with the prior one, although I'd knock it down to 7 before and 4 now; just a little bit less commonly brought up than the size of the entry and exit holes.

Claim: Conspiracy theorists insist there was no plane wreckage at the Pentagon. "In reality, a Boeing 757 was never found," claims, which asks the question, "What hit the Pentagon on 9/11?"

In Loose Change I and II, and also mentioned by Griffin:

19. The omission of all testimony that has been used to cast doubt on whether remains of a Boeing 757 were visible either inside or outside the Pentagon (34-36).

The amusing thing is that Loose Change Final Cut did a 180 on this issue noting many pieces of debris. LCFC was supposedly fact-checked by David Ray Griffin. And yet Griffin still claims that not a lot of airplane debris was found at the Pentagon. Again, since the no-planes at the Pentagon theory seem to be disappearing rapidly except for Griffin even though they were popular at one point, I'll give this a 7 then and a 4 now.

Claim: At least six eyewitnesses say they saw a small white jet flying low over the crash area almost immediately after Flight 93 went down. theorizes that the aircraft was downed by "either a missile fired from an Air Force jet, or via an electronic assault made by a U.S. Customs airplane reported to have been seen near the site minutes after Flight 93 crashed." weighs in: "Witnesses to this low-flying jet ... told their story to journalists. Shortly thereafter, the FBI began to attack the witnesses with perhaps the most inane disinformation ever — alleging the witnesses actually observed a private jet at 34,000 ft. The FBI says the jet was asked to come down to 5000 ft. and try to find the crash site. This would require about 20 minutes to descend."

The shoot-down of Flight 93 is such a common conspiracy theory that even people who aren't "Truthers" tell me that they secretly suspect it. The white plane is very commonly mentioned, although not always as the shooter. I'll score this as 8 then and 9 now (since Loose Change Final Cut went towards the shoot-down theory rather than the Cleveland Airport Mystery. Grifter, of course endorses shoot down:

7. The omission of all the evidence indicating that Flight 93 was shot down by a military plane (238-39, 252-53).

Claim: One of Flight 93's engines was found "at a considerable distance from the crash site," according to Lyle Szupinka, a state police officer on the scene who was quoted in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Offering no evidence, a posting on claimed: "The main body of the engine ... was found miles away from the main wreckage site with damage comparable to that which a heat-seeking missile would do to an airliner."

Mentioned in at least one of the Loose Change films, but not in DRG's 115 points. I still hear it but I wouldn't say it's common; give it a 3 and a 3.

Claim: "Residents and workers at businesses outside Shanksville, Somerset County, reported discovering clothing, books, papers and what appeared to be human remains," states a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article dated Sept. 13, 2001. "Others reported what appeared to be crash debris floating in Indian Lake, nearly 6 miles from the immediate crash scene." Commenting on reports that Indian Lake residents collected debris, Think speculates: "On Sept. 10, 2001, a strong cold front pushed through the area, and behind it — winds blew northerly. Since Flight 93 crashed west-southwest of Indian Lake, it was impossible for debris to fly perpendicular to wind direction. ... The FBI lied." And the significance of widespread debris? Theorists claim the plane was breaking up before it crashed. states bluntly: "Without a doubt, Flight 93 was shot down."

The debris at Indian Lake also appeared in at least one Loose Change movie, but is not mentioned by DRG. I'd give this a 3 and a 3.

Claim: In February 2004, retired Army Col. Donn de Grand-Pre said on "The Alex Jones Show," a radio talk show broadcast on 42 stations: "It [Flight 93] was taken out by the North Dakota Air Guard. I know the pilot who fired those two missiles to take down 93.", citing de Grand-Pre, identifies the pilot: "Major Rick Gibney fired two Sidewinder missiles at the aircraft and destroyed it in midflight at precisely 0958."

Grand-Pre doesn't get mentioned much anymore although I saw the Gibney claim earlier today somewhere. I'd give it a 3 and a 2.

Overall, I'd say that Popular Mechanics did a pretty good job. Most of the theories they discussed are quite common in the movement, and the less common ones were mostly at the end. Are there common theories in the movement that were not discussed? Sure, thermite and thermate, which were not common at the time; Jones published the first version of his paper in late 2005.

But here's a deal for Stew and John-Michael; if you think that the theories that were discussed are much less popular in the movement than I've indicated, please, let us know in the comments or on your own blog. We would be very happy to tell the next person who claims that there was a stand-down order than nobody responsible in the movement believes this. So please, feel free to tell us which theories are laughable and a diversion from the "Truth".

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