by Jim Hoffman
Version 1.1, February 8, 2005
Read Article With Links & Photos Here
The Hearst-owned Popular Mechanics magazine takes aim at the 9/11 Truth Movement (without ever acknowledging it by that name) with a cover story in its March 2005 edition. Sandwiched between ads and features for monster trucks, NASCAR paraphernalia, and off-road racing are twelve dense and brilliantly designed pages purporting to debunk the myths of 9/11.
The article's approach is to identify and attack a series of claims which it asserts represent the whole of 9/11 skepticism. It gives the false impression that these claims, several of which are clearly absurd, represent the breadth of challenges to the official account of the flights, the World Trade Center attack, and the Pentagon attack. Meanwhile it entirely ignores vast bodies of evidence showing that only insiders had the means, motive, and opportunity to carry out the attack.
The article gives no hint of the put options on the targeted airlines, warnings received by government and corporate officials, complicit behavior by top officials, obstruction of justice by a much larger group, or obvious frauds in the official story. Instead it attacks a mere 16 claims of its choosing, which it asserts are the "most prevalent" among "conspiracy theorists." The claims are grouped into topics which cover some of the subjects central to the analysis of 9-11 Research. However, for each topic, the article presents specious claims to divert the reader from understanding the issue. For example, the three pages devoted to attacking the Twin Towers' demolition present three red-herring claims and avoid the dozens of points I feature in my presentations, such as the Twin Towers' Demolition.
The article brackets its distortion of the issues highlighted by 9/11 skeptics with smears against the skeptics themselves, whom it dehumanizes and accuses of "disgracing the memories" of the victims.
More important, it misrepresents skeptics' views by implying that the skeptics' community is an undifferentiated "army" that wholly embraces the article's sixteen "poisonous claims," which it asserts are "at the root of virtually every 9/11 alternative scenario." In fact much of the 9/11 truth community has been working to expose many of these claims as disinformation.
"The Lies Are Out There"
James Meigs, appointed editor of Popular Mechanics in May 2004, trashes skeptics of the official story of 9/11/01 as irresponsible disgracers of the memories of victims, apart from "we as a society."
This article has a page of Editor's Notes, "The Lies Are Out There," written by James Meigs, whose previous columns have praised military technology (such as the UAVs used in Fallujah). Meigs places outside of society anyone who questions the official version of events of 9/11/01: We as a society accept the basic premise that a group of Islamist terrorists hijacked four airplanes and turned them into weapons against us.... Sadly, the noble search for truth is now being hijacked by a growing army of conspiracy theorists.
Meigs throws a series of insults at the "conspiracy theorists," saying they ignore the facts and engage in "elaborate, shadowy theorizing," and concludes his diatribe by saying: [T]hose who peddle fantasies that this country encouraged, permitted or actually carried out the attacks are libeling the truth -- and disgracing the memories of the thousands who died that day.
Besides trashing the skeptics, and conflating "this country" with its corrupt leaders, Meig's piece attempts to legitimate PM's "investigation." It reads: We assembled a team of reporters and researchers, including professional fact checkers and the editors of PM, and methodically analyzed all 16 conspiracy claims. We interviewed scores of engineers, aviation experts, military officials, eyewitnesses and members of the investigative teams who have held the wreckage of the attacks in their own hands. We pored over photography, maps, blueprints, aviation logs and transcripts. In every single instance, we found that the facts used by the conspiracy theorists to support their fantasies were mistaken, misunderstood, or deliberately falsified.
This sounds impressive, but the article provides no evidence to back up these claims. It provides no footnotes to source its many assertions, and despite the scores of experts listed in its final section, the article cites only a few "experts," who would themselves likely be suspects if normal criminal justice procedures were used to investigate the crime.
Moreover, glaring errors in the article -- such as the assertion that there was only a single interception in the decade before 9/11/01 -- don't inspire confidence in PM's "professional fact checkers." It echoes the discredited assertions of official reports such as the FEMA WTC Building Performance Study and the 9/11 Commission Report, and provides no evidence that it is anything but a well-orchestrated hit piece to perpetuate the 9/11 cover-up.
"9/11: DEBUNKING the MYTHS"
The main article consists of six two-page spreads, each devoted to a topic. Spanning these spreads are a series of sixteen "poisonous claims," which the article purports to refute, while it implicitly identifies them as the beliefs of all in the "growing army" of "conspiracy theorists." The two-page spreads, beginning on page 70, are as follows:
• THE PLANES
• THE WORLD TRADE CENTER
• THE WORLD TRADE CENTER (continued)
• THE PENTAGON
• FLIGHT 93
Superficially, the topics appear to address the major physical evidence issues brought up by the skeptics (while ignoring the mountains of evidence of foreknowledge, motive, and unique means possessed by insiders). However, the sixteen "most prevalent claims made by conspiracy theorists" which it attacks are mostly specious claims, many of which were probably invented to discredit skepticism of the official story in the first place. The article debunks the more specious claims, and uses distortion and falsehoods to counter serious claims.
Thus the main approach of the article is to set up and attack a straw man of claims that it pretends represent the entirety of the skeptics' movement. The list includes many of the same claims that are debunked on the companion to this site, 911review.com. The article gives no hint of the questions raised by the evidence in this site, nor any sense of the issues raised by the broader 9/11 truth movement.
Before proceeding to its 16 points, the article's introduction levels more insults at the skeptics -- "extremists", some of whose theories are "byproducts of cynical imaginations that aim to inject suspicion and animosity into public debate." It begins by asking you to type "World Trade Center conspiracy" into Google.com, and claims that "More than 3000 books on 9/11 have been published" -- an incredible claim. (Of these supposed 3000 titles, we recommend only a few, listed here.)
The sixteen "claims" attacked by the article are described here under the headings taken from the article, which indicate either the claim, the counter-claim, or a broader issue.
1. Where's The Pod
The pod-plane idea has been used for over a year to discredit skepticism of the official story. It's not surprising that the article gives it top billing. See ERROR: A Pod Was Attached to the South Tower Plane. The article mentions the site LetsRoll911.org and the video In Plane Site, implying they are representative of the skeptics. Of course it makes no reference to skeptics' sites debunking these productions and the pod-plane idea they feature, such as this page on OilEmpire.us, or this page on QuestionsQuestions.net.
2. No Stand-Down Order
Here, the article falsely implies that emperors-clothes.com and StandDown.net both claim that no jets were scrambled to pursue any of the four commandeered jets. It then attacks this straw man by relating some details of the Commission's timeline (without sourcing the Commission's Report) to suggest that interceptors were scrambled, but that ATC couldn't find the hijacked flights because there were too many radar blips. The article makes no mention of the many problems with NORAD's account of the failed intercepts, but relates the following incredible assertion by NORAD public affairs officer Maj. Douglas Martin that there was a hole in NORAD's radar coverage:
It was like a doughnut. There was no coverage in the middle.
This absurd idea that NORAD had no radar coverage over much of the continental US is distilled from the 9/11 Commission Report. Predictably, the article makes no mention of evidence that war games were planned for the day of 9/11/01. See Multiple War Games on 9/11/01 Helped to Disable Air Defense.
3. Intercepts Not Routine
This section quotes the following excerpt from OilEmpire.us:
It has been standard operating procedures for decades to immediately intercept off-course planes that do not respond to communications from air traffic controllers. When the Air Force 'scrambles' a fighter plane to intercept, they usually reach the plane in question in minutes. It then dismisses this 'claim' with the following sweeping 'fact':
In the decade before 9/11 NORAD intercepted only one civilian plane over North America: golfer Payne Stewart's Learjet, in October 1999. This bold assertion flies in the face of a published report of scramble frequencies that quotes the same Maj. Douglas Martin that is one of PM's cited experts!
From Sept. 11 to June, NORAD scrambled jets or diverted combat air patrols 462 times, almost seven times as often as the 67 scrambles from September 2000 to June 2001, Martin said. It is safe to assume that a significant fraction of scrambles lead to intercepts, so the fact that there were 67 scrambles in a 9-month period before 9/11/01 suggests that there are dozens of intercepts per year. To its assertion that there was only one intercept in a decade, the article adds that "rules in effect ... prohibited supersonic flight on intercepts," and the suggestion that there were no hotlines between ATCs and NORAD.
4. Flight 175's Windows
That the South Tower plane had no windows is one of several ludicrous claims made by the In Plane Site video, and, like the pod-planes claim, is dismissed by the simplest analysis. See The Windowless Plane.
THE WORLD TRADE CENTER
1. Widespread Damage
The article's lead point in the World Trade Center topic is an obscure idea that explosives in the basements of the towers damaged the lobbies at about the time the planes hit. With only sparse evidence to support it, this contention is only mentioned by a few researchers. Indeed it is entirely distinct -- in both the support that exists for it, and the support that it provides for "conspiracy theories" -- from the contention that explosives brought down the towers (56 and 102 minutes after the plane crashes).
5. Puffs Of Dust
The article features this image of the South Tower's collapse, taken about 2.5 seconds after the top started to plunge. It was taken by Gulnara Samoilova, who risked her life to take the photograph from a vantage point that would be engulfed by thick toxic dust in under 20 seconds.
Here the article cites this quote from an advertisement for the book Painful Questions: The concrete clouds shooting out of the buildings are not possible from a mere collapse. They do occur from explosions. By titling this section "Puffs Of Dust," rather than "explosions of concrete," and by showing only a collapse photograph from early in the South Tower's destruction, the article minimizes the explosiveness of the event, but nonetheless goes to lengths to explain these "puffs." It quotes NIST lead investigator Shyam Sunder saying "When you have a significant portion of a floor collapsing it's going to shoot air and concrete dust out the window" without explaining where the concrete dust came from, or even attempting to quantify the amount of dust that should be expected in the absence of explosives.
The article mentions none of the other features of the collapses that indicate controlled demolition, such as:
• The towers fell straight down through themselves maintaining vertical symmetry,
• The towers' tops mushroomed into vast clouds of pulverized concrete and shattered steel.
• The collapses exhibited demolition squibs shooting out of the towers well below the zones of total destruction.
• The collapses generated vast dust clouds that expanded to many times the towers' volumes -- more than occurs in typical controlled demolitions.
• The towers came down suddenly and completely, at a rate only slightly slower than free-fall in a vacuum. The flat top of the North Tower's rubble cloud revealed in these photos show the rubble falling at the same speed inside and outside the former building's profile, an impossibility unless demolition were removing the building's structure ahead of the falling rubble.
• The explosions of the towers were characterized by intense blast waves that shattered windows in buildings 400 feet away.
• The steel skeletons were consistently shredded into short pieces which could be carried easily by the equipment used to dispose of the evidence.
• Eyewitnesses reported explosions before and at the outset of the collapses.
6. "Melted Steel"
The article implies that skeptics' criticism of the official account that fires weakened the towers' structures is based on the erroneous assumption that the official story requires that the fires melted the steel.
In fact the fire-melts-steel claim was first introduced by apologists for the official story on the day of the attack, by no less than a structural engineer. The more sophisticated column failure and truss failure theories, advanced in subsequent days and weeks, are the subject of detailed analysis and debunking here.
7. Seismic Spikes
The idea that seismic spikes preceded the collapses of the towers is the subject of the page, ERROR: Seismic Spikes Preceded Collapses. Unfortunately a number of web sites seized upon this idea without critically evaluating it. The article takes advantage of this red-herring by pointing out that PrisonPlanet.com and WhatReallyHappened.com support it, while ignoring the much larger bodies of valid evidence of demolition that these sites present.
8. WTC 7 Collapse
Here the article cites 911review.org, a site that promotes discrediting ideas but purports to speak for the 9/11 skeptics' community. The article simply repeats the site's claim that "the video clearly shows that it was not a collapse subsequent to fire, but rather a controlled demolition," without directing the reader to where they can see videos, such as on WTC7.net. The article makes no mention of the facts that skeptics most often cite as evidence that the collapse was a controlled demolition:
• The building collapsed with precise vertical symmetry.
• The building collapsed at almost the rate of free-fall.
• The building collapsed into a tidy pile of rubble.
The article lets NIST's Shyam Sunder sell the "progressive collapse" of Building 7: What our preliminary analysis has shown is that if you take out just one column on one of the lower floors, it could cause a vertical progression of collapse so that the entire section comes down. Note the guarded language Sunder uses to describe the extent of the collapse. The reader is led to believe that the collapse of a "section" could lead to the total collapse of the building, when in fact there are no examples of total progressive collapse of steel frame buildings outside of the alleged cases of the Twin Towers and Building 7.
9. Big Plane, Small Holes
Here the article cites the claim on reopen911.org that the hole in the Pentagon was "only 16ft. across," and mentions French author Thierry Meyssan, who helped to spawn the "no-757-crash theory", the subject of my earlier essay. The article again implies that this idea is gospel among 9/11 skeptics, giving no clue that there is controversy about the issue in 9/11 skeptics circles, and that many consider this claim that no jetliner hit the Pentagon a big distraction. The page ERROR: The Pentagon Attack Left Only a Small Impact Hole and others by 9/11 skeptics have long debunked Meyssan's wildly inaccurate description of a 16-foot-diameter entry hole.
10. Intact Windows
Here the article misrepresents an argument by skeptics of the official account of Flight 77's crash by stating that the issue is intact windows "near the impact area," when the skeptics point to unbroken windows in the trajectory of portions of the Boeing 757.
PM uses this part to backhandedly promote the Pentagon Strike flash animation, which appears to serve the same function as this article: discrediting skepticism by associating it with sloppy research and easily disproven ideas.
11. Flight 77 Debris
Here the article drops a URL for Pentagon Strike a second time, in case the reader missed the first one. The lack of aircraft debris following the Pentagon crash has been noted by many people as suspicious, but it is not surprising, considering the nature of the crash. See ERROR: Aircraft Crashes Always Leave Large Debris
1. The White Jet
Here the article counters the idea that a small white jet reported by eyewitnesses had anything to do with the crash by relating a detailed account by the Director of Aviation of the company that owned the business jet, David Newell. According to Newell, the co-pilot of the jet, Yates Gladwell, was contacted by FAA's Cleveland Center to investigate the crash immediately after it happened. According to PM: Gladwell confirmed the account but, concerned about ongoing harassment by conspiracy theorists, asked not to be quoted directly.
12. Roving Engine
The far-flung debris field of the Flight 93 crash site along with the eyewitness accounts make a strong case that the plane was shot down. The article takes on this issue by first citing an article on Rense.com that makes the unsubstantiated claim that "the main body of the engine ... was found miles away from the main wreckage site." It then argues that engine parts being found 300 yards from the main site is reasonable for a simple crash, because airline accident expert Michael K. Hynes, who investigated the crash of TWA Flight 800 in 1996, states parts could bounce that far "when you have high velocities, 500 mph or more." This theory is at odds with the eyewitness reports that the plane plummeted almost straight down, such as the following:
• He hears two loud bangs before watching the plane take a downward turn of nearly 90 degrees.
• It makes a high-pitched, screeching sound. The plane then makes a sharp, 90-degree downward turn and crashes.
• He hears a sound that "wasn't quite right" and looks up in the sky. "It dropped all of a sudden, like a stone."
13. Indian Lake
The article devotes this point to the confetti seen over Indian Lake, which is about two miles from the main crash site. It explains that this distance is "easily within range of debris blasted skyward by the heat of the explosion from the blast."
14. F-16 Pilot
In the final point, the article takes on the allegation by retired Army Col. Donn de Grand-Pre that the pilot who shot down Flight 93 was Major Rick Gibney. The article states that Gibney was flying an F-16 that day, but it was not on an intercept mission; rather it was to pick up Ed Jacoby Jr., the director of the New York State's Emergency Management Office, and fly him from Montana to Albany, NY.
PM delivers its closing ad hominem attack on skeptics in the voice of Ed Jacoby:
I summarily dismiss [allegations that Gibney shot down Flight 93] because Lt. Col. Gibney was with me at the time. It disgusts me to see this because the public is being misled. More than anything else it disgusts me because it brings up fears. It brings up hopes -- it brings up all sorts of feelings, not only to the victims' families but to all individuals throughout the country, and the world for that matter. I get angry at the misinformation out there.
"9/11 MYTHS DEBUNKED"
Having slain the conspiracy theory army's poison-spewing 16-headed dragon of 9/11 LIES, PM declares itself the victor and titles its final section "9/11 MYTHS DEBUNKED." On page 128, PM reveals its suit of armor -- a list of over 70 "experts" that it found "particularly helpful." The titles and names on this page are supposed to back the many assertions the article makes in the main section, but the article gives no indication of what experts or reports back up many of its key assertions.