JOHN ENTINGH - JANUARY 19 2012
One of the most formidable weapons in any political arsenal is censorship. According to the American Library Association (ALA), the definition of censorship is: "The change in the access status of material, made by a governing authority or its representatives. Such changes include: exclusion, restriction, removal, or age/grade level changes," (ALA | Basics). The ALA captures the essence of censorship as a deprivation of intellectual freedom, or a restriction on “the freedom to hold, receive and disseminate ideas.”
Being prolific is the key to censorship being persuasive as a political tool. For example, in February of 2011 the chairwoman of the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) Classification and Rating Administration, Joan Graves, defended the ratings of movies in the United States: “The ratings system exists for one purpose: to inform parents about the content of films. Our ratings reflect how we believe a majority of American parents, not just from large cities on the coasts but everywhere in between, would rate a film,” (emphasis added)(The Hollywood Reporter ). Filmmakers and media critics charged that R ratings resulted in children being prevented from being exposed to important, educational films simply because of real life footage that included drug use, bad language, and improper dress. These are some of the very same things most inner city children see on the way to school each day. Rather than explain to the children why these things are going on and educate them in why not to behave this way, governments would rather marginalize the existence of deviance in society. These types of censorship ratings exist in every media outlet, all with the same justification: “to reflect what we believe;” so we will not belabor the point. With that said, some argue that responsible censorship has been implemented, namely the Telecommunications Act of 1996 (FCC), that considered a "harmful to minors" standard for internet providers and users. At this time many parents were not internet savvy, and restrictions allowed Americans to become updated on exploding internet usage, (i.e. Johnson). The language in this legislation has served as a warning for ISP providers to watch their act, but more importantly these laws consistently “reflect what we believe” American culture should access while reminding mainstream media of how prolific censorship can be; which begs the question of why news broadcasts have not also been held to the “harmful to minors” standard, especially in gruesome terrorist reports.
We now turn the corner and ask why censorship (or lack thereof) is salient when dealing with terrorism reports. Take the recent demise of Osama bin Laden that would have been foiled if the intelligence leading to his location had not been responsibly censored, and the information gathered from his location could still be detrimental to ongoing terrorist activities if released (Strohm). Another instance some contend as responsible censorship was on the refusal to release Bin Laden’s death photos. CIA boss Leon Panetta was quoted immediately after confirmation of bin Laden’s death that the "gruesome"photos would be released (Pearson, Alpert, and Hutchinson); however, in a taping for 60 Minutes the following day, U.S. President Barack Obama explained to the world why he was censoring the release of the pictures: "It is important to make sure that very graphic photos of somebody who was shot in the head are not floating around as an incitement to additional violence or as a propaganda tool" (Montopoli).
The evil here is that governments exploit censorship to act irresponsibly by failing to censor their own propaganda , as was the case with the WMDs in Iraq (i.e. Angle & Kehnemui-Liss) that was used to rally the American public to war when there existed opposing intelligence reports indicating that no such weapons existed(AP). This is but one instance of where censorship has become a sharpened propaganda tool itself for surgical strikes within the media. Since the case of Bush and Iraq, Obama has become a master surgeon with the blade of censorship. He both violated and extended philosophical principles of democracy in his single act of censorship on the death photos, the essence of which is: “He that would make his own liberty secure, must guard even his enemy from opposition: for if he violates this duty he establishes a precedent that will reach to himself. ” (Thomas Paine, Dissertation On First Principles Of Government).
As dire as censorship issues may seem to Americans who stand firmly on personal freedoms and liberities, their grievances pale in comparison to the censorship issues on the international scene. Take for example Hangzhou-based veteran journalist and blogger Zan Aizong who reports that his accounts on the popular Sina Weibo and Tencent Weibo services had been deleted and microblogging accounts frozen by authorities in the eastern Chinese province of Zhejiang. Zan claims authorites justified the censorship due to the posting of “uncivilized” content. Zan’s problems began when he published articles on the 2010 award of the Nobel Peace Prize to jailed Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo, which forced him to migrate across blogging accounts. The recent “uncivilized” content was discourse on the millions of Chinese who died in the famines of the Great Leap Forward (1958-1961), which defines a transitional period from an agarian society to Communism through industrilization and collectivism. “This is how it is on the Internet,” contends retired Shandong University professor Sun Wenguang, “They must control it . . . China’s propaganda department now exerts tight controls over all forms of media,” (Sean). The Chinese government attempts no illusions though, as in an October 2011 communique from the party central committee plenum, Beijing vowed to “strengthen guidance and administration of social Internet services and instant communications tools, and regulate the orderly dissemination of information,” (Sean, a).
The Chinese government is not alone in state sponsored censorship, as the Arab Spring stands in testament of. And following the October 2011 bloody crackdowns in Syria on public demonstrations, reports came out that the Syrian government was using American made software to track and block internet usage, in violation of U.S. laws (Valentino-DeVries, Sonne and Malas).
From the outside looking in, it seems that irresponsible censorship creates more unrest than it settles. When the spring uprisings in Eygpt peaked, one could argue that it was in immediate response to the government shutting down most media outlets. But several months later with the old government outsted and national elections legitimizing a new regime, censorship reports continue to flow out of Eygpt. According to British jornalist Alistair Beach of The Independent: "A censorship row has broken out at the country's newest newspaper after staff were ordered to shelve an entire print run of 20,000 copies over an article that suggested the leader of the governing Military Council could go to prison." The “row” began when political science professor Robert Springborg had suggested that "resentment" might be growing in the ranks of the military against the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces and Egypt's current de-facto leader Field Marshal Muhammad Tantawi, who may now share in former President Mubarak's fate (Chammah).
Lebanon, another country with new leadership and a history of oppression, continues its own battle against irresponsible censorship. As recently as December 2011, reports came out of Lebanon that a film titled Beirut Hotel had been sternly censored. The justification for that censorship is an issue of debate. An anonymous General Security source said the film was banned “because it mentions the 2005 assassination of ex-Prime Minister Rafic Hariri.” However, Mustapha Hamoui, author of Beirut Spring, wrote: “It seems to me that the film was banned from Lebanese movie theaters…because it features a double-whammy of a taboo: Explicit sex between a Lebanese woman and a foreign man,” adding that censorship always follows the “whims” of religous leaders (Farrell and Elali).
From rating systems that “reflect how we believe” in every type of artistic endeavor to war rallies, censorship is indeed a prolific political tool, perhaps in a manner we do not normally understand as censorship, but access to ideas and information is nonetheless colored to complement an agenda at every instance.
With the exception of very few exceptions that may be construed as responsible censorship such as the location of bin Laden or a cyanide gas plot on New York subways (Nacos), irresponsible censorship of media has actually furthered terrorist goals and objectives by providing hyped-up coverage (Seib and Janbek); and has also allowed oppression in general to reign unchecked. Research suggests that hyped-up media exposure on terrorism during the Bush administration had a two-fold effect in the United States; first it makes the public feel national security is at a greater risk; and secondly, that republicans were the knights in shinning armor that could save the country (Pew Research Center Publications), even to the extent that terrorism coverage is believed to have persuaded the 2004 national election (Nacos 189). As Nacos explains, research indicates that hyped-up media coverage of terrorism threats, and not even actual attacks, increases the public concern “and elevates the president's approval ratings,” (190). Unless we are naïve enough to believe the politicians are deprived of this same knowledge, responsible and irresponsible censorship is not really so responsible or irresponsible as it is a political tool to further agendas, and unfortunately terrorist agendas and oppression in whole and part, which does not really “reflect how we believe.”
27 AUGUST 2011 - KEVIN RUPPERT - An investigation into when and why the 9/11 Truth theory effectively "failed" and began to isolate its own supporters. (EXPLICIT DISCLAIMER: This is an academic investigation. World Report does not support the beliefs or opinions purported by the 9/11 Truth Movement. We do reaffirm that al Qaeda was behind the 9/11 attacks and that the United States was not fully aware of the specifics of the plotted attacks and so unable to effectively prevent them)
Over the past several years, the American public has become relatively familiar with the 9/11 Truth Movement, which consists of individuals who believe that the United States government either carried out the infamous attacks or had prior knowledge and allowed them to happen. As the 10th anniversary of September 11, 2001 grows closer, these “truthers”, as they have come to be known, are continuing to perpetuate this theory through skilled use of the internet and talk radio. But so far their message has generally failed to resonate with the American people, and as a result they’ve failed to achieve their primary objectives. There has been no overwhelming outcry for a new investigation into the attacks, Bush and Cheney have not been put on trial, and public opinion polls continue to indicate that most Americans believe Al Qaeda was the sole culprit. In other words, the truthers are still part of a fringe movement that has very little mainstream credibility. However, the 9/11 Truth Movement wasn’t always doomed to an existence outside of mainstream political and popular culture. In fact, at one point it had the potential to someday garner enough public support to eventually affect policy. But that all changed when the movement collectively made a decision to abandon the most plausible theory it had ever proposed. With that fateful choice, the truthers obliterated their chances of ever entering the mainstream political discussion.
In the months after 9/11, early truthers primarily claimed that Bush and Cheney had prior knowledge of the attacks and simply allowed them to happen for political purposes. At this point, the theory that the United States government played a more active role in planning, coordinating, and perpetrating the attacks was occasionally insinuated but not vigorously pursued. Apparently even most of the truthers thought that idea was somewhat implausible at the time. Conspiracy theorists were temporarily satisfied with a story about an evil government that passively allowed thousands of Americans to be slaughtered for selfish gain. And although truthers didn’t know it at the time, this narrative was their best shot at ever breaking into the mainstream and convincing the American people that Bush and Cheney were responsible for 9/11. The belief may have been far from conventional, but there were elements of it that had mainstream appeal and at least some empirical evidence to support it. For example, a few months after the attacks, a series of government documents was leaked that revealed some relatively suspicious information regarding 9/11. The papers revealed that the federal government was warned about Bin Laden’s plans to crash planes into American landmarks and even conducted drills to simulate it. In a 2004 USA Today article about the release of NORAD documents, reporter Steven Komarow states, “In the two years before the Sept. 11 attacks, the North American Aerospace Defense Command conducted exercises simulating hijacked airliners used as weapons to crash into targets and cause mass casualties. One of the imagined targets was the World Trade Center” (Komarow). You certainly don’t have to be a 9/11 truther to acknowledge that that’s a rather strange coincidence. It’s also not incredibly difficult for a large portion of Americans to imagine the government allowing an event to occur in order to justify military action abroad. However, it is incredibly hard to comprehend the thought of it blatantly planning and carrying one out, which would soon become the Truth Movement’s central theory. In essence, when the truthers believed that Bush and Cheney weren’t operationally involved but purposefully failed to prevent the attacks, they were in relatively good shape to build a mainstream movement. Their predominant theory was supported by evidence and at least slightly plausible based on history.
But as the months wore on, that theory was eventually no longer exciting enough. Pretty soon, the conspiracy theorists craved a more interesting story that included dramatic cover-ups and unthinkable plots. It seems that the truthers subconsciously wanted a narrative that better reflected the types of themes and stories usually seen in movies and on television. In other words, the government simply allowing 9/11 to occur was dramatic, but not dramatic enough. In Terror Post 9-11 and The Media, David Altheide states, “media logic and coherent narratives that manifest that logic, such as 24 and the X-files, contribute to “real-life” support for conspiracy theories about events surrounding 9-11” (Altheide 35). Slowly but surely, individuals within the movement began to subscribe to even more radical theories, claiming that the role of the United States went far beyond simply allowing Al Qaeda to strike without any intervention. They also started developing more outlandish ideas about how the buildings were attacked. These ideas include theories that a controlled demolition brought down the Twin Towers, the Pentagon was hit by a missile, and the military shot down multiple commercial airliners to cover up the conspiracy.
It was this collective decision by members of the 9/11 Truth Movement to abandon the original theory and support the more complicated and sinister one that effectively ended the chances of their conspiracy theory ever going mainstream. These new ideas weren’t just less plausible than the originals, but they also lacked the support of any fact-based evidence. Instead, truthers attempted to substantiate their radical assertions with anecdotal evidence and amateur analysis of blurry 9/11 footage. Most rational individuals quickly recognized the absurdity and baseless nature of these new claims, compelling them to dismiss the entire Truth Movement. This has also been reflected in the media’s depiction of truthers over the past several years. In an article titled Why the 9-11 Conspiracy Theories Won’t go Away, Lev Grossman of TIME Magazine states, “[9-11 truthers] live in a very different world from the rest of us” (Grossman).
In essence, the choice by most truthers to fully adopt the radical and unlikely theories they now hold today has stained the entire movement and deterred political moderates from even considering its validity. Had they chosen to maintain focus on the more plausible option, they would have retained an ability to appeal to a broader group of individuals. Insinuating that the government coldly plotted to murder thousands of Americans is much different from claiming that they may have turned a blind eye. And it’s certainly much harder to sell to mainstream America. If Bush and Cheney did get away with passively allowing thousands of Americans to perish, then they actually have the 9/11 truthers to thank for delegitimizing a movement that may have otherwise exposed them.
Work Cited Altheide, David. (2009). Terror post 9-11 and the media . Retrieved from https://carmen.osu.edu/d2l/lms/content/viewer/main_frame.d2l?ou=9821848&tId=3844078
Grossman , Lev . (2006, September 3). Why the 9/11 conspiracy theories won't go away. TIME Magazine , Retrieved from http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1531304,00.html
Komarow, Steven. (2004, April 18). Norad had drills of jets as weapons. USA Today , Retrieved from http://www.usatoday.com/news/washington/2004-04-18-norad_x.htm
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