Answering for myself

As you can see in the Letters section, last issue’s story on Chico’s 9/11 Truth group generated a lot of feedback. Not surprising, really—that happened the first time the movement came up here, in this very space.

Some people sent notes for publication; others just wanted to rip me, or vent. (The editor ends up answering for all decisions, be they their, our or my. Makes for interesting mail.)

I’ve had an e-mail exchange with one particular reader. His point fits right in the mainstream, even if his example skirts the fringe. He didn’t sign his letter and didn’t earmark it for publication, so I excerpt it without naming him:

“What is the deal with all the 9/11 conspiracy theories? Let me clue you in: The Jews did it … duh. Else why are these people always so closely identified with Holocaust deniers, even so far as sharing a stage with them? Are you on your way to a guest column by David Duke?

“Hey, perhaps that could be your next exposé—these cool, educated people who have this theory that the Holocaust never happened. What a scoop!

“You, my friend, have lost perspective. I use the Holocaust deniers as an example to show you that not every fairy tale in the world ought to be given equal time and equal treatment as if it were possible that it’s true.”

Here’s how I responded:

“There’s a significant difference between 9/11 conspiracy believers and Holocaust deniers. The Holocaust had a multitude of first-hand witnesses—those in the camps and those who liberated them—and now, more than a half-century removed from the event, we have volumes of investigation and analysis (the vast majority in corroborative agreement). We’re still in the middle of 9/11’s aftermath, and most of the investigation and analysis is forensic. Thus, we’re dealing with a lot of interpretations without detachment—on both sides of the discussion.

“Do I believe 9/11 Truth rhyme and verse? No—in the same way I don’t believe in every precept of every religion. But simply because part of what someone says doesn’t ring true doesn’t mean all their points are invalid.

“I’m a 9/11 agnostic—and, actually, that’s not a bad place for a journalist to be. Fairness and neutrality (sometimes called “objectivity” in journalism schools) are important qualities. Reporting with a preconceived notion of what’s really true is problematic on any story; we should approach each side critically, and harbor skepticism when something doesn’t sound right—but we shouldn’t discredit someone until, on our own, we’ve categorically determined they’re lying or wrong.

“The story we ran didn’t attempt to assess the validity of 9/11 Truth. It simply told the stories of local people and why they believe so fervently in 9/11 Truth—and included a prominent person’s counterpoint belief, which matches what’s more widely accepted and known. So I don’t think I’ve lost perspective at all.

“What I believe is readers are intelligent enough to form their own opinions when given new information presented clearly and with context.”

That faith is the backbone of the CN&R.