Entries Tagged as '9/11'

Ron Paul’s Bad Memory

David Frum January 4th, 2012 at 10:14 am 33 Comments

Odd experience on CNN this morning.

I was on a panel that had a chance to interview Ron Paul. I asked this question:

“I attended a precinct caucus last night where the person who spoke on your behalf praised you as a strong social conservative: pro-life, anti-gay marriage. He also described you as pro-defense, he said you voted in favor of the war in Afghanistan and supported the killing of bin Laden. That’s at variance with the things you yourself have said. Would you today affirm that you support the Afghanistan war and the bin Laden killing?”

Paul said yes, but that is not in fact true, at least as to the killing of bin Laden.

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No Gratitude for Disasters Prevented

David Frum September 12th, 2011 at 12:00 pm 49 Comments

In my column for CNN, I discuss heroes who have prevented disasters yet go unremembered:

Imagine that some member of Congress back in the 1990s had devoted himself or herself to toughening America against terrorism. He or she had introduced legislation to require airlines to harden their cockpit doors. After years of work, he or she at last prevailed and the new law went into effect sometime in early 2000. The 9/11 plot would have been thwarted without any American ever knowing that the plot had existed.

Question: Would we now remember that imaginary member of Congress as a person of wisdom and foresight who averted a national disaster?

Hardly. In a world in which 9/11 never happened, the people who prevented it would have gone unremembered and unthanked. Or worse. It’s very possible that they would have been laughed at as tedious people who invested ridiculous amounts of energy against a probably imaginary threat — the way, say, some laughed at the people who solved the Y2K problem about that same time.

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How it Felt on 9/11

September 11th, 2011 at 12:00 am 37 Comments

On the morning of 9/11, I was living in Washington, D.C. with my husband, David Frum, then a speechwriter for President George W. Bush. I was six months pregnant with our third child, Beatrice (now nine), and at home with my son, Nathaniel, then seven, who had feigned a stomach ache.

The blog below was written two days after 9/11 and originally appeared in the National Post. It captures very much the emotion and drama those of us felt “on the ground” during that horrific time. In the weeks and months to follow, Washingtonians would experience being stalked by a random sniper; then the threat of anthrax arriving by mail (my children still remembering me warning them away from inspecting the daily delivery, and watching me don rubber gloves to sort through our letters and parcels — with a husband in the White House, this did not seem like an excessive precaution).

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Why Bush Didn’t Mention Canada After 9/11

David Frum September 10th, 2011 at 12:00 am 99 Comments

After the horror and grief of the 9/11 attacks came a distinctively Canadian after-shock: The jolt of a seeming direct insult to Canada by the president of the United States.

Nine days after the attacks, president George W. Bush addressed both houses of Congress. The president opened with thanks to nations around the world:

“America will never forget the sounds of our national anthem playing at Buckingham Palace, on the streets of Paris and at Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate.” The president singled out South Korea, Egypt, Australia, Africa, Latin America, Pakistan, Israel, India, El Salvador, Iran, Mexico, Japan, and Britain for thanks, commendation or remembrance.

As Canadians watched, many wondered: El Salvador? Egypt? Iran? What about us?

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9/11 Plus 10: The Country We Lost

David Frum September 5th, 2011 at 11:57 am 117 Comments

In my column for CNN, I discuss how 9/11 resulted in a feeling of national dedication and unity — a stark contrast to the pessimism reflected in today’s polls.

About 8 o’clock on the night of September 11, 2001, President Bush’s staff received word. The president had returned to Washington. The White House had reopened.

The walk back to the White House from temporary staff quarters in a borrowed office building remains one of my most vivid recollections of that terrible day.

The streets of Washington were ghostly empty. Armed troops and military vehicles stood sentry at intersections leading to the White House. Yet the night was still and lovely. The buildings were brightly illuminated. The flags still flew at full height: only the next day would they be lowered to half-staff.

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‘Rescue Me’ Heads Towards a Fiery End

August 19th, 2011 at 6:08 pm 4 Comments

Appropriately, during the week of the tenth anniversary of 9/11, on September 7th, FX burns down the house after seven years and eight seasons of Denis Leary’s incendiary firehouse drama, Rescue Me.

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Bin Laden’s Death Brings Justice For 9/11 Families

May 3rd, 2011 at 11:56 pm 13 Comments

On Thursday, President Obama will visit ground zero in New York City to mark Osama Bin Laden’s death and to meet with families of 9/11 victims. FrumForum interviewed 9/11 family members to get their reaction to Bin Laden’s killing. We also spoke to intelligence officials for their reaction to the operation and its implications for the War on Terror.

The military victory brought out a wide range of emotions from the 9/11 families.  Gordon Haberman who lost a daughter, Andrea, was very somber, stating “my first impression was great humility for all the servicemen who have given their lives… I have to give President Obama credit where credit is due.  He authorized this.”

Susan Rescorla, whose husband Rick died on 9/11, cried when she heard the news and wanted Americans to understand that “I have lived it every day since my husband was murdered.  This is a moral victory, a symbol.”

Bob and Shirley Hemenway who lost their son Ronald were pessimistic, feeling that “Americans will forget real fast, in about a week.  A piece of justice has been served by all who died.  However, this is just a step along the way.  The five at Guantanamo Bay must also be put away.”

Debra Burlingame, who lost her brother Chic, a pilot on American Airlines Flight 77, was very emotional.  She recounted how “on the morning of 9/11 I got the call from the same brother who [later] called to tell me that Osama Bin Laden had been killed. I am glad that Bin Laden knew the American people had finally caught up with him.”

All had the same feelings of bestselling author Vince Flynn that, “It’s a great day for America, the CIA, and the JSOC.”  Maureen Santora, who lost a son, Christopher, said it best, “Americans are strong because we are compassionate.  God bless our soldiers and God bless America.  I am thrilled this has finally happened.  My son Christopher and his buddies and all those who were murdered are celebrating in heaven that goodness won over evil.”

The former intelligence officials FrumForum spoke with wanted Americans to know that the foundation for getting Bin Laden had been laid shortly after September 11th.  They agreed with Pete Hoekstra, the former ranking member of the intelligence committee who commented that “there have been a lot of people focused on catching him for almost ten years.  There is no doubt that this is a success and will have an impact since it clearly shows everyone that no one is safe.”

One former high-ranking CIA official was proud of the Agency and the Navy SEALs and wanted Americans to understand that “this was a victory for persistence.  We have been unrelenting, the mojo never left.  People working at counter-terrorism have never taken their eyes off the ball. “

Jamie Miscik, the former CIA’s deputy director for intelligence explained at the The Global Conference on Tuesday that prior to 9/11 the intelligence community knew that something was going to happen but did not know when.  She proudly stated that “from 9/11 until Sunday people in the intelligence community were focused with intensity, skill, and dedication in making sure we got Bin Laden.”

The officials thought President Obama exhibited a great amount of courage in approving the operation.  Fran Townsend, the former Bush Homeland Security Advisor, remarked that the President chose a risky operation but felt he had no other option.  She explained that a predator attack was not an option since it was necessary to get eyes-on-confirmation that Bin Laden was really dead.

The White House is also debating whether to release photos of Bin Laden’s body. According to Townsend, the videotapes and still photos of the battle “must be released even if grisly. There will be some who will not believe his death absent of the photographs.  We did it with the sons of Saddam Hussein and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.”

There were mixed reactions regarding Pakistan’s role in hiding Bin Laden.  Hoekstra thought that individuals within the Pakistani government knew where Bin Laden was but not the Pakistani civilian administration itself. Townsend believes that either the Pakistani government knew or is very incompetent.  She felt the Pakistanis were not trustworthy and was confident that “the Obama Administration did not tell them anything.  If you pass sensitive information to them and that information was leaked the operation would be rendered impossible.”

Does the elimination of Bin Laden mean the War on Terror is over?  Absolutely not, say the experts.  Michael Hayden, the former CIA Director summarized the feelings of the intelligence officials FF spoke with by noting that Bin Laden’s death boosted America’s reputation around the world.  Although America showed dedication and commitment in achieving the mission, he too made it clear that the war on terror is still ongoing.

He emphatically stressed that, “it was important to get Bin Laden.  It does hurt them. They will have trouble replacing him.  This is a nice macro lesson for the entire world about the reach, precision, and persistence of American power. However, this is far from over.  Al Qaeda is not a hierarchy; it’s a network.”

Everyone interviewed pointed out that besides the Taliban there are other fronts to worry about, notably in Yemen, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Somalia.  Americans need to be diligent warns Clare Lopez, a Senior Fellow at the Center for Security Policy, considering “Ayman al-Zawahiri (the expected successor) is responsible for Al Qaeda operations…and still wants to kill Americans.”

Jamie Miscik warned that “Bin Laden was a hugely important symbolic leader of this movement.  His absence will have a dramatic impact on the organization.  Although he was not calling the shots for every single operation, he was a huge, attractive, charismatic figure.  When the analysis is done what is usually seen is a quick surge in the activity to show that they are still relevant, that they still have the ability to carry out an attack.”

A former high ranking CIA official agreed that the operation boosted our standing.  He noted: “America can use this incident to say to the Pakistanis, if you do not help us we will do it ourselves.”

Overall, this was a successful operation in which all Americans can be proud of the intelligence community and the military, notably the SEALs.


Have We Won the War on Terror?

David Frum May 3rd, 2011 at 11:03 am 56 Comments

Has the war on terror already been won?

Or to put it another way: Is the killing of bin Laden a coup de grace rather than a turning point?

From the emergence of al Qaeda through 9/11, Islamic terrorist attacks against international targets grew steadily more complex and sophisticated: more personnel, more reach, more casualties.

From 9/11 onward, however, the trend ran in the opposite direction.

The Bali bombing of 2002 was less ambitious than 9/11, the 2004 Madrid train station attack less sophisticated than Bali, the London 7/7 bombings a big step down from Madrid. After 7/7, terror attacks outside the Middle East generally fail. The attempt on the German rail system in July 2006 fizzled when the bombs did not explode.

More often still, the plots are foiled before they can get off the ground, often because police have succeeded in penetrating the terror cell, as happened with the Canadian monuments plot of 2006 and the 2010 Portland Oregon plot.

Where terrorism is carried out successfully – as with Major Nidal Hassan’s Fort Hood rampage – it seems most often the work of a single self-motivated individual, and often one who is mentally disturbed.

Inside the Middle East, the terror groups that remain (Hamas and Hezbollah) look less like those autonomous “networks” that so worried analysts in the middle 2000s and much more like state actors (Hamas) or state proxies (Hezbollah). In both cases, terrorism has a “return address” and can be punished if not deterred. What’s happening in Afghanistan looks more like irregular warfare than terrorism. Iraq is evolving toward stability and security.

It’s too soon to pronounce any definitive conclusion. Security services are appropriately on watch for retaliation. But at risk of prematurity, I’d say: this is what success looks like.

In the wake of the success, some are arguing that terrorism must not have been much of a problem in the first place, certainly not an existential threat.

Defeated enemies always look weak. After the Cold War, it was the flaws in the Soviet system that looked more relevant than the strengths. But nothing is pre-ordained, and failure is always an option. It was possible, had the US reacted wrongly after 9/11, for al Qaeda to recruit more widely and strike again. It was possible that the US could have cracked down internally in ways that make the annoyances of the TSA seem in comparison (as indeed they are in reality) petty and trivial.

Power could have been seized in Saudi Arabia. (We see now how fragile these Mideast security states really are.) Or the Saudi state might have been penetrated by radical Islamism from within. (As has happened to a great extent in Pakistan.) We had reason in 2001 to fear that radical Islam might 10 years ought have gained money and nukes.

Instead, radical Islam was contained, marginalized, bypassed – and then shot above the eye by an American special forces team.

This victory cost more than it should have. American victories usually do: see Grant, Ulysses, campaigns of. This is often a wasteful country, one that dislikes anticipating security problems and that therefore often faces a steep learning curve when those problems materialize. But defeats are costlier still.


What Bin Laden’s Death Means to My Generation

May 2nd, 2011 at 11:54 am 8 Comments

So far, three images in the media coverage of Osama bin Laden’s untimely (only in the sense of being ten years overdue) death are most prominent. The first is the ubiquitous undated file photo of a raggedly bearded, white-robed bin Laden staring off to the left of the camera. This is the boogeyman image, the icon that’s leered out from televisions and computer screens for as long as someone my age can remember. It and a handful of others – bin Laden in military garb, with an AK-47 propped nearby, or a short clip of him firing it at an al-Qaeda training camp – are the collective cultural imagery of a concept more than a man, the maddeningly elusive ghost behind the great atrocity at the center of the last ten years of American history.

The second is that of President Obama standing at the end of a long hallway in the East Room, announcing to the world what the world had begun to suspect. The United States had finally made good on its promise from atop the rubble of the World Trade Center; finally, justice had been brought to Osama bin Laden. Better yet, it had been brought in person, courtesy of the US special forces personnel and intelligence services who were and are the most effective weapons the United States has against non-state enemies. The man who masterminded the destruction of so many millions of tons of American steel had met his end from a tiny bit of American lead – delivered, as the President could reveal, after an investigative process that stretches back four years at least and in operational planning for weeks or months.

The third image on every news site and front page today is that of the cheering crowds which spontaneously assembled in front of the White House and Ground Zero after the news broke. The celebrators, mostly students, abandoned dorms and finals and late nights in the library in order to take part in our generation’s V-E Day, or something like it. As Lafayette Square filled with cheering students from Georgetown, American, and George Washington, draped in American flags (Noah Kristula-Green does a good job of capturing the atmosphere here) and chanting “U-S-A”, it became impossible not to get caught up in the sheer jubilation of it, though the signage (my favorite, despite its inaccuracy: “Bin Laden’s body = Bo’s breakfast”), the significant fraction of the crowd affiliated with the military, and the occasional cries of “fuck Osama!” served as potent reminders to why we were there.

There’s already been a lot of tut-tutting; disapproving clucks from internet opinionistas that the kind of celebration that broke out at Ground Zero and serenaded the president to sleep was inappropriate. Some say that we shouldn’t celebrate the death of a human being, no matter how vile. Some spectacularly idiotic commenters I’ve seen have even compared the cheering last night to the mythical Palestinian celebration on the day of 9/11 itself, as if expressing joy at the calculated murder of 3,000 innocents is somehow morally equivalent to expressing joy at the demise of the man responsible. More practical-minded people might say that a perception of American gloating might cause a backlash in the rest of the world, squandering a moment of genuine global solidarity with the United States.

Maybe some of them are right. But I think the writers condemning the jubilation fail to grasp that this event is profoundly generational.

I’ll be 21 years old in a week. I was 11, in sixth-grade science class when the first plane hit the World Trade Center and the teacher turned on the classroom television – the one on which we saw the second plane hit and the towers collapse, the one that showed the Pentagon in flames and debris strewn across a Pennsylvania field.

People my age and a little older can just remember the time before color-coded security warnings, and two extraordinarily costly wars, and the use of the phrase “the terrorists” to describe the vast array of nebulous enemies the United States faces at any particular moment. But only just. We remember the day itself down to the last detail, but none of us were old enough to have lives and personalities and preferences unshaped by a day of unpredictable terror. We asked our parents and teachers who this Osama bin Laden was who could do such a thing, though we couldn’t have hoped to understand and they couldn’t have explained the vast array of causes that led to that September morning. There was no hope for a return to normalcy for us – we didn’t have a normal to go back to. And as we’ve grown up since that day, we’ve done the bulk of the fighting and dying in the conflicts which, rightly or wrongly, came about as a direct consequence of the 9/11 attacks.

For us, the narrow generation that can recall the day in crystal clarity but for whom memories of the “pre-9/11 world” fade dimmer every year, Osama bin Laden’s death is the banishment of a specter that’s haunted our lives as far back as we can remember. Yes, bin Laden was probably not in operational control of al-Qaeda; yes, there’s also a place for quiet reflection on those we’ve lost or vigilance against revenge attacks. And yes, because we’re now college-aged, we celebrated as college students know how – with sports cheers and home-made signs on Natty Light cases – loudly, crassly, perhaps even drunkenly. But for we who have had precious little to unequivocally celebrate in the last few years, this moment represents a triumph over the various anxieties of our times. The federal deficit looms out of control, we find ourselves increasingly disgusted with a political system that seems tailor-made to operate dishonestly and at our expense, and many of us still can’t find jobs – but at least we finally got the bastard. And if America can do that, finally, after most people had assumed he was long dead, or would never be found, then maybe things really will turn out right in the end.

So before the rush to wag a finger at us out rejoicing in the third panel of this bin Laden triptych, consider for a moment another image or two. The World Trade Center, billowing smoke. A fully loaded airliner disappearing into a ball of flame in the side of the South Tower. Tiny figures jumping from a hundred stories up, deciding to plunge to concrete rather than be snuffed out or crushed. The Pentagon suddenly reduced to four sides as plumes of smoke rise over the Potomac and the Hudson and southwest Pennsylvania. For the generation out in the streets last night, perhaps more than most Americans, these images are seared into our brains as what evil looks like in the 21st century, and every one is superimposed with Osama bin Laden’s face. Yesterday, the hold which that ghastly visage had on us was shattered when an American probably not much older than us went to its lair and put a bullet through it. The problems of this country and the world are still here in the morning. Last night, how could we keep from singing?


Oops! HuffPo Puffs 9/11 Truther

David Frum March 9th, 2011 at 4:09 pm 49 Comments

You’ll miss the Mainstream Media when they’re gone.

You’ll miss professional reporting.

You’ll miss editors who ask questions like, “What’s your source?”

What you’ll have instead is … well let me tell you a story that happened yesterday.

It involves Dan Froomkin, a writer who became a hero of the lefty blogosphere during the Bush years for his ferocious attacks on the supposedly supine Washington press corps.

I still believe that no one is fundamentally more capable of first-rate bullshit-calling than a well-informed beat reporter – whatever their beat. We just need to get the editors, or the corporate culture, or the self-censorship – or whatever it is – out of the way.

Froomkin delivered these attacks from the belly of the beast, WashingtonPost.com, where he was employed from 1997 to 2009. After the Post ended his contract, Froomkin shifted to the Huffington Post, where yesterday he published a story on HuffPo’s homepage under the reader-inviting headline:

“A Reagan Republican Makes A Case Against The War — And His Own Party”

The piece glowingly profiled Paul Craig Roberts, who was introduced by Froomkin in the following terms:

Roberts, 70, is one of the original Reagan Republicans. From his perch at the Treasury Department, he was a chief architect of Reaganomics. He edited and wrote for the Wall Street Journal editorial page and was a fellow at the Hoover Institution. Now a syndicated columnist living in the Florida Panhandle, he’s still a devoted supply-sider.

But Roberts is profoundly alienated from the modern GOP, particularly when it comes to civil liberties — and wars.

Sounds interesting, right? Man-bites-dog and all that. To underscore the significance of Roberts’ critique, the story was illustrated with a flattering close-up photograph of Roberts, a portrait of a Founding Father in Continental uniform hovering just over his left shoulder.

Unfortunately, Froomkin’s introduction of Paul Craig Roberts omitted some relevant facts from Roberts’ biography:

* Roberts is a 9/11 denialist, who has stated his views emphatically, repeatedly, and unabashedly for over a decade, eg here.

* Roberts believes that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 reduced whites to second-class citizenship.

Racial privilege is a fact of U.S. law. … White males had best give up any idea of defending their women or themselves, and women should not confuse their men’s aversion to jail with cowardice. America has returned to the feudal age when legally-privileged nobles could assault commoners at will, but woe to any commoner who returned the compliment.

* Roberts laments the disappearance of Confederate symbols from public spaces, and argues that never in American history were black people treated as badly as white people are treated today.

* In 2009, the Anti-Defamation League publicly condemned Roberts as an anti-Semite, reacting in part to columns like this one:

There’s no money for California, or for Americans’ health care, or for the several million Americans who have lost their homes and are homeless, because Israel needs it.

Roberts’ idiosyncracies are not exactly obscure facts. As the ADL noted, no non-fringe US publication has carried any of Roberts’ writings since 2006. A phone call or Facebook message to any of Roberts’ former Reagan administration colleagues would have discovered the whole sad story.

I exchanged emails with Dan Froomkin last night, and he acknowledged he did not know that Paul Craig Roberts was a Truther crank. Froomkin evidently did not know any of the things you’d think a reporter would want to find out before writing a piece attesting in front of millions of news consumers to the significance of one individual’s views.

OK, so one reporter did bad work. So what? It happens.

Here’s the so what: It is precisely because “it happens” that reporters do bad work that old-line media organizations instituted quality checks to protect news users from disinformation. Old-line media organizations hoped that these quality checks would incubate a corporate culture in which truth took precedence over ideology.

But those quality checks were expensive. They got in the way. And it turned out that a media organization could make a lot more money by putting ideology ahead of truth. That’s the story of Fox and talk radio. That’s the story of media pranksters like Andrew Breitbart and James O’Keefe.

And it’s the story of Dan Froomkin and Huffington Post.

I wrote to Dan last night to ask him whether he was unaware that Roberts was a 9/11 Truther. Dan confirmed that he was indeed unaware – but that the Huffington Post had since added an update.

Here it is:

A reader notes that Roberts has also written several times that he does not believe the official explanations surrounding the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Roberts wrote an essay in 2006 espousing many of the so-called “Truther” beliefs, casting doubt on how the World Trade Center towers actually collapsed and raising the possibility of a military cover-up. Roberts defended those views in an email: “No real investigation has been done, and experts who raise points have simply been brushed aside or called ‘conspiracy theorists.’” He added that “until the ‘truthers’ are professionally answered, I will remain a 9/11 skeptic.” Roberts’ beliefs clearly raise questions about the soundness of his foreign policy views. He either should not have been cited in the piece or the article should have clearly noted his perspectives.

Beyond that PS, the story remains intact on the Huffington Post site, although hastily removed from prominence, under its original headline identifying Paul Craig Roberts as a “Reagan Republican.”

I wrote to Dan last night that I’d seen more repentant corrections for spelling errors. I asked if I might interview him. When I did not get an answer, I emailed my questions:

Dan, I appreciate that you may feel reluctant to answer questions, and I do have a mid-morning deadline. To encourage and to expedite, permit me to provide in advance the questions I’d wish to ask you:

1) How did the idea of a Huffington Post profile of Paul Craig Roberts originate? Was it suggested to you by anyone? If spontaneous with you, how did you happen to know of Roberts? After all, he has not published any work on any non-fringe media platform since 2006?

2) Beyond your telephone calls and email exchanges with Roberts, what other research did you do before writing the profile?

3) What editorial process occurred after the piece was drafted? Did an editor read and approve or did it proceed direct to the home page without editorial intervention?

4) Who wrote the postscript to the piece? By what process was it decided to leave the original headline and text intact?

Froomkin responded by email as follows, and I’ll give his reply in full:

When I spoke to Roberts about his views on Afghanistan, I was unaware that he was a 9/11 skeptic. Had I known that, I wouldn’t have written about him. There was plenty of evidence of his views on the Internet and I was negligent in not having explored his past writings more thoroughly. Had I found out before publication, we would have killed the story.  When we became aware of those views after publication, we quickly removed the story from a position of prominence on the website. But rather than take the story down entirely, which would not have been transparent, we immediately appended an editor’s note.

I originally decided to contact Roberts after running across a recent column he wrote criticizing the push for military action in Libya. I did a brief search for his writings about Afghanistan, and found his intense opposition notable given his background with the Reagan administration and in light of Grover Norquist’s recent suggestion that Reagan himself would not have supported such a venture. But I should have looked much more closely at his background.

But of course Froomkin didn’t look closely. Perhaps he did not wish to look. Who knows what you might find that way? And there does not seem to have been anybody with the authority or the interest to make him look.

When the Huffington Post hired veteran newsmen Howard Fineman and Tom Edsall, it did seem that some Old Media values might be imported into at least one New Media platform. But the incentives run very strongly the other way. Everyone can see that a media enterprise gets more clicks and better ratings from confirming preconceived opinions than from challenging them. And the consequences of a horrible mistake? Very low. It didn’t hurt Andrew Breitbart to circulate a deceptively edited tape of Shirley Sherrod. And I doubt it will matter very much that Dan Froomkin celebrated a 9/11 denialist as a lonely heroic defender of civil liberties.

Welcome to 21st century journalism. That old ideal “Without fear or favor”? It’s outmoded! It’s been replaced with a new rule: “Let the buyer beware.”