I am a conspiracy theorist. There, I have said it. I wear a tin foil hat and guard myself from alien abduction with a network of crystals and orgone energy beams. Well, some might say. The elite’s accretion of power is central to my interests and I believe that ‘the truth is out there’. Unfortunately, truth is rarely found in our media where vigorous attention to balance, fact and a strong aversion to bias ought to be the tools of the investigator. The BBC2 series, ‘The Conspiracy Files’, aims to de-bunk the great conspiracy theories of the 20th and 21stcenturies. ‘The Conspiracy Files’ is the overarching title for programmes that have looked at Diana, 9/11, Dr. David Kelly, Lockerbie, The Oklahoma City bombing and on Sunday the 26th October 2008, ‘9/11 – The Third Tower’.
‘The Third Tower’ is World Trade Centre Building 7, the third building to collapse on 9/11, and a vigorously debated event of the day. ‘Truthers’, members of the 9/11 Truth Movement, believe that WTC7 is the smoking gun, the event that indicates hands other than those of the terrorists were at work on 9/11. Guy Smith, the producer of ‘9/11 – The Third Tower’, uses the programme to look at the arguments of the truthers, the evidence contained in the NIST (National Institute for Standards and Technology) report and eye and expert witness testimony.
The BBC production team received a great deal of criticism following the 9/11 Conspiracy Files programme, aired 18th February 2007, which focused its attention on the twin towers. This instalment certainly has a better balance of opinion. However, you have to listen carefully, watch closely and avoid the emotional darts that lace the film to achieve this balance.
The film’s production values are high, with excellent graphics, good use of original footage and numerous interviews with key witnesses and interested parties. Guy Smith certainly did his homework on this documentary and ought to be applauded for a very watchable, entertaining television programme. But is ‘9/11 – The Third Tower’ simply this, entertainment? Were high investigative journalist techniques used to frame the documentary and to provide an unbiased programme with unbiased conclusions?
The rather obvious brief to de-bunk conspiracy theories is well demonstrated by the opening lines, narrated over images of the twin towers being hit by planes amidst dramatic fireballs. “We all remember how the twin towers were destroyed on 9/11.” This opening statement assumes agreement that planes brought down the twin towers. Guy Smith is well aware that this debate is still raging and is surely aware that this opening statement draws the viewer into a false paradigm. Guy Smith goes on to use various techniques that misrepresent the 9/11 truth movement and mislead the viewer. ‘Some say’ is used when referencing the wilder claims of the 9/11 truth movement and is never used in relation to statements for the official story. The use of ‘some say’ is a neat method to make statements without providing sources. By reporting on the removal and recycling of the steel from WTC7 prior to the NIST enquiry but not investigating this unheard of action Guy Smith is appeasing his critics but not acting as an enquiring documentary film maker. He does the same with the famous Larry Silverstien clip ‘We made the decision to pull it’, floating the footage across the screen but providing no analysis or investigation. These are key arguments of the truthers and are allowed to escape the vigorous attention that they deserve.
Credible eye witness testimony, the story of an engineer who accurately predicted the collapse of WTC7 five hours prior to its destruction and the unusual story of the BBC reporting WTC7’s devastation a half hour prior to its collapse are treated with the same avoidance of closer examination.
Guy Smith makes excellent use of emotional attachment to the day. We all know where we were when we first heard about the attacks. From some – journalists, government officials and directors of companies that profited from that day – we hear of the personal attacks by truthers and the upsetting statements made. This use of emotional calls for an end to the discussion about WTC7 seems designed to alienate the viewer from the truth movement and to see truthers as misguided or as howlers at the moon.
Despite having at his disposal the resources of the BBC, access to credible witnesses and interviews with adherents of the official and conspiracy theories, Guy Smith’s production of ‘9/11 – The Third Tower’ leaves many questions unanswered. Furthermore, the techniques employed by Guy Smith raise additional questions, at least for the informed viewer. And this is the problem with The Conspiracy Files. A casual observer with little knowledge of the subject matter will be carried along by the wave of convincing media artistry and conclude that there is no conspiracy, that the government’s reports are accurate, detailed and truthful. Guy Smith seems to have achieved his brief. ‘9/11- The Third Tower’ is not quite the hit piece that the original 9/11 Conspiracy Files film certainly was, but then it is no great work of investigative journalism either.
For the time being, I won’t be accepting the official theory that, due to fire, for the first time in world history, a steel framed building fell symmetrically into its own footprint. Now, where did I put that inter-dimensional portal?