By Ernest A. Canning
Three separate “conspiracy theories” are used to show how the misuse of the term “conspiracy theory” as a means to dismiss any theory, whether supportive or destructive of official reality, is unscientific: JFK assassination, 9/11, and the 2004 election.
“We killed the President that day. You could have been a part of it — you know, part of history. You should have stayed. It was safe. Everything was covered in advance. No arrests, no real newspaper investigation. It was all covered, very professional.”
– Sworn deposition testimony provided in Hunt vs. Liberty Lobby, Inc. by Marita Lorenz, Fidel Castro’s former girlfriend and CIA asset, recounting what her CIA recruiter, convicted Watergate burglar Frank Sturgis, told her after the assassination of JFK.
Sibel Edmonds’ recent on-air revelation that, prior to 9/11, Osama bin Laden was relied upon by the Bush administration as a Central Asian asset, added one more disturbing piece to an incomplete puzzle, which, as could be expected, lent itself to a number of comments asking whether 9/11 was “an inside job.” These, in turn, were summarily dismissed in another comment as “conspiracy theory.”
Where does this concept of dismissing inquiry into momentous events as “conspiracy theory” come from?…
If a police officer undertook to investigate an unsolved murder, relying upon circumstantial evidence supporting the theory that a husband had hired a hit man to kill his wife, no one would dream of dismissing that investigation as a “conspiracy theory.” No one would suggest that the officer be fitted for a “tin foil hat.”
Yet, compelling evidence presented by Mark Lane, not only in his book, Plausible Denial, but in a federal courtroom — evidence which convinced a jury that the CIA killed JFK; a compelling statistical analysis provided by Steven Freeman, Ph.D. (and Joel Bleifuss), in Was the 2004 Election Stolen? augmented by the work of investigative journalists, including many pieces posted here at The BRAD BLOG, all of which raise the question as to whether the official count in the 2004 Presidential Election was the product of widespread irregularities and/or wholesale electronic vote-flipping, and scientific evidence which suggests that controlled demolition may provide a plausible explanation for the sudden (8.7 second) collapse of WTC-7 into its own footprint, are all swept aside with the mere utterance of the words “conspiracy theory.”
The word “theory” as a method of scientific study merely refers to “systematically organized knowledge applicable in a relatively wide variety of circumstances, especially a system of assumptions, accepted principles, and rules of procedure devised to analyze, predict, or otherwise explain the natural behavior of a specified set of phenomena.” (Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary).
As used by the corporate media, “conspiracy theorist” is a derogatory label exclusively intended to dismiss any and all who challenge “official reality.” It is applied not only to those who present evidence in support of a theory which challenges official reality but even to those who feel it appropriate to seek an investigation to test whether there is empirical data that supports the official reality.
Freeman’s Was the 2004 Election Stolen? provides a classic example.
On Election Day 2004, Freeman, a member of the teaching faculty of the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate Program of Organizational Dynamics, experienced a moment straight out of George Orwell’s 1984:
“The laptop screen projected a Kerry victory in nearly every battleground state, in many cases by substantial margins. But on TV James Carville was saying that Kerry needed to ‘draw an inside straight’….The Slate Web site indicated a narrow edge to Kerry in Florida; the networks all had Florida solidly in the Bush camp. CNN’s Web site data informed us of commanding Kerry victories in Pennsylvania and Minnesota; TV anchors told us these states were too close to call… [In] Ohio…exit polls showed Kerry with a projected victory of more than 4%….But although the networks were conservative in refusing to call the state, TV viewers were left with little doubt that Bush had won. I was perplexed and uncertain – there were voters still waiting in line in Ohio cities, uncounted provisional votes, and so on. How could the exit polls be that far off?
A funny thing happened after the polls closed and Kerry’s exit poll lead, in state after state, slid into the Bush column.”
In a manner reminiscent to the incineration of inconvenient data placed in “memory holes” by the fictional Winston Smith in 1984’s Ministry of Truth, the pollsters “corrected” the exit polls in order to reconcile them with the official results. The original “uncorrected” exit poll numbers, which had been “available on CNN.com” but “never broadcast on TV” simply vanished, replaced by the “corrected” exit poll results.
While adjusting the exit polls to line up with election results has long been a standard, albeit questionable,* practice with such polls in the U.S., the initially leaked data certainly raised eyebrows. Fortunately, alert citizens had downloaded some of those original data, thereby permitting Freeman to offer a contrasting analysis of the widely disseminated explanation for Bush’s “win,” as advanced by The Nation magazine’s David Corn and by Michael Barone of U.S. News & World Report (and others), which argued the discrepancy could be explained away as a difference between early exit polls and late pro-Bush voting.
According to Freeman:
“Kerry’s lead in the polls did not decline as the day went on….The system’s polling data never tracked with the official results until the polls closed and the pollsters ‘corrected’ their exit-poll data to conform to the official count.”
As observed by Republican pollster, Dick Morris:
“So reliable are the surveys that actually tap voters as they leave the polling places that they are used as guides to the relative honesty of elections in Third World countries…. To screw up one exit poll is unheard of.”
Instead of citing the obvious — that the existence of vast discrepancies between exit polling and the official count suggests dishonesty in a U.S. Presidential election, just as those same discrepancies are seen by our government as prima facie evidence for dishonesty in Third World countries — Morris assumed that the pollsters had “screwed up” six separate exit polls which had been performed by corporate media-funded, reputable pollsters, including Warren Mitofski, whose experience dated back to the nation’s very first use of an exit poll taken during the 1964 California Republican Primary.
Morris then speculated that the exit polls were deliberately skewed “to dampen Bush turnout in the Central, Mountain, and Pacific time zones.” Barrone advanced an even wilder, and absurd, speculation about a Democratic “election day project” to slam the results — this despite the prompt capitulation by John “can’t-concede-fast-enough” Kerry.
Freeman’s approach, by contrast, was scientific.
During the 2004 election, in “ten of the eleven battleground states there was a shift — that is, the official count differed from the exit-poll results — and in all ten the shift favored Bush.” The statistical odds of this occurring are one in 1,024. The discrepancies were especially acute in the key battleground states of Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida where the shifts in favor of Bush were 4.9%, 6.7% and 6.5%. “Assuming that these state exit-polls had no systematic bias, the likelihood of three such statistical anomalies — dramatic differences between the official count and the exit-poll projections in Ohio, Florida and Pennsylvania — occurring together and all favoring the incumbent, Bush, is about one in 660,000” — statistics which render it “impossible that the discrepancies” in these three states “could have been due to chance or random error.”
While these stark disparities were not present in thousands of accurate Mitofsky-led exit polls conducted over the preceding four decades, Freeman acknowledges that, counting 2004, there were six occasions where significant discrepancies arose in U.S. Presidential elections, the previous five being the general elections of 1988 and 1992, along with the Florida 2000 vote, and in three Republican primaries.
In each of these six incidents…, the official count benefited the mainstream Republican candidate…And, remarkably, in five out of the six elections; the candidate whose official numbers far exceeded exit-poll results was named George Bush.
Freeman’s analysis has essentially been ignored by corporate media which widely disseminated but, in large measure, failed to challenge the unscientific speculations advanced by Morris, Barrone, and Corn precisely because, unlike Freeman, their “conspiracy speculations” did not challenge “official reality.”
With the “correction” of the exit polls, the position of corporate media pundits became analogous to that of 1984’s Winston Smith as he was overwhelmed by the logic of his tormentor, the burley inner Party member, O’Brien, while tortured inside the Ministry of Love.
Winston tried to cling to a furtive memory; information he once held in his hands — a photograph establishing the innocence of three high members of the Party who had been executed for treason — a photo that Winston, himself, had fed down a memory hole. O’Brien derided Winston; told him he was “mentally deranged”; that his very thought of the photo was a “delusion.” Winston would eventually succumb, ultimately accepting that there was no reality but what the Party said was real.
As the official results poured in, in 2004, they overwhelmed the unofficial exit polls, elevating the official count into the “official reality.” And therein lies the real power behind the corporate media’s use of the words “conspiracy theorist.” There is a chilling effect. Even otherwise honest journalists are inclined to avoid challenging the “official reality” pertaining to momentous events out of fear that they will be branded as “conspiracy theorists.”
Anyone who challenges official reality is a “conspiracy theorist.” Conspiracy theorists are “mentally deranged.”
Of course, if that is not enough to dissuade the desire to ferret out the truth, there’s always President Obama’s “we have to look forward and not back” — the excuse offered to evade the obligation to investigate the past administration’s war crimes. Those too, as time moves on, and if no accountability is brought, will no doubt become little more than easily-dismissed “conspiracy theories” in the parlance of the corporate media — utterly marginalized in contrast to the “official reality,” sure to set in for good as the “official” historical record.
*In Was the 2004 Election Stolen? Freeman/Bleifuss observe
Unlike examples…in Eastern Europe and elsewhere, in the U.S. pollsters take the official count as inviolable. They describe exit-poll results that differ dramatically from the official count as ‘errors,’ and the adjusting of the exit-poll results to conform to the official count as ‘correcting.’ We believe such terminology is counterproductive. We speak of ‘disparity’ rather than ‘error’….
The disparity in exit poll methodology inside and outside the U.S. is itself quite telling. As Freeman/Bleifuss report:
Using exit polls to help expose fraud is so generally accepted that the Bush administration helped pay for them during the 2004 elections in the Ukraine.
The vast discrepancy in that election, according to Freeman/Bleifuss, sparked “international protests and a national uprising” leading to “a new election.” Here, vast discrepancies in the 2004 Presidential election produced “corrections” which sought to erase the disparity between the exit polls and the official count — “corrections” and a disparity that would have remained a closely guarded secret but for the downloading of the original raw data from a corporate media web site.
Exit polls are intended to provide an accurate prediction of electoral outcome after people vote but before the official count begins. To “correct,” “adjust” or otherwise alter exit poll data on the basis of an official count which does not begin until the polls close, especially when accompanied by a deletion of the original data, amounts to a rewriting of the historical record of a pivotal event in a manner strikingly similar to the methodology of Orwell’s fictional Oceania.
Epilogue Lest this opinion piece be misconstrued, my purpose is not to advance, as fact, any of the theories that provide the basis for this editorial. I have as much problem with self-described “truthers” who leap to a conclusion on the basis of incomplete factual data as I do with those who would shut the door on scientific inquiry of pivotal events through resort to the “conspiracy theorist” label. It is the essence of the scientific method that all theories, including the “official” version of an event, should be subjected to objective examination; modified or even abandoned if the results of that examination warrant an alteration of the original theory.
UPDATE, 8/04/09: While three separate “conspiracy theories” were used to present my central thesis — that the misuse of the words “conspiracy theory” as a means to dismiss any theory, whether supportive or destructive of official reality, is unscientific, only one of the three, the question of whether 9/11 was an “inside job,” touched a raw nerve, producing emotional reactions. It caused some to misconstrue a simple request that we not be dissuaded by the “conspiracy theorist” label from pursuing scientific inquiry into pivotal events into the assumption that the mere fact that someone like me prefers to keep an open mind pending an adequate investigation is the equivalent to acceptance of “official theory.”
This emotional reaction is understandable. It involves more than the fact that nearly 3,000 people lost their lives during that awful day. More than 18,000 of our fellow citizens have lost their lives in each of the past eight years as a result of a conspiracy that is still being carried out via $130 million in expenditures by the health insurance lobby in just this past quarter — monies expended not only on campaign contributions and lobbying, but monies used to shut down one of the oldest forms of democracy in these United States — the town hall meeting — through the ambit of a pseudo-grass roots protest made up of wing-nuts organized and funded by the insurance industry. Yet our corrupt, dysfunctional and deadly health care system does not engender such raw emotions.
The answer lies in Marshall McLuhan’s observation that television is a participatory medium that “enhances instant visual long-distance communication,” and in George Lakoff’s examination of the impact of that immediacy by way of visual metaphors which “frame” our understanding of what takes place on screen.
“The people who attacked the towers got into my brain,” Lakoff observed in Don’t Think of an Elephant, “even three thousand miles away. All those symbols [e.g. the World Trade Center as a symbol not only of American commerce but of America itself] were connected to more of my identity than I could have realized….Those symbols lived in the emotional centers of my brain. As their meanings changed, I felt emotional pain….It was not just me. It was everyone in this country….”
As Lakoff, himself, tells us, in witnessing 9/11 we did not merely see buildings falling to the ground and crumbling. We saw ourselves falling and crumbling to the ground. Fear of falling is primal. Survival is instinctual.
The raw emotional wound left many feeling vulnerable; in need of protection — the ideal matrix for America’s Orwellian sociopath, Vice President Richard B. Cheney, to seize the moment, parlaying that fear through a blindly obedient media into a smooth path for carrying out the right-wing agenda, including use of false links between 9/11 and Saddam Hussein as an excuse for imperial conquest.
As the reality of that cynical manipulation became known, many experienced a sense of betrayal — an emotional reaction that lends itself to assuming that anyone so cynical as to take advantage of our pain must have been behind the event to begin with. But truth is not realized by emotion. It is realized by unemotional, scientific investigation.
Ernest A. Canning has been an active member of the California State Bar since 1977 and has practiced in the fields of civil litigation and workers’ compensation at both the trial and appellate levels. He graduated cum laude from Southwestern University School of Law where he served as a student director of the clinical studies department and authored the Law Review Article, Executive Privilege: Myths & Realities. He received an MA in political science at Cal State University Northridge and a BA in political science from UCLA. He is also a Vietnam vet (4th Infantry, Central Highlands 1968).
Posted at BradBlog.