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This article was published 27/5/2011 (2583 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Among the Truthers
A Journey into the Growing Conspiracist Underground of 9/11 Truthers, Birthers, Armageddonites, Vaccine Hysterics, Hollywood Know-Nothings and Internet Addicts
By Jonathan Kay
HarperCollins, 327 pages, $33
If, while reading the title above, you started hearing the dubious voice of a carnival barker, you already get the idea.
Jonathan Kay, managing editor of the National Post, has walked among the people who think differently from him and found they amuse him.
In his first book, Kay mercilessly mocks people who have given up their jobs and lives to pursue what they believe to be the truth.
Kay was inspired to find out more about 9/11 Truthers after receiving a large volume of email responses to a blog he had written about Winnipegger Lesley Hughes.
The former CBC Radio host was dropped as a federal Liberal candidate in the 2008 election for having written a controversial column in 2002 that questioned Canada's reasons for going to war in Afghanistan.
Kay trots out his sources as cartoon cut-outs, whom he freely diagnoses as "megalomaniacal paranoiacs," "damaged survivors" or other psychiatric labels without, as far as he tells us, any qualifications to do so.
Kay's fundamental premise is that all 9/11 Truthers must be wrong, because it is inconceivable that the U.S. government would ever be involved in anything illegal — a position he maintains despite being forced to concede "a grain of truth" in many examples that demonstrate his premise is flawed.
As to the detailed discussion of charges and counter-charges about 9/11, Kay early on refers readers to other sources that he says do a better job than he could.
This conveniently allows him to quote 9/11 Truthers at length without ever dealing with the substance of what his sources are saying.
There is an extremely ugly side to Kay's bandying about labels and motives. Every few pages he lumps everyone who disagrees with him into a grab-bag of characteristics that he claims are shared with proven anti-Semites.
In fact, the characteristics — such as people doing their research carefully and large groups breaking into smaller groups — are shared among many individuals and groups. Kay's cheap trick is the worst form of guilt by association.
Canadians who want a journalistic approach to the 9/11 Truth movement should ignore Kay's book and turn to the relevant episode of the CBC's current affairs program Fifth Estate, which presents a balanced view of the key issues in the debate.
Kay will be measured and found wanting by many readers on the way he deals with the two most important conspiracies of recent U.S. history: Watergate and the assassination of John F. Kennedy.
Watergate is not even mentioned.
Strange that Kay recounts conspiracy theories from ancient to modern times, without ever reminding the reader of the real-life conspiracy that began as a widely-discounted theory but was then documented in U.S. Senate hearing rooms and the courts.
Watergate only came to light because two dogged journalists refused to believe the official version and dug deeper. That's what journalists do.
How would history have changed if the Washington Post had assigned Jonathan Kay instead of Carl Bernstein to the bail hearing for the Watergate burglars?
Would he have filed a story about the "routine burglary" — as every other reporter did — because he simply couldn't conceive that officials, including the U.S. President, had broken the law?
His treatment of JFK is even stranger — "schizoid" to use the word he so casually applies to others.
On several pages, Kay acknowledges that the official Warren commission version of a "magic bullet" does not stand up to analysis and that a later report — endorsed by the U.S. House of Representatives — used new evidence to determine there had been a conspiracy to kill Kennedy.
But before and after those pages, Kay dismisses many of the 9/11 Truthers because they also believe in the JFK conspiracy, without acknowledging that he has been forced to agree there was one.
Nor does the fact that a "conspiracist" was right about one conspiracy earn him the right to respectful treatment by Kay when discussing other allegations of conspiracy.
Twenty years from now, there may be some compelling new evidence that proves Kay right on 9/11; or he may be proven a fool, a tool or a dupe.
All this book proves is that he is better at dismissing his sources by calling them names than he is in probing their statements for truth.
Donald Benham teaches politics and the mass media at the University of Winnipeg.