Popular Mechanics Attacks Its
"9/11 LIES" Straw Man
by Jim Hoffman
Version 1.2, February 9, 2005
The Hearst-owned Popular Mechanics magazine takes aim
at the 9/11 Truth Movement
(without ever acknowledging it by that name)
with a cover story in its March 2005 edition.
Sandwiched between ads and features for monster trucks,
NASCAR paraphernalia, and off-road racing
are twelve dense and brilliantly designed pages
purporting to debunk the myths of 9/11.
The article's approach is to identify and attack a series of claims
which it asserts represent the whole of 9/11 skepticism.
It gives the false impression that these claims,
several of which are clearly absurd,
represent the breadth of challenges to the official account
of the flights, the World Trade Center attack, and the Pentagon attack.
Meanwhile it entirely ignores vast bodies of evidence
showing that only insiders had the
means, motive, and opportunity to carry out the attack.
The article gives no hint of the
put options on the targeted airlines,
warnings received by government and corporate officials,
complicit behavior by top officials,
obstruction of justice by a much larger group,
obvious frauds in the official story.
Instead it attacks a mere 16 claims of its choosing,
which it asserts are the "most prevalent" among
The claims are grouped into topics which cover some of the subjects
central to the analysis of
However, for each topic, the article presents specious claims
to divert the reader from understanding the issue.
For example, the three pages devoted to attacking the
Twin Towers' demolition present three red-herring claims
and avoid the dozens of points I feature in my presentations, such as the
Twin Towers' Demolition.
The article brackets its distortion of the issues highlighted
by 9/11 skeptics with smears against the skeptics themselves,
whom it dehumanizes and accuses of "disgracing the memories" of the victims.
More important, it misrepresents skeptics' views
by implying that the skeptics' community is an undifferentiated "army"
that wholly embraces the article's sixteen "poisonous claims,"
which it asserts are
"at the root of virtually every 9/11 alternative scenario."
In fact much of the 9/11 truth community has been working to expose
many of these claims as disinformation.
"The Lies Are Out There"
James Meigs, appointed editor of Popular Mechanics in May 2004,
trashes skeptics of the official story of 9/11/01 as irresponsible
disgracers of the memories of victims, apart from
"we as a society."
This article has a page of Editor's Notes, "The Lies Are Out There,"
written by James Meigs, whose previous columns have praised military technology
(such as the UAVs used in Fallujah).
Meigs places outside of society anyone who questions
the official version of events of 9/11/01:
We as a society accept the basic premise that a group of Islamist
terrorists hijacked four airplanes and turned them into weapons against us.
Sadly, the noble search for truth is now being hijacked by a growing army
of conspiracy theorists.
Meigs throws a series of insults at the "conspiracy theorists,"
saying they ignore the facts and engage in "elaborate, shadowy theorizing,"
and concludes his diatribe by saying:
[T]hose who peddle fantasies that this country encouraged,
permitted or actually carried out the attacks are libeling the truth --
and disgracing the memories of the thousands who died that day.
Besides trashing the skeptics,
and conflating "this country" with its corrupt leaders,
Meig's piece attempts to legitimate
PM's "investigation." It reads:
We assembled a team of reporters and researchers,
including professional fact checkers and the editors of PM,
and methodically analyzed all 16 conspiracy claims.
We interviewed scores of engineers, aviation experts,
military officials, eyewitnesses and members of the investigative
teams who have held the wreckage of the attacks in their own hands.
We pored over photography, maps, blueprints, aviation logs and transcripts.
In every single instance, we found that the facts used by the conspiracy
theorists to support their fantasies were mistaken, misunderstood,
or deliberately falsified.
This sounds impressive,
but the article provides no evidence to back up these claims.
It provides no footnotes to source its many assertions,
and despite the scores of experts listed in its
the article cites only a few "experts,"
who would themselves likely be suspects
if normal criminal justice procedures were used to investigate the crime.
Moreover, glaring errors in the article --
such as the assertion that there was only a single interception
in the decade before 9/11/01 --
don't inspire confidence in PM's "professional fact checkers."
It echoes the discredited assertions of official
reports such as the
FEMA WTC Building Performance Study
9/11 Commission Report,
and provides no evidence that it is anything but a
well-orchestrated hit piece to perpetuate the 9/11 cover-up.
"9/11: DEBUNKING the MYTHS"
The main article consists of six two-page spreads, each devoted to a topic.
Spanning these spreads are a series of sixteen "poisonous claims,"
which the article purports to refute,
while it implicitly identifies them as the beliefs of all in
the "growing army" of "conspiracy theorists."
The two-page spreads, beginning on page 70, are as follows:
Superficially, the topics appear to address the major
physical evidence issues brought up by the skeptics
(while ignoring the mountains of evidence of foreknowledge, motive,
and unique means possessed by insiders).
However, the sixteen
"most prevalent claims made by conspiracy theorists"
which it attacks are mostly specious claims,
many of which were probably invented to discredit skepticism
of the official story in the first place.
The article debunks the more specious claims,
and uses distortion and falsehoods to counter serious claims.
Thus the main approach of the article is to set up and attack
a straw man of claims that it pretends represent the
entirety of the skeptics' movement.
The list includes many of the same claims that are debunked
on the companion to this site,
The article gives no hint of the
raised by the evidence in this site,
nor any sense of the issues raised by the broader 9/11 truth movement.
Before proceeding to its 16 points,
the article's introduction levels more insults at the skeptics --
"extremists", some of whose theories are
"byproducts of cynical imaginations that aim to inject suspicion
and animosity into public debate."
It begins by asking you to type
"World Trade Center conspiracy" into
and claims that "More than 3000 books on 9/11 have been published" --
an incredible claim.
(Of these supposed 3000 titles, we recommend only a few, listed
The sixteen "claims" attacked by the article are described here
under the headings taken from the article,
which indicate either the claim, the counter-claim,
or a broader issue.
- Where's The Pod
The pod-plane idea has been used for over a year to discredit
skepticism of the official story.
It's not surprising that the article gives it top billing.
ERROR: A Pod Was Attached to the South Tower Plane.
The article mentions
the site LetsRoll911.org and
the video In Plane Site,
implying they are representative of the skeptics.
Of course it makes no reference to skeptics' sites debunking
these productions and the pod-plane idea they feature, such as
on OilEmpire.us, or
This image, which appears in the article,
is found (with the same red oval) on a
yet the article contains no mention of the site.
- No Stand-Down Order
Here, the article falsely implies that
both claim that no jets were scrambled to pursue any of the
four commandeered jets.
It then attacks this straw man by relating some details of the
(without sourcing the Commission's Report)
to suggest that interceptors were scrambled, but that ATC couldn't find
the hijacked flights because there were too many radar blips.
The article makes no mention of the
with NORAD's account of the failed intercepts,
but relates the following incredible assertion by NORAD
public affairs officer Maj. Douglas Martin
that there was a hole in NORAD's radar coverage:
It was like a doughnut.
There was no coverage in the middle.
This absurd idea that NORAD had no radar coverage
over much of the continental US
is distilled from the 9/11 Commission Report.
Predictably, the article makes no mention of evidence
that war games were planned for the day of 9/11/01. See
Multiple War Games on 9/11/01 Helped to Disable Air Defense.
- Intercepts Not Routine
This section quotes the following excerpt from
It has been standard operating procedures for decades to immediately
intercept off-course planes that do not respond to communications
from air traffic controllers.
When the Air Force 'scrambles' a fighter plane to intercept, they
usually reach the plane in question in minutes.
It then dismisses this 'claim' with the following sweeping 'fact':
In the decade before 9/11 NORAD intercepted only one civilian plane
over North America: golfer Payne Stewart's Learjet, in October 1999.
This bold assertion flies in the face of a
of scramble frequencies that quotes the same Maj. Douglas Martin
that is one of PM's cited experts!
From Sept. 11 to June, NORAD scrambled jets or diverted combat air patrols
462 times, almost seven times as often as the 67 scrambles
from September 2000 to June 2001, Martin said.
It is safe to assume that a significant fraction of scrambles
lead to intercepts,
so the fact that there were 67 scrambles in a 9-month period
before 9/11/01 suggests that there are dozens of intercepts per year.
To its assertion that there was only one intercept in a decade,
the article adds that
"rules in effect ... prohibited supersonic flight on intercepts,"
and the suggestion that there were no hotlines between
ATCs and NORAD.
- Flight 175's Windows
That the South Tower plane had no windows is one
of several ludicrous claims made by the
In Plane Site video, and,
like the pod-planes claim, is dismissed by the simplest analysis.
The Windowless Plane.
THE WORLD TRADE CENTER
- Widespread Damage
The article's lead point in the World Trade Center topic
is an obscure idea that explosives in the basements of the towers
damaged the lobbies at about the time the planes hit.
With only sparse evidence to support it,
this contention is only mentioned by a few researchers.
Indeed it is entirely distinct --
in both the support that exists for it,
and the support that it provides for "conspiracy theories" --
from the contention that
explosives brought down the towers
(56 and 102 minutes after the plane crashes).
- Puffs Of Dust
Here the article cites this quote from an advertisement for the book
The article features this image of the South Tower's collapse,
taken about 2.5 seconds after the top started to plunge.
It was taken by
who risked her life to take the photograph from a vantage point
that would be engulfed by thick toxic dust in under 20 seconds.
The concrete clouds shooting out of the buildings are not possible
from a mere collapse. They do occur from explosions.
By titling this section "Puffs Of Dust,"
rather than "explosions of concrete,"
and by showing only a collapse photograph from early in the
South Tower's destruction,
the article minimizes the explosiveness of the event,
but nonetheless goes to lengths to explain these "puffs."
It quotes NIST lead investigator Shyam Sunder saying
"When you have a significant portion of of a floor collapsing
it's going to shoot air and concrete dust out the window"
without explaining where the concrete dust came from,
or even attempting to quantify the amount of dust that should
be expected in the absence of explosives.
The article mentions none of the other features of the collapses
that indicate controlled demolition, such as:
- The towers fell straight down through themselves
maintaining radial symmetry,
- The towers' tops
mushroomed into vast clouds
of pulverized concrete and shattered steel.
- The collapses exhibited
shooting out of the towers well below the zones of total destruction.
- The collapses generated
vast dust clouds
that expanded to many times the towers' volumes --
more than occurs in typical controlled demolitions.
- The towers came down suddenly and completely, at a rate
only slightly slower than free fall in a vacuum.
The flat top of the North Tower's rubble cloud revealed in
show the rubble falling at the same speed
inside and outside the former building's profile,
an impossibility unless demolition were removing the building's
structure ahead of the falling rubble.
- The explosions of the towers were characterized by
intense blast waves
that shattered windows in buildings 400 feet away.
- The steel skeletons were consistently
shredded into short pieces
which could be carried easily by the equipment used to dispose
of the evidence.
before and at the outset of the collapses.
- "Melted Steel"
The article implies that skeptics' criticism of the official
account that fires weakened the towers' structures is based on the
erroneous assumption that the official story requires that the fires
melted the steel.
In fact the fire-melts-steel claim was first
introduced by apologists
for the official story on the day of the attack,
by no less than a structural engineer.
The more sophisticated
advanced in subsequent days and weeks,
are the subject of detailed analysis and debunking
- Seismic Spikes
The idea that seismic spikes preceded the collapses of the towers
is the subject of the page,
ERROR: Seismic Spikes Preceded Collapses.
Unfortunately a number of web sites seized upon this idea
without critically evaluating it.
The article takes advantage of this red herring by pointing out that
while ignoring the much larger bodies of valid evidence of demolition
that these sites present.
- WTC 7 Collapse
Here the article cites 911review.org,
a site that
promotes discrediting ideas
but purports to speak for the 9/11 skeptics' community.
The article simply repeats the site's claim that
"the video clearly shows that it was not a collapse subsequent
to fire, but rather a controlled demolition,"
without directing the reader to where they can see videos,
such as on
The article makes no mention of the facts that skeptics
most often cite as evidence that the collapse was a controlled demolition:
- The building collapsed with precisely vertical fashion.
- The building collapsed at almost the rate of free-fall.
- The building collapsed into a tidy pile of rubble.
The article lets NIST's Shyam Sunder sell the
"progressive collapse" of Building 7:
What our preliminary analysis has shown is that if you take out just
one column on one of the lower floors,
it could cause a vertical progression of collapse
so that the entire section comes down.
Note the guarded language Sunder uses to describe the extent
of the collapse.
The reader is led to believe that the collapse of a "section"
could lead to the total collapse of the building,
when in fact there are no examples of total progressive collapse
of steel-framed buildings outside of the alleged cases
of the Twin Towers and Building 7.
- Big Plane, Small Holes
Here the article cites the claim on reopen911.org that
the hole in the Pentagon was "only 16ft. across,"
and mentions French author Thierry Meyssan,
who helped to spawn the "no-757-crash theory",
the subject of
my earlier essay.
The article again implies that this idea is gospel among
9/11 skeptics, giving no clue that there is controversy
about the issue in 9/11 skeptics circles, and that many consider
this claim that no jetliner hit the Pentagon a big distraction.
ERROR: The Pentagon Attack Left Only a Small Impact Hole
and others by 9/11 skeptics have long debunked
Meyssan's wildly inaccurate description of
a 16-foot-diameter entry hole.
- Intact Windows
Here the article misrepresents an argument by skeptics of the
official account of Flight 77's crash by stating that the issue
is intact windows "near the impact area,"
when the skeptics point to unbroken windows in the trajectory
of portions of the Boeing 757.
PM uses this part to backhandedly promote the
which appears to serve the same function as this article:
discrediting skepticism by associating it
with sloppy research and easily disproven ideas.
- Flight 77 Debris
Here the article drops a URL for Pentagon Strike
a second time, in case the reader missed the first one.
The lack of aircraft debris following the Pentagon crash
has been noted by many people as suspicious,
but it is not surprising, considering the nature of the crash.
ERROR: Aircraft Crashes Always Leave Large Debris
- The White Jet
Here the article counters the idea that a small white jet
reported by eyewitnesses had anything to do with the crash by
relating a detailed account by the aviation director of the
company that owned the business jet, David Newell.
According to Newell, the co-pilot of the jet,
Yates Gladwell, was contacted by FAA's Cleveland Center
to investigate the crash immediately after it happened.
According to PM:
Gladwell confirmed the account but,
concerned about ongoing harassment by conspiracy theorists,
asked not to be quoted directly.
- Roving Engine
The far-flung debris field
crash site along with the
make a strong case that the plane was shot down.
The article takes on this issue by first citing an article on
that makes the unsubstantiated claim that
"the main body of the engine ...
was found miles away from the main wreckage site."
It then argues that engine parts being found 300 yards
from the main site is reasonable for a simple crash,
because airline accident expert Michael K. Hynes,
who investigated the crash of TWA Flight 800 in 1996,
states parts could bounce that far
"when you have high velocities, 500 mph or more."
This theory is at odds with the eyewitness reports that
the plane plummeted almost straight down,
such as the following:
- He hears two loud bangs before watching the plane
take a downward turn of nearly 90 degrees.
- It makes a high-pitched, screeching sound.
The plane then makes a sharp, 90-degree downward turn and crashes.
- He hears a sound that "wasn't quite right" and looks up in the sky.
"It dropped all of a sudden, like a stone."
- Indian Lake
The article devotes this point to the confetti seen over Indian Lake,
which is about two miles from the main crash site.
It explains that this distance is
"easily within range of debris blasted skyward by the heat
of the explosion from the blast."
- F-16 Pilot
In the final point, the article takes on the allegation
by retired Army Col. Donn de Grand-Pre that
the pilot who shot down Flight 93 was Major Rick Gibney.
The article states that Gibney was flying an F-16 that day,
but it was not on an intercept mission;
rather it was to pick up Ed Jacoby Jr.,
the director of the New York State's Emergency Management Office,
and fly him from Montana to Albany, NY.
PM delivers its closing ad hominem attack on skeptics
in the voice of Ed Jacoby:
I summarily dismiss [allegations that Gibney shot down Flight 93]
because Lt. Col. Gibney was with me at the time.
It disgusts me to see this because the public is being misled.
More than anything else it disgusts me because it brings up fears.
It brings up hopes -- it brings up all sorts of feelings,
not only to the victims' families but to all individuals throughout
the country, and the world for that matter.
I get angry at the misinformation out there.
"9/11 MYTHS DEBUNKED"
Having slain the conspiracy theory army's poison-spewing
16-headed dragon of 9/11 LIES --
declares the enemy vanquished, titling its final section
"9/11 MYTHS DEBUNKED."
On page 128,
reveals its suit of armor --
a list of over 70 "experts" that it found "particularly helpful."
The titles and names on this page are supposed to back the many
assertions the article makes in the main section,
but the article gives no indication of what experts or reports
back up many of its key assertions.
911 World Trade Center Conspiracy
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