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Drowning in conspiracy theories – De Standaard

Author and journalist subjects
De Standaard to a critical lecture. Every month
he explains the lids and looks for journalistic assumptions, prejudices or blind spots.

Few journalists seem to express their mood and balance as conspirators in established media. Would therefore the most basic journalistic rules suddenly fly out of the window when such media reports about conspiracy theories?

Last Wednesday a debate took place in the auditorium of Ghent University about 'alternative explanations' for the attacks of September 11, 2001. Philosopher Maarten Boudry defended the standard explanation of a terrorist attack. Opposite him was the promoted engineer aerospace engineering Coen Vermeeren. The meeting was led by 'TV celebrity' Rob Vanoudenhoven, who, according to the poster, 'with a joke' would ensure that the atmosphere remains positive and correct, so that everyone returns home with a good feeling. "

was of course a relief. Imagine that you go home with a bad feeling – for example because in your head quite a few domino stones fall over when you become convinced that Vermeeren is right, and that the now common explanation of the September 11 attacks is untenable. In that case, for example, their own leaders are suddenly either incompetent (they do not even notice this), or badly by themselves (they know best but do not say anything). Even worse, the same would be true for the established media.

Many scandals ever started as conspiracy theory, but then became a definite fact by brave detective work by journalists

De Standaard clearly struggled with the debate, as witnessed by two articles where the first law of journalism was violated twice. The first piece asked the question 'should a university give a platform to controversial ideas?' (DS Online March 14) . That seems to be a very curious word choice for this eye viewer. Feminism was once controversial, just like psychology or evolution. The author of the piece must have meant a term other than 'controversial', but apparently he could not find it.

What is worse is that in the whole piece 'Why the UGent has a conspiracy debate' Boudry speaks, but Do not Vermeeren. The following Saturday, that one-sidedness – not to say bias – was repeated in an article that read 'Completdenkers look down on who does not believe them' (DS March 17) . "Why does anyone believe in conspiracy theories?", Asks the first sentence to answer it with a quote: "It gives a unique, narcissistic feeling to be the only one to see the world behind the world."

The play goes first to a Leuven philosopher with the fantastic name Massimiliano Simons. According to Simons, conspiracy theories are a psychological defense mechanism for what Germans call as beautiful as Verunsicherung literally underwriting. Because of the internet and political polarization nothing or no one can be trusted, according to the philosopher. 'A conspiracy theory tries to escape that general sphere, by so-called striving for true truth. It is an "enlargement" of what many experience daily in uncertainty and "can not be eradicated."

The most serious thing is that De Standaard did not report on the debate itself

There Boudry comes in the article even then with the claim that conspirators do not only get a narcissistic satisfaction from their convictions, but also do not really believe what they claim to believe.


This is a good time to emphasize that a stay of six years in the Middle East has made me skeptical about conspiracy theories. I find many conspiracy thinkers intolerant, verbally aggressive and suffering from exactly the tunnel vision they blame the established media. It also rarely takes long before you hear a conspirator think anti-Semitic insinuations or worse – except in Israel, where the conspirators think a global conspiracy to eradicate the Jewish people. Complet thinkers are often visibly unstable and conversely conspiracy theories seem to have a magnetic effect on confused persons.

Yet none of this means that every conspiracy thinker is a dreamer and that a conspiracy theory a priori is nonsense. For years we thought we could recognize crazy people by their belief that the American intelligence service was spying on them through their television sets. Until The Guardian in 2013 revealed that the NSA has been spying on the entire world population for years in all sorts of illegal ways, for example by switching on telephones remotely and by following conversations or making recordings. The tobacco industry has deliberately sabotaged scientific research into lung cancer, while oil companies have been aware of climate change for decades. Only recently The Guardian along with Channel4 and The New York Times revealed far-reaching conspiracies with which the company Cambridge Analytica manipulates elections in various countries against payment.

There are lists to make scandals that once started as a conspiracy theory, but which subsequently became a fact of life through bold search or check work by journalists. Undoubtedly, in the early 1970s in America supporters of the then president Richard Nixon in the beginning dismissed the revelations about bugging and burglary in the Democrats as libelous fantasy and propaganda. Until the evidence could no longer be ignored and Nixon had to resign.

Character murder

Two pieces devoted [DeStandaard to the debate at Ghent University and neither of these times Vermeeren got anything from rebuttal. What does Vermeeren think of the theory that he can not handle the uncertainty of modern life? And that he therefore set up a working group with a group of students at Delft University of Technology to determine whether the official statement for the attacks is technically possible at all? Do his views on September 11, Vermeeren indeed give the narcissistic satisfaction that Boudry ascribes to him? And if we still stay away from the content and start doing ad hominem: what explanation does Vermeeren have for the deeper motives of Boudry?

It may be that Vermeeren did not respond. But that must be mentioned in the article, so that the reader knows: due to circumstances I only hear one side of this story.

The two articles about the debate at Ghent University are what British journalists hatchet job ]: a character murder. But the most serious thing is that De Standaard did not report on the debate itself.

All this would be justified, if De Standaard had once released a team of journalists to to investigate alternative or conspiracy theories surrounding the 11 September attacks, and if the newspaper came to the conclusion that the official lecture was correct. In such a scenario, De Standaard has the right and even the duty to wipe out alternative explanations of the attacks and to ridicule their supporters. Misinformation must be fought, fire and sword.

But De Standaard never conducted such a research. He thus takes the assumption that the official US investigation of the attacks is reliable and complete – an investigation that took place under the presidency of George W. Bush, whose government lied to the American people about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction and Saddam Hussein's involvement in the attacks of 11

A look at the recent archive of De Standaard shows in the meantime that the newspaper does not speak out, but remarkably briefly: "What we should not know about 9/11: the secret chapter of the committee of inquiry 'was rather short of its importance, and this applies entirely to the story of a year earlier:' 2,300 engineers have doubts about the collapse of the WTC towers'. This is about the book Beyond misinformation in which the authors, like Vermeeren, try to show that the official facts of the attacks were not technically possible.

Curious 16-year-olds

Self-think I believe that if the American government was able to secretly attack an attack like that of September 11, the same government should have succeeded in planting some weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. I lack technical knowledge to appreciate the claims of engineers like Vermeeren – the debate at UGent is coming online on Youtube. I also know that you have to be terribly careful with conspiracy thinkers. Before you know it, you give legitimacy to evidently malicious or deeply disturbed types.

On the other hand, De Standaard himself has published articles in recent years in which doubts are expressed about the official facts. And on the hyperpopular Netflix are so-called zeitgeist documentaries of a total of seven hours, in which more or less the same hypothesis is unfolded as that of Vermeeren. This view may well have found a very wide entry, certainly among young people. And those who have watched the highly slick zeitgeist documentaries on Netflix will not receive a documentary with rebuttals and criticism as new suggestions. That is not made. What kind of signal do you send out to a curious 16-year-old?

I fear that such a curious 16-year-old then opens De Standaard reads the two articles mentioned and is confirmed in the idea of a cover-up. Probably the teenager will agree with every right-minded journalist that you must never indiscriminately accept what authorities claim. But given the incomplete, one-sided and biased reporting on Vermeeren, that teenager, I fear, will then also classify journalism itself to authorities from whom you should not simply believe everything.

Jews and aliens

Of course I have Coen Vermeeren myself just called, so that he still has the last word here: 'It was not my first preference to debate with a philosopher. When Boudry stuttered that he did not know at what temperature steel melts, but claimed that this was not important, he had already disqualified himself. In terms of content, Boudry did not discuss the well-founded arguments of architects and engineers. In his rhetoric he chooses to mislead the public by performing jews and aliens. In that sense he is not a scientist, but a word artist. "

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