An Unsent Letter to the Editor

There's been a small amount of discussion in UNH's student newspaper The New Hampshire about Professor Woodward, our own famous 9/11 conspiracy-monger.

One David Samra, a junior Philosophy major penned an anti-Woodward letter to the editor, appearing in the October 13 issue. ("Woodward supporters have double standard") It's not great, but not awful.

But it prompted a comeback from one Barbara Estock, a senior majoring in "Studio Arts". ("Get the facts, support Woodward")

Which almost got me to send in my own response. But after writing it, I asked myself: Why in the world would I want to have a letter in the student newspaper? Couldn't come up with a good reason. I decided to share it with y'all instead.

In her letter of October 17, Barbara Estock attempts to rebut David Samra's contention that "the vast majority of Americans would never consider 9/11 to be perpetrated by the president" by citing a recent CNN poll that said (in her words) "45% (almost half) of Americans blame the current administration for 9/11."

This is nonsense. One can look up the CNN report on the web. (http://www.cnn.com/2006/POLITICS/09/11/911.poll/index.html) One can view the exact wording of the poll question and the results as well. (http://i.a.cnn.net/cnn/2006/images/09/11/rel21i.pdf)

While 45% of those polled attached "a great deal" or a "moderate amount" of "blame" to the Bush administration for the September 11th terrorist attacks, 41% of those polled leveled the same amount of "blame" at the Clinton administration. Given the poll's 3% margin of error, Bush and Clinton received about the same amount of "blame."

Does this indicate, as Ms. Estock apparently would have it, that 41% of Americans believe that the 9/11 attacks were perpetrated by President Clinton? No. The poll question was clearly not speaking to the issue of who planned and carried out the attacks; instead, it was concerned with assigning responsibility for failing to stop them. To imply otherwise, as Ms. Estock does, is misleading. It's also kind of ironic, considering the headline given to her letter: "Get the facts, support Woodward."

This is a small point, but illuminates something unfortunately typical of the debating style of conspiracists. "Facts" are presented incompletely and out of context to shore up an incoherent mush of dark fantasy. When the "facts" are followed up with even a remotely skeptical eye, there's not a lot of substance.

I don't think Ms. Estock was intentionally being deceptive here; it's more likely she's credulously recycling some talking point she's picked up from somewhere. Indeed, the CNN poll is also cited on the website of Professor Woodward's "Scholars for 9/11 Truth" organization (http://www.scholarsfor911truth.org/Resources.html) as if it signified something telling and ominous on this issue. It doesn't.

It's no big deal to have this happen in the pages of a student newspaper or a wacky website. But if it's happening in a UNH classroom, people are correct to be concerned.

True story: Dave Attell, famous comedian, came to UNH to do a show. When told that the name of the student newspaper was The New Hampshire, he replied: "Wow, what an original name, The New Hampshire. What was the back up name, The Newspaper?"

Last Modified 2012-10-22 9:58 AM EST