Breakfast TV; I have conquered you.
If you want to watch me talk about the conspiracy theories surrounding Osama bin Laden’s demise on this mornings TVNZ Breakfast programme, then look no further than here. It’s a short piece; four minutes tops, so there’s an awful lot that could have been said that was left, well, unsaid.
International visitors to this blog (Hello, there!) can watch the clip on YouTube.
I was also completely unaware of the photo of Osama bin Laden that was behind me.
I was given a set of questions to help me prepare, I’ll let you see what I might have said by way of my notes on them so to flesh out what I covered; they also act as a partial explanation as to why it was I talked about the Osama bin Laden conspiracy theories in the way I did.
Now, I should point out that these musings are not necessarily what I’d say on reflection or have said on air; these are my initial reactions to the questions, jotted down quickly whilst eating dinner and watching “Enemy: Starfleet,” the most recent “Star Trek: Phase II” production. So if they’re off or a bit weird, it’s because faux-sixties SF was addling my tired brain.
What’s fuelling these conspiracy theories – an information void?
Both a void of information and a general suspicion, both by the Republicans in the US and people skeptical of the War on Terror generally, as to why this happened now and whether it happened at all.
There’s a lack of information with respect to no photos, the weird story about the burial at sea (which has been sneered at and endorsed by various experts), the way the official story changed from “He used his wife as a human shield” to “He was unarmed when he was shot” and the role of the Pakistani intelligence service.
There’s also the misinformation; Sarah Palin claiming it occurred because of evidence solicited by the CIA’s not-torture waterboarding, et cetera.
What do you think is behind that lack of official information around OBL’s death?
Speculating here, but I think a lot of the issues here are due to our expecting large amounts of data to be available immediately in the internet age. If you look at the way the story broke on Twitter so quickly and so accurately, it seems odd that we don’t actually know much more now than we did on Monday afternoon. Governments like to release information at a rate they feel comfortable with to control the discussion; we want all the data now and some people have even gone so far to fabricate data (like the fake photo of bin Laden’s corpse) to fill that void.
Also, I wouldn’t be surprised if the US government is smoothing over some of the operational issues, like working out a narrative with Pakistan to explain why American troops enacted a kill on Pakistani soil. The US had to reveal that bin Laden was dead so they could control the way the story broke, but that doesn’t mean they’re happy with the timing.
If conspiracies are shut down when questions are answered – what are the crucial questions here?
I’m assuming this is a question like “Why are the conspiracy theories proliferating if the data is out there?” If that;s question, then I’ve already answered it.
Can conspiracy theories be instructive in coming to a better understanding, or do they just get in the way- white noise if you like?
Conspiracies occur; no one doubts that. Watergate, the Moscow Show Trials… We have lots of examples of conspiratorial explanations, a lot of which were dismissed by people in authority who were just covering up what really happened. Even if we think most conspiracy theories are bunk, and I’m actually not sure we can assume that without having a really good argument for some claim about how hard it is to satisfy inferring that a conspiracy exists, thinking about claims of conspiratorial behaviour now tells us things like:
“Just how much do we trust official sources?”
“How often do we think conspiracies occur?”
“Who is it they we distrust the most?”
I suspect a lot of the conspiracy theorising about bin Laden’s death is as much to do with “Did it really happen?” as it is to do with frustrations about the War on Terror, America’s role as the world police force and worries about civil liberties being eroded everywhere. I mean, everyone is say “Are we going to be allowed shampoo on airplanes ago now?” which shows that a lot of people think, no matter their opinion on what happened on 9/11, that what happened next was less than desirable.
Have you been watching with interest as these theories spill out? What are some of the more interesting you’ve seen?
Alex Jones, the more extreme version of Glen Beck, who is an example of everything about FOX News which is wrong, has claimed that bin Laden has been dead for years and his body has been kept frozen on ice, saved up for an opportune PR moment (in this case, Obama’s bid for presidential re-election). Jones’s theory is fascinating because he claims bin Laden died in 2002 from kidney failure and that it was Bush and his cronies who put bin Laden on ice; Jones thinks there is no difference between the Republicans and the Democrats and thus all this is is a stunt to keep the status quo popular so to further their control over America and the world in general.
The former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer says ‘If you doubt he’s dead, no photo will satisfy’. Is there an element of truth to that?
Definitely; given that photoshopping is easy and that the altering of photos has been going on as long as photography has been around, a photo won’t cut it, which is why they went for the DNA evidence, but given that there’s already a substantial feeling of mistrust towards the American government, even that evidence is being doubted.
Can the hardcore believers in these conspiracy theories be shifted in their belief?
Not the hardcore, no. They a) don’t accept any official information and b) already believe they know the truth of what is going on.