America is Somehow to Blame: German Public Television on 9/11

America is Somehow to Blame: German Public Television on 9/11

Last Sept. 11, German state-owned television ZDF marked the sixth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks by broadcasting a prime-time documentary titled "September 11, 2001: What Really Happened." By enticingly implying a discrepancy between what the film itself repeatedly terms the "official version" of 9/11 and the reality of the events, the mere title of the film already provides obvious grist for the mill of what might best be called "alternative" 9/11 conspiracy-theorizing: "alternative" because in the legal sense of the term, the 9/11 attacks were in fact the product of a conspiracy. On the ZDF Web page promoting the documentary, this effect is then underscored by a subtitle portentously announcing that "ZDF Investigations Reinforce Accusations against Authorities." The "authorities" in question are, of course, more specifically American authorities. As is well known, for "alternative" 9/11 conspiracy theorists, it is the latter -- and not Osama Bin Laden and the 19 identified hijackers -- that are supposed "really" to have been "behind" the attacks: often -- though the German broadcaster tastefully avoids this linkage -- in further connivance with the Israeli secret service Mossad.

When, however, Ray Drake of the German media-watch blog Medienkritik called attention to ZDF's seeming pandering to the most disreputable extremes of the 9/11 "truth" movement, his remarks quickly drew irate reactions from some German-speaking defenders of ZDF. The counter-critics argued that while the ZDF documentary did indeed give a platform to some well-known alternative "conspiracy theorists," it in fact served to "debunk" their theories. On the most generous assessment, ZDF had even pulled off a sort of pedagogical coup de force: in effect, fooling the most benighted sections of the German public into watching the documentary by way of its salacious conspiracy-mongering title and promotional material -- only in order then to set them straight about the erroneousness of the alternative "theories." (For the original post and discussion on Medienkritik, see here.)

And, indeed, the ZDF documentary does not exactly endorse the hypothesis that 9/11 was the product of a U.S. government conspiracy. It does not, however, reject it out of hand either. While it concludes that most of the variants of the government conspiracy "theory" are perhaps wrong -- or "unproven," as the narrator puts it, in the conspicuously noncommittal final word with which the documentary concludes -- what is so remarkable about the ZDF documentary is precisely that it treats them throughout as eminently reasonable and hence worthy of serious debate. It thereby, in effect, serves to render them, as one says in German, salonfähig: i.e. acceptable in polite company.

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