Rosenbaum v Vidal
November 14, 2002 1:33 PM   Subscribe

Is Gore Vidal nuts, or he is he just funnin' us? In his New York Observer column, Ron Rosenbaum takes a look at Vidal's 9/11 conspiracy theory, and proceeds to take it apart. Where's Norman Mailer when you need him?
posted by Man-Thing (18 comments total)
Fisking + Misting = ....uhhh Fisting

And yet somehow that word still seems appropiate in the context.
posted by PenDevil at 1:42 PM on November 14, 2002

My God, Gore Vidal is actually Oliver Stone's mini-me.
posted by Beholder at 2:07 PM on November 14, 2002

Wow, life is weird when the New York Observer is the place where interesting debates play out. I'm a fan of Gore Vidal but I think the "Bush caused 9/11" stuff is too far. If you're going to make extraordinary claims you have to back them wth extraordinary evidence. Vidal discredits himself.

But what I'm really wondering is, what is it about Nixon's penis?
posted by Nelson at 8:38 PM on November 14, 2002

extraordinary claims you have to back them wth extraordinary evidence

Carl Sagan penned that line. As well the following passage that I posted to a since deleted election2002 thread:

"In paranoid thinking a person believes he has detected a conspiracy--that is,
a hidden (and malevolent) pattern in the behavior of friends, associates or
governments--where in fact no such pattern exists. If there is such a
conspiracy, the subject may be profoundly anxious, but his thinking is not
necessarily paranoid. A famous case involves James Forrestal, the first
U.S. Secretary of of Defense. At the end of World War II, Forrestal was
convinced that Israeli secret agents were following him everywhere. His
physicians, equally convinced of his idee fixe, diagnosed him as
paranoid and confined him to an upper storey of Walter Reed Army Hospital,
from which he plunged to his death , partly because of inadequate supervision
by hospital personnel, overly deferential to to one of his exalted rank.
Later it was discovered that Forrestal was indeed being followed by Israeli
agents who were worried that he might reach a secret understanding with
representatives of Arab nations. Forrestal had other problems, but having
his valid perception labeled paranoid did not help his condition.

In times of rapid social change there are bound to be conspiracies, both by
those in favor of change and by those defending the status quo, the latter
more than the former in recent American political history. Detecting
conspiracies when there are no conspiracies is a symptom of paranoia;
dectecting them when they exist is a sign of mental health. An aquaintance
of mine says, "In America today, if you're not a little paranoid you're out
of your mind." The remark however, has global applicability."

The Dragons of Eden (p. 190 paperback)

I do not subscribe to conspiracy theories as a matter of course. However, I do not see how speculations in light of all the turns for the worse this country has made in recent months evidence of one's senility, stupidity or inability to declare "what luck" for an all too successful poker adversary.

The facts remain thus:

We do not know the true aims of the capitalism's inner sanctum. That "inner sanctum" being the being the ears of our "elected" representatives.

If a lie has been told to the American (the world's) people, we do not know whether it is a big lie, a medium lie, a small lie, a token truth to bolster a larger lie, an actual honest to god truth or a lie in order for some actual truth to be known. What is true? How are we to know? And why the hell should we trust anyone in positions of power or in the throes of desperation to tell the truth? Why should we trust anyone at all to tell the truth?

I think the questions are:

Why do the patriots, the sane, the American Americans have the corner on The Truth? Why are we admonished to have faith in god, faith in the free market, faith in the Constitution of the United States without actually actively using any of it, but allowing it to use us? Why are we such goddamn sheep? Indeed, why should we accept the word of our government on matters that undeniably have weakened civil liberties and Constitutional rights? Because we're scared?

Scared of what? Scared of what they've told us to be afraid of? Or actually afraid that it is itself, that which seeks to simultaneously scare and soothe us in order for us to be ever more compliant and willing to argue and kill on behalf of that which we have no idea.
posted by crasspastor at 10:34 PM on November 14, 2002

not the most impressive debunking i've ever seen. it was appalingly written.
posted by quarsan at 11:41 PM on November 14, 2002

quarsan: You have run afoul of greenrd's Law.
posted by rusty at 11:56 PM on November 14, 2002

You can "debunk" anything by focusing on isolated pieces. Taken as a whole(which is far more than just Vidal's points), this is actually somewhat believable.
Here's some history
And more. In fact the whole Ratical site is informative.

I don't believe everything I come across, but when it is referenced to multiple articles from varying sources, I start to give it credence. Ron Rosenbaum is just toying with Vidal's words(Look! your conspiracy-theory has a booger hanging out of it's nose.). Knowhere does he actually give us anything supporting his refutation.

On a general level, why would anyone think that all of our dirty tricks were in the past? Deceit, secret dealings,'s all been done(and documented) by our government in the past. Of course they do. And the stakes are getting higher everyday, as world cultures become ever more tightly knit.

Why, when most people(that I've asked) will readily agree that the G lies to us and can't be trusted, will most people also refuse to acknowledge that they are probably still doing it? and doing it on a very organized level? Is there something in each of us that says, "I can be lied to , but there is no way I can be manipulated."?

Add human nature into politics and you get a certain amount of leaders who will do any nasty thing to get what they want.
posted by a_green_man at 12:39 AM on November 15, 2002

Sorry for the double, but...

It is true.
"Evey[sic] post disparaging someone else's spelling or grammar, or lauding one's own spelling or grammar, will inevitably contain a spelling or grammatical error."

"Evey" post...
Gotta love when a dog calls a spot furry...or..uh..something like that.
posted by a_green_man at 12:48 AM on November 15, 2002

The Observer piece falls apart very early on, by casually dismissing the notion that Roosevelt failed to protect Pearl Harbor in order to sway the generally pro-German sentiment in the U.S. over to joining the war. Notice there's no examination of the evidence, just an offhand dismissal:

Mr. Vidal's secret cabal is more sinister than the F.D.R.?Pearl Harbor conspiracy theory (which he also buys into): the belief that F.D.R. knew about the coming Japanese attack but did nothing to stop it, because he wanted Americans killed to get us into the war.

That's a lazy and inflammatory take on the "conspiracy theory" (wanted Americans killed?). This deserves a front-page post itself, but FDR's administration did, in fact, have a multi-pronged plan to draw the Japanese into war, and part of that plan was clearly withholding communications from the commanders in Hawaii. The families of the two men who lost their rank after the attack fought for decades to get the ranks back. Here's the full transcript of a 1995 Congressional hearing that explores the issues of culpability and dishonesty in depth.

I defy anyone to read that transcript and then argue that only those who believe in goofy "conspiracy theories" would ever suggest that FDR made the awful decision to not fully protect Pearl Harbor for what he saw as a greater good.

I'm not sure why I should continue reading the Observer piece after that bit of lazy, dishonest and/or ignorant manipulation, but I will. And I bet I'll find even more holes in whatever argument Rosenbaum is trying to make.
posted by mediareport at 12:52 AM on November 15, 2002

We do not know the true aims of the capitalism's inner sanctum. That "inner sanctum" being the being the ears of our "elected" representatives.

Can you tell I edited that sentence while on the phone?

Yikes. . .
posted by crasspastor at 12:59 AM on November 15, 2002

For what it's worth, Vidal's a small 'r' republican; this, I think, imposes a certain logic on the way he interprets events. For republicans, there is a dialectic between the virtuous republic and the decadent empire. Around every corner lies the threat of a new Augustus: the amassing of imperial power necessarily bringing with it corruption and tyranny, due in part to the influence of the standing army needed to maintain the empire's boundaries.

For Vidal, then, 9/11 was always going to be interpreted as a power grab by a would-be Caesar, using the excuse of military necessity to extend an empire overseas and curtail domestic freedoms. It falls into place (for someone versed in republican rhetoric) in a sequence of more or less engineered international 'crises' -- the events in Havana harbour in 1899; Hawaii in 1941; the creation of the 'national security state' by Truman in 1949; the Gulf of Tonkin incident of 1964 -- each one seized upon as an excuse to embroil the country in a foreign war and thereby amass or extend an empire. And, empire and republic being antagonistically opposed, each poses a grave threat (for a republican) to the very existence of the republic.

Personally, I think he's got a point.
posted by Sonny Jim at 1:22 AM on November 15, 2002

bleh, I can't belive how much filler crap this artical has before the intresting stuff. Why oh why must he spend 3 paragraphs explaning the terminology used to describe the literary technique he's about to use!?
posted by delmoi at 1:24 AM on November 15, 2002

delmoi: there's a faction of bloggers who've somehow convinced themselves that detailed mockery is a relevant form of political criticism (as opposed to realizing that it's adolescent self-gratification). You wouldn't think that anyone would base their political theory on a comedy form involving fake robots, but there it is.

I suspect that they're so entranced by this technique that they feel the need to buttonhole people at parties and explain it to them, or engage in the moral equivalent. Sort of like selling Amway.
posted by Bryant at 4:06 AM on November 15, 2002

That's a right good comment, Sonny Jim.
I learned a great deal from a small 'r' republican History professor in college. It is an informative position from which to consider US national history. I personally find it very valuable to have a range of critical positions to shift between and compare when trying to consider political and historical problems. republicanism is one I turn to perhaps less often than I should.
posted by putzface_dickman at 4:18 AM on November 15, 2002

This comment is probably a little late in the cycle but like any good detective the question must be asked, "Cui bono?" Who benefits? I think Alqaida lost a great deal of support after 9/11. Sinking destroyers and even bombing embassies could have at least a little relevance for radicals in general, but 9/11 was a step too far for most. Bush, his political cohort and his oil buddies certainly have benefitted. So a bit of suspicion there is fair enough. Gore Vidal as a story teller gave us a story that held together and made some sense. Whether or not it is true, remains to be seen, probably by a future generation But I suggest keeping a close eye on the usual suspects in case they need picking up, say, at the next election.
posted by donfactor at 4:48 AM on November 15, 2002

donfactor, the "Cui bono?" bit seems like a fairly weak argument to me when it's used to say "Usama obviously wouldn't have benefitted" instead of "Cheney/Bush obviously would have benefitted." You seem to be suggesting that bin Laden wouldn't have done the bombing because of the possibility of Afghanistan getting bombed. I seriously doubt that; he had escape plans.

What's clear, though, is that Cheney and his pals have benefitted from 9/11. They feel they now have carte blanche to do whatever they want on the global front, and given what we know about FDR's manipulation of the Pearl Harbor commanders to further what he thought was right, the notion that Cheney/Rumsfeld might ignore very specific warnings about a terrorist attack in order to do what *they* think is right (i.e., lock down a steady supply of petrochemical resources for the next 20-50 years) is hardly a crazy joke.

Vidal's analysis is a very logical, very sustainable one - unless you're one of those who gets outraged at the mere suggestion that modern oil industry barons would *ever* stoop to such [cough] calculated political moves. The ridiculously ad hominem blast in the Observer does nothing to diminish Vidal's argument. It does dramatically lower my opinion of Ron Rosenbaum, though.
posted by mediareport at 10:24 AM on November 15, 2002

My God, Gore Vidal is actually Oliver Stone's mini-me.

Give Vidal a little more credit, please. If anything, Stone is the mini-Vidal, except without the classical education and the talent for invective.
posted by Ty Webb at 11:29 AM on November 15, 2002

Nice comments mediareport. I also quite like Crasspastor's Sagan quote. To me the "conspiracy theory" rebuttal is generally used by lazy pundits and parrots in an intellectually vacant but all too effective attempt to discredit any out of the ordinary (out of the mainstream media) claim that questions their easy beliefs without having to actually address the facts that make up the "conspiracy theory". Of course it's useful to have a pathologically cynical populous that has been bombarded with so much disinformation that to them everything begins to blur together in one big wacky sounding conspiracy theory. But the facts are easy: Big Business and powerful governments are violent entities who often do immoral things to make themselves more powerful. Plug in your conspiracy theories. If you don´t, as Sagan suggests, you´re crazy!
posted by sic at 5:10 PM on November 15, 2002

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