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Conspiracies Pushed by Atlantic’s Editor Excluded From Atlantic’s Denunciation of Conspiracy Theories

The Atlantic‘s depiction of wacky things Americans believe in. Not shown: Iraqi WMDs. IMAGE: FAIR/The Atlantic

By Adam Johnson | 10 August 2017

FAIRNESS AND ACCURACY IN REPORTING — Which “conspiracy theories” the media decide to care about and which they don’t is largely a function of who is advancing those conspiracy theories, and whose interests they serve. The Atlantic (9/17) published a 12,000-word cover story by Kurt Andersen on the history of conspiracies and “crazy” ideas. In exploring how “America lost its mind,” Andersen let everyone in corporate media off the hook, saving most of his ire for obscure hippies, rednecks and postmodern academics.

The piece uses the term “conspiracy” or “conspiracies” 45 times, but somehow—in all the hand-wringing over their dangerous effects—omits the two most pernicious and consequential conspiracy theories of modern times: that Saddam Hussein had a hand in 9/11 and that Iraq had Weapons of Mass Destruction. Fake Moon landings and healing crystals may be easier to deride, but their actual effect on politics, globally and domestically, is thus far (thankfully) fairly trivial. The same can’t be said for the dual conspiracies that Iraq was working with Al Qaeda to knock down the Twin Towers and was—despite all evidence to the contrary—building an active nuclear, chemical and biological weapons program.

This omission by Andersen could possibly be because one of the most visible and high-profile promoters of these two grand conspiracy theories was the man who commissioned the piece from him: Atlantic’s editor-in-chief, Jeffrey Goldberg. Goldberg and scores of other high-status pundits—many of whom have moved on to even cushier, better-paying jobs—never have to account for the conspiracies they pushed that led directly to the devastating US invasion and occupation of Iraq.

How the most blatant confidence-eroding episode of the past 20 years could escape a 12,000-word piece on the erosion of trust in elite institutions is unclear. Goldberg and Co.’s theory that Saddam was working with Al Qaeda — which was floated by Goldberg everywhere from Slate (3/2/0210/3/02) to NPR (2/4/03) to the New Yorker (3/25/02) in the build-up to the Iraq War — was a textbook example of a conspiracy theory, complete with cherry-picked evidence, dubious inferences, rejection of contradictory evidence and ideological blinders. Yet somehow, when Andersen and others review America’s obsession with conspiracy, this one is curiously absent from the inventory. […]

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