Journal of 9/11 Studies Letters
March 2013
By Lance deHaven-Smith

Many American journalists appear to be locked into a peculiar way of thinking that makes them
blind to signs of political criminality in high office. This mindset is characterized by an apparent
inability to differentiate groundless accusations of elite political intrigue from legitimate
concerns about the integrity of U.S. political leaders and institutions. For some reason, when it
comes to popular suspicions of schemes involving the nation’s political elites, many journalists
in the United State make no distinctions. They categorize all such suspicions as “conspiracy
theories,” which they assume are not only untrue, but wacky and paranoid.

This is one of a number of cognitive distortions associated with the term “conspiracy theory” that
I analyze in my new book, Conspiracy Theory in America. The book will be published on April
15 of this year by the University of Texas Press in a book series edited by Mark Crispin Miller.

Conspiracy Theory in America explains that the conspiracy-theory label was popularized as a
pejorative putdown by the CIA in a global propaganda program to attack critics of the Warren
Commission’s conclusion that President Kennedy was assassinated by a lone gunman with no
government foreknowledge or assistance. The CIA campaign called on foreign media
corporations and journalists to criticize “conspiracy theorists” and raise questions about their
motives and judgments. Any and all criticisms of the lone-gunman account of the assassination
were lumped together as “conspiracy theories,” declared groundless and pernicious, and
attributed to ulterior motives and the influence of communist propagandists.

Today, the conspiracy-theory label is widely used as a verbal defense mechanism by U.S.
political elites to suppress mass suspicions that inevitably arise whenever shocking political
crimes benefit top leaders or play into their agendas, especially when those same officials are in
control of agencies responsible for preventing the events in question or for investigating them
after they have occurred. It is only natural to be suspicious when a president and vice president
bent on war in the Middle East are warned of impending terrorist attacks and yet fail to alert the
American public or increase the readiness of the nation’s armed forces. Why would Americans
not expect answers when they are told that Arabs with poor piloting skills managed to hijack four
planes, fly them across the eastern United States, somehow evade America’s multilayered system
of air defense, and then crash two of the planes into the Twin Towers in New York City and one
into the Pentagon in Washington, DC? By the same token, it is only natural to question the
motives of the president and vice president when they drag their feet on investigating this
seemingly inexplicable defense failure and then, when the investigation is finally conducted, they
insist on testifying together, in secret, and not under oath.

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