A reporter just asked for my comment on Donald Trump’s recent claim about “thousands and thousands” of New Jersey Muslims celebrating 9/11. Here’s what I said.
The quotation from my co-authored piece with Gary Fine is my bottom line on the subject (quoted near the bottom). I did the interviews for the book chapter linked in the WaPo piece, and have interviewed Patersonians in the years since. No evidence has surfaced of any celebrations over and above the formulation of ours quoted in the WaPo from our book chapter. A small handful of people I’ve interviewed over the years claim to have seen something celebration-like in the mid morning of 9/11 around the 900 block of South Main Street (and claim to have been there in real time). I regard some of them as credible, and some of them as not credible. By all accounts, the “celebration” in question consisted of maybe a dozen or half dozen teenagers jumping around and yelling. It dispersed relatively quickly (i.e., within a few minutes). The police were patrolling the area and claim to have seen nothing. Reporters from the Herald News and Star Ledger were in the area; I interviewed as many reporters as I could find, and not one said that they had seen anything celebration-like. The only journalist who has ever defended the idea of a celebration has been Curtis Sliwa, who conducted a series of interviews in the area just after 9/11. I’ve spoken with Sliwa as well. To the best of my knowledge, his view coheres with mine–he regards it as likely that there was a mini-celebration consisting of 6-12 teenagers or young men, and that it dispersed relatively quickly.
To state the obvious: I don’t regard equivocal testimonial evidence of a bunch of teenagers jumping around and yelling as consistent with or supportive of Trump’s claims.
Also to state the obvious: Trump is the one who’s making the current claims. He bears the burden of proof for the claims he’s making. It seems to me he should be the one asked to bear it.
PS. Just to be clear: in case you saw my Jewish Standard interview from 2002, I do still stand by what I said there, as long as you take the interview as a whole with the July 2004 postscript. The 2004 postscript corrects a minor factual error in the original interview.
Bottom line: no matter how you slice it, Trump is lying.
Thanks to Michael Young, Joseph DeFilippo, and Susan Bernarducci for alerting to me to the story.
Postscript, 1:16 pm: Just to head off any misunderstandings, in the Jewish Standard interview, I make reference to a celebration “said to have” taken place at the Islamic Cultural Center in Paterson, New Jersey at 5 pm. I end my speculation about that anecdote by pointing out that I found the story implausible, intended to look into it, but never did look into it. What I recorded at the time was my hunch that the story sounded implausible. But precisely because I never actually looked into it, I don’t regard the story or my hunches as evidence of any substantive claim.
Postscript, November 24, 2015: I was gratified to see this piece by Benjamin Wittes in Lawfare. I’ve long admired Wittes’s work (have taught some of it, in fact), and this piece is no exception to the general rule. Here’s a small excerpt, but read the whole thing:
Let’s be blunt about this: They are either lying or they are delusional. And assuming they are not suffering both from the same hallucination, they are lying in a fashion calculated to instill anger and hatred against a minority population at a time when nerves are raw, fears are high, and tempers are short. There are a lot of names for this. None of them is nice.
The “they” is a reference to Ben Carson, who (briefly) joined Trump in what Wittes aptly (though qualifiedly) calls a “blood libel.” (Carson’s now backed off of the claim.)
Postscript, November 25, 2015: Here are some useful links on Trump and the celebration rumors: I’ve linked to Glenn Kessler’s Washington Post column above, but be sure to keep checking back, as he’s updated it several times. This item from the Bergen Record is practically a re-run of the sorts of items that regularly ran in the north Jersey papers in the fall of 2001. The Record story mentions John Chadwick, who played an important role in the early reporting on this issue; here’s a link to some of Chadwick’s reporting from 2001. (Also important is the reporting of Hilary Burke, then of the Herald News. Unfortunately, Burke’s reporting isn’t easily available online, but I’ll try to remedy that if I can.) This piece from Talking Points Memo offers a useful summary of the issues, and a useful reminder of the other celebration rumor that circulated in the wake of 9/11–the “Dancing Israelis” rumor. Here’s a classic Snopes take-down of the celebration rumors.
Today’s New York Times has three interesting items on Trump’s mendacity and related matters. A front page item details yet another Trump fib, followed by a fairly cavalier expression of indifference to it from Newt Gingrich, who doubles in his post-political life as a historian. This piece provides a nice summary of Trump’s recent deceptions. And this column lays out John J. Farmer Jr.’s case against Trump. Farmer was attorney general of New Jersey in September 2001, and was stationed in Jersey City on 9/11. He’s currently the Dean of the Law School at Rutgers-Newark. According to Glenn Kessler of The Washington Post, Farmer’s claims have been disputed by Walter Zalisko, a former Jersey City police officer.
But Walter Zalisko, a former police officer in Jersey City, contacted The Fact Checker to say Farmer was wrong. He says he heard on the radio dispatch at the time that officers had found Middle Easterners “clapping and laughing” on a number of rooftops, even in one case knocking down a cardboard version of the Twin Towers. But he does not think a police report was filed. “It was at most a hundred people doing this,” he said, saying Trump’s description of “thousands and thousands” was an exaggeration. As for Farmer’s account, Zalisko said “John was holed up in his office and he didn’t know what was going on.”
Lots of things are said over the police radio, not all of them true. How does Mr. Zalisko know that these claims were true? How was the ethnicity of the people involved determined? Where and when did the event take place? He mentions “officers.” Who are they? And where are they? If he himself didn’t see the events in question, how is he better off than Mr. Farmer? If he did see the events in question, that would be worth knowing, but the passage seems to suggest that he didn’t see them. How does he know that the people in question were clapping and laughing at the attacks? The night that the space shuttle Columbia disintegrated on re-entry to Earth (February 1, 2003), I went for a walk in my neighborhood in Princeton, New Jersey and saw lots of people in bars and on the streets, clapping and laughing. Were the people of Princeton celebrating the crash?
Here’s a piece by The Weekly Standard, with a link back to this post, recording one of Chris Christie’s better moments. The author dutifully lines up the Kovaleski-Kunkle piece from The Washington Post and my claims about Paterson to put the best face on the idea that celebrations might have taken place. But he ignores something more obvious: surely the more obvious fact to consider is how many people lied and spread rumors about celebrations that clearly hadn’t taken place. Why mention the unverifiable possibilities but not the fully verified fact? (See my response to Derrick Abdul-Hakim on this issue in the combox below, responding to Powerline’s misuse of my research.)
In a repeat of the events of 2001-2002, my phone has started to ring once again with “eyewitness reports” of the Paterson celebrations. “Hi, my name is ___, I live in Paterson, and I was there on 9/11. Are you still doing research on the Paterson celebrations?” Somehow, I have a feeling I’ll always be doing research on the Paterson celebrations. It’s the gift that keeps on giving. Or do I mean taking. Anyway, I guess I’m back in business again.
Here’s an interview I just did with Kelly Heyboer of the Newark Star Ledger.
How pervasive is anti-Semitism in Paterson? Is Paterson typical of American-Muslim communities?
I’ve been doing research for about a year on the rumor that the Arabs of Paterson celebrated the 9/11 attacks, so I’ve spent my fair share of time in the city interviewing people in South Paterson. I found anti-Semitism depressingly common among my interview subjects. They took it for granted, and took for granted that I shared their view. I’ve also spoken at some length with reporters in the area, and some (though not all) agree with my assessment of the issue. I get frustrated with the timidity with which journalists deal with this issue. They’ll discuss racial profiling against Arabs and Muslims, but not anti-Semitism by the same people. I don’t that double standard. And it is a double standard.
I don’t know whether Paterson is typical of Arab-Muslim communities, but I would stand by my claim that anti-Semitism is the rule among the Arabs and Muslims I have met over the last 20 years or so. And for obvious reasons, I have met far more Arabs and Muslims than the average American.
What did you learn about Paterson right after Sept. 11? Are the stories of celebration myth or truth? Could you get any real idea?
Most of the celebration rumors were not just false but absurd. I’ve collected dozens and dozens of them. They fall into four categories: (a) blatant lies, (b) not-as-blatant lies, (c) claims that were probably lies but could not be proven as such, and (d) people shooting their mouths off without knowing what they were talking about.
It took months to work through these. They are a story of their own, because they were in many cases spread by reputable religious leaders, journalists, academics, etc. Not all of them came from mere “yahoos.” I was astonished at how irresponsible some of these people were. However, contrary to the blanket denials by city officials, I found (weak, conflicting) evidence of two celebrations:
The first was reported to have been between 1 and 3 pm on the 900 block of South Main Street. I have two Middle Eastern eyewitnesses (one Turkish, one Palestinian) who said they saw a celebration, and a third Palestinian guy who said that one of his friends was actually in it. But the testimony of the first two people (older guys in their 50s) contradicts that of the third (a younger guy, late 20s).
The first two claim that it was a celebration. They aid they felt comfortable telling me, but would not have told an “American” reporter. The younger guy says that it was not celebratory, but a show of anger and defiance against a white supremacist motorcycle gang that had threatened people in the area. The younger guy also insists that the “Arab celebrations” included several Hispanics, which proves that it was not a celebration at all. I did confirm that such a gang had tried to ride through South Paterson. So his story has some plausibility.
I also have a slew of non-Middle Eastern eyewitnesses of this celebration (or whatever) but their stories are vague, and the people themselves are fairly lacking in credibility. Finally, my witness accounts cohere with those told to Curtis Sliwa of WABC talk radio, who said that people told him that kids had celebrated in front of the public library (930 Main). Sliwa was derided at the time, but I think there is at least a grain of truth in his reporting, however clumsy it was.
One last bizarre piece of information is a student of mine who insists that he saw a film on TV of the celebration. I have gone crazy looking for this film, and haven’t found it. I’m tempted to dismiss the whole thing as a confusion, but something about the resistance I’m getting tells me to look harder.
The problem is that the evidence here does not point clearly in any one direction. Was it a celebration? Was it a demonstration? I don’t know. All I know is that something (probably) happened at that place and time, involving a bunch of kid, some Arab, some Turkish, some possibly Hispanic.
The other problem is that none of the reporters I trust saw anything of the sort. Neither did any of the police officers. So it’s a tough call.
Note incidentally the proximity of this celebration/demonstration to Walid Rabah’s office. Same block. When I discovered this about a year ago, I tried to contact Rabah to get a straight story from him. He never got back to me, which I found bizarre since at the time I was operating on the assumption that the rumors were false and I wanted his help in debunking them. It was not until mid March 2002 that I began to suspect that the rumors might have some truth to them and Sept. 2002 when the evidence really began to solidify in that direction.
I first went public on this in a story written by Hilary Burke and published in the Herald News on Sept 12-9/12/02. [In that article, Khawaja is quoted as saying: “Even if there was a celebration in Paterson, the celebrants were individuals. Their behavior doesn’t reflect on anybody but themselves.” -JP].
The second celebration was said to have been at 5 pm at the Islamic Cultural Center on Getty Ave. William Pascrell III is on record as having seen people throwing candy in the air at this location at this time. [He was quoted in the newspaper Aramica in the first week of September this year. -JP] He asked what was going on and was told that it was a “wedding.” Now if you can believe that a wedding was scheduled for Tuesday at 5 pm, and that it took place on 9/11 after all that happened, I will sell you both the Brooklyn and George Washington bridges. But for my part, I don’t believe it. I had wanted to contact the imam of the ICC to ask him directly about what had happened, but I got sidetracked, then the Protocols thing happened, and now it’s impossible.
Bottom line: The whole thing is a mess. There is no clear evidence of a celebration, but not clear way to rule one out. People wanted to believe that a celebration was taking place, so they spread the rumor. City officials wanted people to believe the opposite, so they denied it. The journalists needed a story, so they published conflicting reports. I’m still trying to piece the whole thing together, and I’ve been at it for more than a year.
[Postscript by Irfan Khawaja, July 2004: (1) I was mistaken about the location of the Islamic Cultural Center in Paterson; it is located at Crooks and Main Streets near a Getty gas station, not on “Getty Ave.” as I say in the interview. (2) Since the time of the interview, John Chadwick of the Bergen Record has drawn my attention to an article in The Washington Post that asserts that whether or not a celebration had taken place in Paterson, one did take place in Jersey City: Arabs or Muslims “were allegedly seen celebrating the attacks and holding tailgate-style parties on rooftops while they watched the devastation on the other side of the river.” The article is by Serge F. Kovaleski and Frederick Kunkle, “Northern New Jersey Draws Probers’ Eye: Many in Area Feel Wrongly Targeted,” The Washington Post, September 18, 2001, p. A6. In an email to me on Dec. 16, 2003, Kovaleski indicated that his information had come from the Jersey City Police Department, and that he had confirmed the JCPD’s information via interviews of eyewitnesses of the celebration.
You sounded unsure then, but yet you also sight multiple evidences that something happened, and now you call it a “lie?” I call that disingenuous.
He didn’t say “something happened.” He said that “thousands and thousands” of people were cheering in Jersey City. That’s a blatant lie.
It”s not a blatant lie.It”s an exaggeration.Can a non-Muslim(or even a Muslim) of an Islamic country qualify the statement of a Muslim leader “a blatant lie” even if it is a blatant lie?The true Muslims are so religious that they will sacrifice their life for Islam .They love Islam awfully.
As material for my critical thinking students, your comment is a great example of a series of fallacies–false dichotomy, diversion, poisoning the well, etc. As a substantive response to Trump’s critics, it rates a zero. You haven’t bothered to deal with those claims at all, and you don’t seem to have noticed that so far Trump has not offered any bona fide evidence for his claims whatsoever. Bringing up what supposedly happens in Muslim countries, or what you think Muslims do or don’t do there, just accentuates the fact that you have nothing substantive to say on the topic at hand.
Bottom line: a person who claims that he saw “thousands” of people celebrating when no such event took place is lying. Lying is the word that applies, and lying is the word that should be used.
“It was not until mid March 2002 that I began to suspect that the rumors might have some truth to them and Sept. 2002 when the evidence really began to solidify in that direction.”
All this proves is that the media has lost the ability to be objective.
Yes, excellent–those are my words. Now let’s do a bit of Reading Comprehension 101 and figure out what “my words” actually mean.
“I began to suspect that the rumors might have some truth to them” doesn’t mean they had much or even any truth to them. It means that I had suspicions.
In September 2002, “the evidence really began to solidify in that direction” doesn’t mean that they ended up certifying that celebrations had actually happened. It means that some lines of evidence went that way at that time.
As I’ve said–and as any honest person can read me saying–my research extended beyond September 2002, and I ended up with the conclusion that I’ve now asserted over and over and over and over: absent a video or other documentary form of evidence, there is no way to get a final yes/no answer on the question whether anything celebration-like happened in South Paterson. It is likely that some disturbance took place in the mid morning of 9/11, that it took place in front of the library, and that this disturbance seemed celebration-like to some onlookers. It may have been celebratory, or it may have been a bunch of kids doing what kids usually do–making noise and act like idiots for reasons unrelated to celebrations. The ethnicity of the kids is unclear. You’ve conveniently ignored the part of the interview where I said
“Some possibly Hispanic.” My words.
But it is also possible that nothing happened. Some people were in the vicinity and saw nothing, and some people were in the vicinity and saw something. Nobody in fourteen years has provided iron-clad evidence that a celebration took place. The italicized fact is the only unrefuted certainty here.
I did the research. You didn’t. But here you are, fourteen years after the fact, telling me what my research really means. Thanks, but I really don’t need your help explaining my words to myself. What this really proves is that people like you are uninterested in the truth. You can’t think, you can’t read, and you can’t handle complexity. You just desperately want it to be true that there was a Muslim celebration in Paterson, because it re-affirms all of your prejudices about Muslims–and apparently, reality has to take a back seat to your wants and ultimatums. Well, I’m sorry I can’t help you. The help you need is not help of a kind I can give.
You are the one here is being logically inconsistent and unable to put aside your biases.
There are multiple instances of evidence and eyewitnesses that I would be happy to provide you if interested, but I doubt it would matter to you.
Regardless, your words again:
“there is no way to get a final yes/no answer on the question whether anything celebration-like happened in South Paterson” Let’s set aside the fact that Trump did not specify South Paterson (that I know of.)
Trump remembers celebrations (as do many others) and yet – you call him a liar.
Do you see the inconsistency there?
Either you know for a fact that it did not happen, or you can disagree Trump, say he’s exaggerating – but you cannot say he lied.
To me the bigger issue here, is that the media believes what it wants to believe, in more instances than this – and it presents that belief as being factually true to the public.
This is dangerous to any republic or democracy. How can people make informed decisions if they are only presented with information from one point of view? If the “reality” they are presented with is skewed?
You cannot (and other journalists) cannot admit your bias or recognize your own fallibility.
To be completely clear, once again, you can accurately say that you disagree with Trump – you could accurately say that he is likely exaggerating the number – but you CANNOT accurately say that he lied!
I would think that journalists would have more concern for their credibility if no other incentive to be precise in their wording, and precise in relating what they KNOW vs. what they THINK.
What is the “logical inconsistency” I’m guilty of? No, I don’t “see” one, because you haven’t named one. You also haven’t dealt with what I said in my last response to you. Rhetorical questions aren’t going to help your case.
While we’re at it, what city are we talking about–Paterson or Jersey City? Trump says that he saw thousands and thousands of people celebrating in Jersey City. Where is your evidence of that? If you have it, tell us all what it is.
The logical inconsistency is that you state you do not know whether or not “x” happened, but claim that the person asserting “x” did happen is a liar.
Is that more clear?
I do not believe that thousands of people celebrated in New Jersey, but I don’t know for sure, and by your own admission, neither do you.
I do believe there is factual evidence to suggest that celebrations did indeed occur in NJ, NY, MI, and other places, and also in many other countries around the world.
My concern here is not so much the celebrations themselves, but the accuracy of the media.
I have seen this described as “fantasy” “imagination” etc, when that is simply not the case.
Do you believe the media should be accurate?
Your comment is really, really confused.
It’s not clear. What it shows is that you don’t know how to read, don’t know what a variable is, and don’t know how to use one. The question Kelly Heyboer asked me in the NJ.COM/Star Ledger interview was this:
My answer to that question was:
That’s because the question concerned any celebration of any size somewhere in New Jersey. I have consistently insisted that you can’t rule out small-scale celebrations. Just to be clear: saying that you can’t rule them out DOES NOT MEAN that I am saying that they definitely took place. It just says that the evidence is ambiguous. That is for SMALL-SCALE CELEBRATIONS.
A celebration involving “thousands and thousands” of people is not small scale. And it wasn’t the question Heyboer was asking me about. Had she asked me this question:
I would have answered: no. Actually, even though Heyboer never directly asked me a question about Trump’s claim, I said that it was a lie, which obviously implies a “no” answer to the preceding question.
So let me spell out the ABCs for you here. Different questions get different answers. You can’t just mix and match questions and answers and expect to make any sense. That’s what you’ve just done–confuse an answer to one question with the answer to a different question–and it is why none of what you are saying makes any sense.
Here’s another simple fact. When you use a variable, like x, the values of the variable have to be the same in all instances of your using it. If x means one thing in one place, and a totally different thing in another place, it makes no sense to use a single variable x for both things. But that’s what you’ve managed to do.
In other words, having misread a passage in front of your face that was written maybe a week ago, and having failed to master what’s taught in eighth grade algebra, you’re not only accusing me of inconsistency, but wondering whether I believe in accuracy. Just for the record, you haven’t found any actual inconsistency in what I said, and I believe the media should be accurate. I also think my critics should learn to read me before they take to my combox to level accusations against me.
There is no consistency whatsoever in saying:
There is also no inconsistency in saying:
Your claims here are a Logical Fail par excellence.
Contrary to what you say, I can say for sure that thousands and thousands of people did not celebrate 9/11 in Jersey City. That’s a ludicrous claim. Even you don’t believe it, but it somehow annoys you when people describe it as fantasy or confabulation. Well, fantasy is what it is, at best. At worst, it’s a cynical lie intended to turn people against Muslims and equate them all with terrorists. I’ve specifically addressed why I describe Trump as a liar in one of the comments on another post. I’ll repost it nearby. (Scroll down to comment 2, responding to djr.)
If you think there is evidence of celebrations, feel free to reproduce it on your own blog and put the links up here. Despite your presumptuous claim that you doubt it would matter to me, I’m giving you a forum to air your claims precisely so that I can look into them. But the sheer fact that someone claims to be an eyewitness doesn’t mean that he’s seen anything, or seen what he claims to have seen. At this point, everyone in this field knows that both eyewitness testimony and memory are fallible even when adjudicated through the court system. When we’re talking about people posting stories fourteen years after the fact in a charged political environment–sometimes anonymously and without cross-examination, we have stronger reasons for skepticism.
Contrary to what you’ve said, I’ve admitted my fallibility. But even a fallible inquirer can detect bullshit when it’s as obvious as Donald Trump’s, and I have. Unlike Trump, I have not gone around claiming to have the world’s best memory, then failed to produce a single shred of specific evidence regarding a large-scale event I claim to have seen. I haven’t changed my story every time I’ve told it. I haven’t employed a high-paid lawyer to backpedal my story while I claim not to back away from it. I haven’t shouted down the people questioning me and tried my best to distract them from the totally legitimate questions they’ve asked. I also don’t have a long track record of bullshitting about everything I talk about, whenever I open my big mouth to talk about it. You’ve bitched and moaned here about “the media,” but you haven’t said a word in criticism of Trump. It’s Trump who deserves criticism on this story, not the media. If anything, the media has played softball too long with him. The media would better serve accuracy if they held his feet to the fire until he really felt it.
Thanks for taking the time to respond to my post. This will be a long post as I am going to really try to unpack this, so that it’s as clear as possible, and try to avoid hostility, although I am as frustrated as you appear to be. 🙂
I believe you are sincere in your belief that Trump is “lying” and sincere in your belief that you are unbiased and unemotional regarding this topic. I’m taking the time, because I believe this topic is extremely important and consequential for our nation, and I want to make the effort to help the media see things from the average American perspective. I also want to be clear that the issue to me here, the thing I’m really focused on, is not the celebrations themselves, but on the media’s biased treatment of candidates and issues in a way that distorts reality for the average news consumer.
I will post a list of links at my blog and link it at the bottom here. It may be necessary to view those links as a prelude to what I’m saying, for context.
Ok. So, you defined some narrow parameters which makes sense to keep the conservation clear. You limit the area to Patterson, New Jersey, in front of the public library on South Main Street, on the day of September 11th, and I wholeheartedly agree that there were not thousands and thousands of Muslims celebrating. So far so good.
In Jersey city there were other protests, and in New York City, and apparently in Dearborn. An FBI agent told an ABC affiliate that the FBI received quote “stacks and stacks” of reports. All of this is linked below. So my judgment, just as an average consumer of information, would be that it is likely there were hundreds of people celebrating in New Jersey, and certainly hundreds across the country, and countrywide it is possible there were thousands. We just don’t know. So for the sake of argument, to be conservative, let’s say dozens or even tens. I think that’s fair.
Now obviously, if we are using the dozens figure for argument, then what Donald Trump said was clearly inaccurate, and I have never argued that it wasn’t. But here is the catch. In my mind that still doesn’t qualify as a lie. A lie is something which has no truth to it whatsoever, which is intended to deceive. To use Glenn Kessler’s Pinocchio standard, if I were in charge I would give Trump’s statement two or three Ps, depending upon the amount of evidence I was able to accumulate that celebrations actually occurred. I did very little research and was able to come up with quite a bit.
Members of the media, made unequivocal statements such as “It never happened” “He’s delusional” “he’s making it up.”
To say “it never happened” is a binary statement. It’s a one or a zero. To say he’s making it up, is again, to my mind, binary, because the average person consuming that information is going to assume that that means that nothing of the kind ever happened in any way, whatsoever. Which is also not true. Can I call that a lie? On the scale of dishonesty, I find it to be a bigger deviation from the truth than what Trump said. Trump merely exaggerated, or mis-remembered, but they denied that any such event ever happened at all. They would get at least three, if not four, stars from me. And worse, neither Glenn Kessler, nor any of the others who made such statements, have come out to correct them, to my knowledge
So let’s talk about the weight of the evidence. Rudy Giuliani, Former police chief Bernie Kerik, former New Jersey Police officer Walter Zalisko and others have corroborated that there were indeed protests. I really don’t know what else needs to be said about that. These are multiple confirmations from people who were in positions of authority and present at the time. There were multiple other witnesses. Smart phones weren’t ubiquitous then, as they are now, so I don’t think that having video is a fair standard. If the testimony of multiple witnesses were not sufficient, there would be very few criminals prosecuted.
Now, why is this important? If the media had addressed this issue correctly, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. If Glenn Kessler had done his homework, and found the media mention in his own newspaper, people would not be continuing to discuss it. Just last night I read Chris Cilliza piece in the Washington Post where he repeats the lie that Trump “lied” about the celebrations. Forgive me if this drives me batty. I think people are being deceived.
But for many of us, this is a very familiar phenomenon. The media has a narrative. Anything which fits the media narrative is trumpeted, anything which does not is suppressed. It’s that simple. Thankfully, we now have alternative sources, most particularly the internet, where we can do our own fact checking, and cross reference.
I said I believed that you believed that you were unbiased. And I do, believe that you believe it, but here are some statements which, for me, call that into question:
“What this really proves is that people like you are uninterested in the truth. You can’t think, you can’t read, and you can’t handle complexity. You just desperately want it to be true that there was a Muslim celebration in Paterson, because it re-affirms all of your prejudices about Muslims–and apparently, reality has to take a back seat to your wants and ultimatums. Well, I’m sorry I can’t help you. The help you need is not help of a kind I can give.”
““As a personal matter, I just found it very hard to believe that such an event would take place.”
It sounds to me as if you desperately don’t want it to be true that Muslims celebrated.
“Well, fantasy is what it is, at best. At worst, it’s a cynical lie intended to turn people against Muslims and equate them all with terrorists.”
You not only again refer to events which did occur, to a much lesser degree, as fantasy, but also assign bad motives.
“I haven’t shouted down the people questioning me and tried my best to distract them from the totally legitimate questions they’ve asked. I also don’t have a long track record of bullshitting about everything I talk about, whenever I open my big mouth to talk about it.”
” If anything, the media has played softball too long with him. The media would better serve accuracy if they held his feet to the fire until he really felt it.”
That pretty much speaks for itself. 🙂
I understand why the idea that Muslims were celebrating might be offensive to you. I understand why you might have an inclination to dismiss the evidence. I even understand why you would have a pre-disposition to assume Trump has the worst of intentions.
Whether Muslims celebrated is not a critical fact, but it is something that Americans have a right to know. Particularly now, when the crisis has passed, and with decisions that need to be made regarding immigration. Yes, put it in context. Report it accurately, but do not try to imply that it never happened, when in fact it did.
I think the media believes their intentions are pure. Like how we protect children from the whole truth, or tell what are considered to be “little white lies” to keep their behavior in line. This is wholly inappropriate and offensive as far as I’m concerned. It is not their place. They have a duty to the FACTS, without spin, without “interpretation,” nothing more. Commentators can comment, but reporters should report. Without letting what they wish to be true become the actual truth in their minds. The media has a duty to the people to be accurate in their reporting, even when that truth is unpleasant.
I can’t quite put my finger on why, but to even have to write this makes me profoundly sad. What is happening in the media is destroying their credibility, and dividing the nation. There may come a time in the future when the media is needed to impart true information to the people and they may not be believed. I don’t think this is a good thing for our country. We all have biases and we are all human. What I am asking of you, Glenn Kessler, Tom Brokaw and the rest of them is to stop, take a deep breath, look in the mirror, and examine your own biases, because it’s getting out of hand. You have a responsibility to the people.
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Whether Trump was lying or exaggerating does not bother me. What bothers me up to now is the dearth of “moderate” Moslems condemning terrorism. Where’s the million-Muslim march that condemns 9/11? Where’s the million-Muslim march to condemn what happened in Paris? Why are you silent? Are you all cowards? Or are you all approving of such horrifying murderous acts?
What bothers me is your complete indifference to reality. Lies don’t bother you. Exaggerations don’t bother you. You’re not interested in facts. But you’re interested in leveling accusations. There is no dearth of moderate Muslims who have condemned terrorism. To assert that there is, is to make a spectacle of your ignorance. There were demonstrations of solidarity for Americans after 9/11 even in places like Iran and Pakistan. I’m sorry if you’ve missed this widely reported fourteen-year-old fact, but you seem more interested in playing to the peanut gallery than in facts of any kind. I’m not a Muslim, but that doesn’t seem to faze you or people like you. I’ve written extensively in criticism of Islam and the Muslim community, but though you’ve found my blog you haven’t managed to find any of my writings on the subject (or anyone else’s writings, for that matter). You just desperately need to change the subject because you’ve lost the argument on the subject at hand.
The great irony about this controversy is the insistence with which people are focusing on the unverifiable at the expense of the obvious, the documented, and the 100% verified. It is unverifiable whether or not there might have been a disturbance here or there on 9/11 that might have seemed celebration-like. But it is an obvious fact that Donald Trump is lying. It is an obvious fact that his lies are approved or excused by “thousands and thousands” of Americans. It is an obvious fact that he is the GOP front-runner for the American presidency despite a proven track record of lies.
It’s also an obvious fact that virtually every rumor of Arab or Muslim celebrations of 9/11 in the United States was a lie, but that thousands of people digested these lies without a further thought, spread them without a further thought, and have now dredged them up fourteen years later in reckless disregard of the truth. In other words, thousands upon thousands of citizens of a country that regards itself as the proud heir of “Western civilization” will, when push comes to shove, flush truth down the toilet and spread blood libels about their fellow citizens.
The celebration rumors were supposed to tell us about the deep, sinister, inner workings of Muslim and Arab Americans. What they unwittingly reveal is the deep, sinister side of American life. What they tell us is that McCarthyism is still alive. The paranoid style of American politics is still alive. Populist contempt for truth is still alive.
That is what you seem to approve of. The time has come for people like you to be confronted with a counter-accusation that is more obviously true than the accusation you are making: people like you are the problem with this country, and are the sworn enemies of its values, not Muslim or Arab Americans. People who don’t care about the truth have no business demanding anything from anyone. Those of us who care about the truth have the right to demand that you start caring about it. By your own admission, you’re not in a position to be making demands of anyone. We are.
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Maybe it’s time to have a national discussion on what diversion is:
By the way, is there a way to link in the comment section? I don’t think my dashboard has any link option.
I think a national discussion on fallacies would be a great idea, as well as a national discussion on a person’s responsibility to bear the burden of proof for the claims that he makes. So far, Trump has been allowed to make assertions and double down on them but has not had to answer simple questions about exactly what he saw, when, where, and in what form.
I saw the Powerline item you’ve cited. Ignoring everything else I’ve said on this topic, they fixate on one sentence of mine and use it as evidence of Trump’s quasi-veracity. Since the sentence is mine, I think my interpretation of it is relevant. In fact, the sentence absolutely does not provide evidence of Trump’s veracity or quasi-veracity or anything approximating his veracity. My view is that Trump is lying about Jersey City, and nothing I’ve written or said should be construed to suggest otherwise.
Here is the sentence from a 2004 addendum to my Jewish Standard interview:
In 2003, I was teaching at The College of New Jersey (TCNJ). The email I was using at the time went to my TCNJ account. I left TCNJ in 2005. Not seeing any need to preserve all of my emails from that account, I didn’t preserve that particular one, so I no longer have it, and don’t have the exact phrasing of the email.
Unfortunately, there’s an ambiguity in my sentence, which I now regret. I say that Kovaleski “had confirmed the JCPD’s information via interviews of eyewitnesses of the celebration.” That wording makes it sound as though Kovaleski had confirmed, via interviews with confirmed eyewitnesses, that the celebrations had in fact taken place. But what I meant was that he and his co-author had merely confirmed that the allegations had been made by people who claimed to be eyewitnesses of the celebrations, and who presumably had called the JCPD in response. Recall that the original article had asserted that celebrations had “allegedly” taken place. All that was confirmed (as far as the email in question is concerned) was that specific people had in fact made the allegations at the time, and that Kovaleski and Kunkle were familiar with the details of the allegations. My impression was that either Kovaleski or Kunkle had personally spoken with the people who claimed to be eyewitnesses, but I could be wrong about that. It could be that one of them simply spoke with members of the JCPD, and that the JCPD had directly spoken with the supposed eyewitnesses.
My wording suggests the first interpretation, but I don’t know where they stand. They’re quoted by Glenn Kessler in The Washington Post as follows:
My impression all along has been that “I could never verify that report” meant “I personally spoke with the people who claimed to be eyewitnesses. I can confirm that there really were people who claimed to be eyewitnesses, but I was unconvinced by what they said.”
At any rate, there’s no substantive disagreement here between me and Kovaleski-Kunkle. Neither Kovaleski nor Kunkle nor I think that thousands or hundreds of people were celebrating 9/11 in Jersey City. Kunkle tells us that he could never verify whether any celebrations of any kind had taken place in Jersey City. I didn’t mean to imply that actual celebrations had been verified, either. The only puzzle here–if one wants to call it that–is whether the supposed eyewitnesses were interviewed only by the JCPD or by the JCPD and Kunkle. Ultimately, the difference between these interpretations makes no material difference to anything. The bottom line is that the interviewees failed to convince those interviewing them that anything had happened, and no evidence has surfaced in the last fourteen years to indicate that any celebrations did take place anywhere in Jersey City.
Incidentally, as far as Paterson was concerned, I spoke with a lot of people who claimed to be eyewitnesses of a celebration-like disturbance, as well. A lot of their stories fell apart after a few minutes of questioning. I caught some of them in transparent lies. A lot of them changed their stories half way through the telling. A lot of them claimed to be eyewitnesses of a “celebration,” then claimed not to be eyewitnesses at all, or not eyewitnesses of a celebration. Standardly, someone would claim to be an eyewitness, and then under questioning assert that, well, in fact, they had heard the celebration story from an eyewitness. Then I’d go to the supposedly “real” eyewitness and hear the same thing again…and again…and again. An amazing number of “eyewitnesses” of a “celebration” had heard the celebration story from an “eyewitness” who had heard the story from an “eyewitness”….Of the tiny handful of people who told consistent, plausible stories in a credible way–and we’re now down to the single digits–none had photos or video of the events in question, and none were fully certain about what they had seen, i.e., whether it was clearly a celebration. At the end of the day, even the most credible eyewitnesses were reduced to saying, “Well, I definitely saw something.”
In any case, contrary to what Powerline would have its readers believe, I should not be construed as saying that celebrations were confirmed by the JCPD. They were not confirmed. In retrospect, what I really should have written was: “In an email to me on Dec. 16, 2003, Kovaleski indicated that his information had come from the Jersey City Police Department, and that he had confirmed the JCPD’s having received reports of alleged celebrations via interviews of people who claimed to have been eyewitnesses of the alleged celebrations.” I regret any confusion I may have caused by not putting things in that more tedious but careful way. But no matter how you slice it, either version of the quotation is a long, long way from what Trump actually said.
When Gary Alan Fine and I wrote our paper on the subject for publication, all we did was to quote Kovaleski and Kunkle and add: “However, we could find no other information about this event” (“Celebrating Arabs and Grateful Terrorists,” in Rumor Mills, p. 203n.2). I find it odd that people who are so eager to fixate on a sentence of mine here or there seem unable to fixate on that one. Put another way, the footnote says: We found no information about this event besides the allegation that people had seen celebrations and reported those allegations to the Jersey City Police, and that the JCPD had questioned the people accused. To repeat myself for the nth time: We did not find any evidence that a celebration of any kind had taken place anywhere in Jersey City. That is why I have insisted that Donald Trump is lying. Nothing in our research lends credence to anything he has said.
PS. Re your technical point, Derrick, David Riesbeck brought that up as well. For some reason, I can link from the dashboard, but maybe non-administrators can’t. I’ll try to resolve that when I get a chance.
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Credible Source on 9-11 Muslim Celebrations: FBI
Here in New York, it was easy to get angry listening to Egyptians, Palestinians and the Arabs of nearby Paterson, N.J., celebrate as they received word of the murderous attacks in New York and Washington. But Mayor Giuliani (who has been tireless and magnificent in this crisis) rightly warned New York- ers that it would be wrong to take their anger out on the city’s Arab and Muslim residents. Attacks on Arab-Americans in Paterson or elsewhere are utterly indefensible.
Omar, a Muslim New Yorker and former student of mine at Cooper Union, e-mailed me to say he was “sickened to watch Middle Easterners celebrate our sorrow.” He is an American who has imbibed our values while maintaining his Muslim faith. He wants no truck with those who kill in the name of Islam.
I spoke to Fred Siegel by phone shortly after that article was published. He was nowhere near Paterson on 9/11, and admitted to me that he had no independent evidence of any celebrations. When he implies that he “heard” Egyptians, Palestinians, and other Arabs celebrating, he is bullshitting you. He didn’t hear any such thing. He wasn’t in New Jersey at the time. He doesn’t live here, doesn’t work here, and wasn’t here.
He told me in that same conversation that an unnamed friend of his in or around Paterson (he didn’t clarify) either saw or heard something celebratory (he didn’t clarify). How’s that for precision? How the friend “heard” the ethnicity of the “something” he heard was and remains a mystery. What the friend saw was totally non-specific–if he saw anything at all (Siegel wasn’t able to say). Who the friend was, was left unspecified. Where the friend was at the time of the supposed event–also unclear. In other words, on every relevant question–who, what, when, where, how–Siegel had nothing to say to corroborate his story. He then changed the subject and tried to get me into a conversation about the theology of Sayyid Qutb. That a professional historian would reproduce a story of this kind–accurately described as a blood libel–and fail to retract it in fourteen years, is a disgrace, but a perfectly predictable one. And he’s not the only one. If he’s reading this, I’d like to issue a personal invitation to him to make a public retraction of the claims he made in that article. If only I had recorded the phone conversation I had with him, I’d post it here and make him sound like the idiot he is.
The student he quotes is quoted as saying he was “sickened to watch Middle Easterners celebrate our sorrow.” No one is disputing that Middle Easterners celebrated 9/11, and no responsible person has disputed that fact in fourteen years. The relevant issue is whether the Middle Easterners in question were located in Jersey City, whether there were thousands of them, and whether (and how) Donald Trump saw them when no credible reports have emerged of them in fourteen years. The answers are no, no, and no.
Your other article mentions an FBI agent in Boston who received phone calls about celebrations. The story doesn’t even claim that the celebrations reported to the Boston office were about New Jersey, and the agent himself merely claims on this basis that Trump’s story is “plausible.” The reasoning here is: the FBI’s field office in Boston gets a lot of calls about celebrations; this proves that Trump saw a video of thousands of people celebrating in Jersey City. Here’s a suggestion: what if all of those people were repeating a false rumor? It’s an obvious possibility. Can he disprove it? If he can, he should give it a try.
If we’re seriously going to discuss the matter, why don’t you do a Freedom of Information Act request to get all of those reports, send them to me, and we can work through them one by one? I hate to have to teach you the ABCs of reality, but lots of people make false reports to the FBI all the time. That’s why they have investigative techniques and there is such a thing as criminal procedure. It’s why we don’t just get to make things up at random and pretend that if it takes the form of a rumor that makes the news, it must be true.
P.S. (added later): I forgot to make the most obvious point of all: Trump’s claim is about Jersey City; Siegel’s was about Paterson. But Jersey City isn’t Paterson.
If you now want to change Trump’s story so that it focuses on Paterson, you’re going to have to face the fact that there was a very brief window for a celebration to take place–sometime between the 9/11 attacks themselves (roughly 9 am) and South Paterson’s being heavily patrolled by the police (maybe 11 am or noon). That puts the possible times at a few hours in the mid morning, and the relevant place as South Main Street. But Trump obviously could not have literally seen South Main Street from Trump Tower, where he claimed to be. So did he see a video of South Paterson? Well, the only “video” alleged to depict celebrations in Paterson is the MTV video, which was taken well after 9/11, and whose interview subject has disavowed having seen a celebration.
So here’s my advice: go out and find the phantom video of the South Paterson “celebration” that’s gone missing for the last fourteen years; then prove that it was “widely” broadcast on TV; then prove that Trump saw it but no one else did; and then try to explain how the genius with the superhuman memory somehow managed to confuse Jersey City with Paterson. At that point, you and Fred Siegel will have earned the right to walk hand-in-hand into the History Hall of Fame. But not until then.
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I do not believe that Trump is lying.. The only reason he could be lying is because he wants more attention but I truly believe that they were celebrating. He would not make himself look bad and have all the Muslims hate him because of lie. He truly does believe that they were celebrating and I find that totally messes up.
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