Saturday, May 31, 2008

About that imagining ...

"If a man is offered a fact which goes against his instincts, he will scrutinize it closely, and unless the evidence is overwhelming, he will refuse to believe it. If, on the other hand, he is offered something which affords a reason for acting in accordance to his instincts, he will accept it even on the slightest evidence.” — Bertrand Russell, Proposed Roads to Freedom

In a post a while back I quoted an excerpt from Tom Fenton's Bad News in which he recounts the testimony of Florida Dept. of Agriculture loan officer Johnell Bryant claiming to have been visited by Mohammed Atta in May 2001. Fenton had used this as an example of how better and more substantial news can contribute to American security.

Yesterday I mentioned this story in a comment at Glenn Greenwald's blog and someone expressed skepticism of the story. After looking into it, I see that Fenton apparently got his dates wrong. The transcript of the interview conducted by ABC with Bryant shows Bryant claiming to have met with Atta between April and May of 2000.

That would be at odds with the timeline established by the 9/11 Commission Report which has Atta out of the United States at the time Bryant claims to have met with him (although Atta was in Florida in May 2001.) The Bryant/Atta incident is also absent from the report.

I wish I could sort the story out definitively one way or the other but I can't seem to find confirmation or retraction or much commentary on it what so ever other than people pointing out that Bryant's story doesn't match the timeline.*

Fenton's over-all point about the need for real news instead of sensational junk news is still valid, but the Bryant/Atta example appears to be dubious. I'll see if I can track down contact info for Fenton so that I might query him about this ...

If my prejudice against the mainstream media hadn't over-rided by skepticism I might have avoided this error in the first place.

*One might suggest that this in itself is a reflection of the quality of our news and the lack of significant journalism being done. When it comes to the death of Anna Nicole Smith and her son the media left no stone unturned.

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