Patterico's Pontifications

5/31/2007

Snopes Remains Shameless

Filed under: General,Terrorism — Justin Levine @ 3:57 am

[posted by Justin Levine]

Patterico justifiably took Snopes to task in 2004 for skewing the real issue behind the Annie Jacobsen story concerning the suspicious behavior on flight 327.

Recent events seem to have vindicated key claims of Jacobsen’s story – but Snopes continues to be disingenuous about the controversy.

Snopes writes:

Claim: Passengers encountered by reporter on airline flight were proved to be terrorists making a dry run at assembling a bomb on-board.

Status: False

[UPDATE BY PATTERICO: Note that this is different from Snopes’s original characterization of the controversy, as detailed in my 2004 post:

Claim: Reporter encounters terrorists on airline flight who are making a dry run at assembling a bomb on-board.

Status: False.

More on this in the UPDATE BY PATTERICO below.]

Snopes then even has the gall to cite the latest government [PDF] report as “proof” about the veracity of its own assessment.

Technically, Snopes is correct of course – but only because it constructs a disingenuously worded “claim” upfront, rather than reassess the story under a reasonable “claim”.

It is true that none of the passengers were “proven” to be terrorists. The latest government [PDF] report does not offer any such proof either.

However, contrary to Snopes implication,

nobody has ever claimed that the passengers on flight 327 were “proven” to be terrorists. Annie Jacobsen herself never claimed to have “proven” that the passengers were terrorists. Snopes skews the premise in order to unfairly place Jacobsen in a bad light.

Now that government reports have backed up many of Jacobsen’s actual objective observations, Snopes can’t admit to itself that it screwed the pooch on this one all along.

What Snopes should have written is this:

Claim: Passengers encountered by reporter on airline engaged in objectively suspicious behavior that reasonable (non-“hysterical”) observers would associate with a potential dry run for a terrorist operation.

If the “Claim” had been written that way, what do you suppose the “Status” would be: “True”? Or “false”?

I think we all know the answer here. Snopes can’t bring themselves to admit it, So they construct a straw-man instead and ignore the real issue behind the controversy.

I can play this game too. It’s easy.

Claim: Snopes has yet to prove that they are not shills for subversive groups that want to actively prevent people from reporting legitimately suspicious activity concerning terrorist operations in the U.S.

Status: True

See how easy this game is? You could of course argue that Snopes shouldn’t have to disprove a negative in this instance. But you don’t get to set up the premise of the “claim”. I do. After all, its my game. By the rules of my game, the objective status of the “claim” is obviously “true”.

Shame on Snopes. It owes its readers far better.

UPDATE BY PATTERICO: Also significant is the fact that Snopes has revised its original characterization of the controversy, in order to retain the “false” designation. As reported in my 2004 post, Snopes originally characterized the controversy in this way:

Claim: Reporter encounters terrorists on airline flight who are making a dry run at assembling a bomb on-board.

Status: False.

Snopes thus took a definitive position on whether a dry run had occurred based on the word of some anonymous air marshals. Now they have changed the “claim” from “[r]eporter encounters terrorists” to “[p]assengers encountered by reporter on airline flight were proved to be terrorists.” (My emphasis.)

The “false” designation on the original claim was inaccurate based on the evidence; Snopes should have labeled the claim “undetermined.” Snopes ran into a lot of criticism over the “false” designation, and justifiably so. But instead of fixing their designation, they simply recharacterized the claim as “the claim has been proved” — without telling their readers about the change. This allowed them to retain the “false” designation.

Sleazy.

22 Responses to “Snopes Remains Shameless”

  1. There is no proof that there was ever any real threat, or any actual terrorist activity whatsoever. If there was, we’d be buried in that evidence, because there are so many people who desperately want it to be a threat.

    I’m sick of hearing about how it could have been a threat. In fact, I don’t really even buy that it could have been a threat anymore, in hindsight (of course it appeared that it could have been at the time).

    This all happened almost three years ago. There’s been plenty of time to prove a threat, if there was one. In addition, after three years, no actual attacks on planes have occured.

    And in the subsequent three years, no other “dry runs” have been publically reported.

    It’d be one thing if we were talking about something that happened a few weeks ago. But this was three years ago. No arrests of anyone involved since then. No attacks since then. In three years. Why the near-hysteria now?

    Phil (427875)

  2. xkcd on snopes

    Safety through security theatre.

    htom (412a17)

  3. Phil,

    Your post would be more offective if you would stick to just the facts and avoid the ad hominem smears. (e.g. “near-hysteria”?)

    aunursa (3dfe24)

  4. Point taken; I’ll withdraw the term “near-hysteria.”

    Instead, I should have said “Why the repeated expressions of distress and fear, accompanied by condemnation and dismissal of all suggestions that the distress and fear is unfounded?” That’s completely different from “near-hysteria.”

    Phil (427875)

  5. And in the subsequent three years, no other “dry runs” have been publically reported.

    Two words: Flying Imans.

    Loren (af2946)

  6. Phil:

    You said it yourself: “(of course it appeared that it could have been at the time)”.

    That’s exactly the point.

    Also a dry run isn’t the threat itself, it’s a, ahem, “dry run” for a possible threat to take place later. Since the (alleged) dry run was a bust, it follows that there was no subsequent attack.

    Someone will now say that anything and everything could be called a dry run — the lack of an attack proves the attempt! — but let’s not be childish. In that world, only after a deadly attack would such a person possibly acknowledge a dry run. If then.

    Me? I’m going to put my head in the sand and INSIST that they were just making mint tea. Mint tea, I tell you!! Would you like some tea?

    Viktor (470563)

  7. Loren: Ah yes, the flying imams
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flying_Imams_controversy
    That was definitely a real “dry run.” The proof is everywhere. Even more real than this one. And they’ve arrested those “dry runners,” to, right? Oh wait, no.

    Victor, don’t bury your head in the sand. Try this instead:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jerry_Klein%E2%80%99s_2006_Islamophobia_Radio_Experiment

    Phil (427875)

  8. So now I’m a bigot. Thanks.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dry_run

    Viktor (470563)

  9. Why are we all beating around the issue here. Both these guys and the nefarious Flying Imams were misbehaving on their flights for one of three reasons.

    1) They actually were preparing for a terrorist attack. Unlikely but certainly not yet ruled out. A very bad thing if true.

    2) They were trying to incite passengers to overreact, perhaps as tort-bait or to make a CAIR-worthy complaint. Pretty loathsome unless you’re a lawyer. Then, great!

    3) They were having some fun with the passengers, you know, maybe ostensibly as a teachable moment for all these pasty-white air travelers who assume the worst of Arabs. Really bad, but not as bad as being actual terrorists.

    So what did they accomplish? They have made us all less likely to speak or act up in similar circumstances. One way or another, this is the intent of their actions unless their intent is far worse.

    So why are those who are dismissing the possibility of a “dry run” so quick to accuse others of overreacting? What positive reading on the actions of both the Imams and the traveling band exists that would preclude a no-nonsense approach to dealing with these incidents?

    I know it’s a typical lefty pose to pretend to be open and accepting of atypical behavior at 35,000 feet and all, but aren’t those of you who claim we’re being near-hysteric really just free-riding on the willingness of others to speak or react in these situations? Do you really want the rest of us to take a Xanax and go back to sleep or are you counting on the fact we won’t so you can sit there smugly on the high ground?

    spongeworthy (45b30e)

  10. How do you prove that you weren’t a terrorist trying to make a bomb or perfroming a dry run? Isn’t the default state of the accusation “false”. I know snopes isn’t a court of law, but I still think they shoudl give the benefit of the doubt to the accused.

    joe (fd0080)

  11. Since the Washington Times reporter was as shifty with her facts as you said Snopes is, why not take her to task? Even Patterico was misled by her weasel-worded story.

    Patterico headlined his post:
    Audrey Hudson Provides Further Details on Current and Former Air Marshals Opining that Flight 327 Was a Terrorist Dry Run

    Nowhere in the story will you find a current air marshal saying that Flight 327 was a terrorist dry run.

    Bradley J. Fikes (1c6fc4)

  12. Spongeworthy, the problem I have with your post is your closed-universe view of the possible explanations. You expressly state that those three possible explanations are the only possible explanations for both the flying Imam situation and the 2004 musician situation.

    Those three explanations are certainly inferences that could be made from the situations. But they are not the only possible inferences.

    For example, maybe the passengers own fear of terrorism caused them to see actions that would not be frightning from a white person as terrifying because they were done by an Arab. Maybe the Arabs had no interest in scaring anybody. Is that possible? Not according to your tiny three-option view of the universe.

    All of your inferences impose a malicious intent as motivation for the behavior. You are unwilling to admit even the possibility that there is no malicious intent on the part of these actors.

    That’s what makes me question so much of the “maybe its TERRORISM!” analysis of the various situations involving muslims. The word “maybe” disappears entirely rather quickly in the discussion.

    I see this assumption of nefarious intent being accepted without question, and it makes me wonder, what else is being accepted without question? Is this really rational thought, or is it simply justification for a simplistic, scapegoating of an entire religion?

    Phil (427875)

  13. By Snopes reasoning, then, an entry on OJ Simpson might read:

    It has been proven that OJ Simpson murdered Nicole Simpson and Ronald Goldman. Status: False. A jury found Simpson not guilty.

    Kevin Murphy (0b2493)

  14. Phil, that would make a lot more sense if A) there weren’t multiple witnesses to both incidents, but particularly the Flying Imams, and B)we were seeing a lot more of these reports on flights containing Arabs. In the case of the Flying Imams, we have multiple witnesses basically unwavering on the facts.

    And if your suggestion is accurate, that these witnesses were merely misinterpreting some normal actions of trustworthy Arabs, then why doesn’t it happen more often? What is unusual about the witnesses to these actions in Minneapolis and on the musicians’ flight that makes them more suspicious and what’s the term? Hysterical?

    Tell you one thing–I’m sure glad that Richard Reeds plane wasn’t chockfull of me and a bunch of openminded, brave lefties like you guys. Is it possible to hold the high ground while plummeting from 35k screaming?

    spongeworthy (45b30e)

  15. I’m sure glad that Richard Reeds plane wasn’t chockfull of me and a bunch of openminded, brave lefties like you guys. Is it possible to hold the high ground while plummeting from 35k screaming?

    Reed tried to light a fuse sticking out of his shoes. He failed because people tried to stop him from lighting a fuse sticking out of his shoes. He was not attempting a “dry run.” There was nothing ambiguous in his intent. He is currently in jail for terrorism. His case is completely different from the other two cases.

    You seem to be claiming that people who refuse to presume malicious intent on the part of Arabs running to the bathroom, talking loudly, or otherwise calling attention to themselves would not stop a man from lighting his shoes on fire in an airplane.

    That is absurd. It is also, however, entirely consistent with an extreme paranoid’s refusal to concede that there are possible innocent interpretations for what he perceives as threats.

    Phil (427875)

  16. Reed tried to light a fuse sticking out of his shoes.

    I’m sure there’s a perfectly reasonable explanation for holding matches in one hand and a shoe in the other. I wouldn’t want to scapegoat a whole religion by finding something nefarious about holding a shoe in your hand.

    You know how I know you’re a lefty, Phil? Because you can say something as obtuse as you did and just blithely expect anybody to nod along with your eminently reasonable and oh, so charitable and open-minded take.

    But it’s crap. You people aren’t serious about stopping terrorists. You prefer to let others act while you berate them for scapegoating a religion (that’s not Christian, that is.)

    Reed failed to blow up the plane because he couldn’t light a match. The passengers became alarmed when he began striking matches and put a beat-down on him. You would have them rationalize his match-striking behavior as harmless for fear of scapegoating him. “It’s only matches, don’t get hysterical!”

    Unless you were on the plane. Then you would expect somebody else to stick their neck out and question his actions while you sit there preening.

    spongeworthy (45b30e)

  17. And perhaps Reed or someone DID do a dry run and wasn’t caught. Thus the later attack. We don’t know.

    For Phil, if you are a white person suspicious of an Arab, you are a bigot, even if you are surrounded by people of various colors and creeds seeing and thinking the same thing.

    Viktor (470563)

  18. “You know how I know you’re a lefty, Phil?”

    That’s a great strategy — when you run out of rational justifications for your assumptions, just dismiss me as a “lefty.” Then it doesn’t matter whether you have a rational explanation for your position or not.

    Because you can say something as obtuse as you did and just blithely expect anybody to nod along with your eminently reasonable and oh, so charitable and open-minded take.

    Oh, and you know what I’m thinking, too — just like you’re convinced you know what the muslims on the plane were thinking. Reading minds/thoughts — that’s another typical sign of extreme paranoia.

    Phil (427875)

  19. For Phil, if you are a white person suspicious of an Arab, you are a bigot.

    I have never said that being suspicious of anybody makes you anything. Nor have I ever called anyone a bigot.

    But responding to what I actually say is to much effort, I guess. Just make up something that you can easily refute, and respond to that, instead.

    Phil (427875)

  20. Phil, let me introduce you to what I call the Body Heat theory of morality, after the great movie with Kathleen Turner.

    Things are just a little askew. Pretty soon people think the old rules aren’t in effect. They start breaking them. Figure no one’ll care, cause it’s emergency time… time out.

    Now, in real life Osama bin Laden had so much trouble finding and training hijacker recruits, his team had to play one short. In the alternative universe, Muslim terror teams are just everywhere, flooding the skies with “probes” and “dry runs”, without a single one getting arrested and convicted. Well, that serves some purposes: I’m sure it’s a psychological payoff to a few pilots, law enforcement officers, right-wing pundits, and civil anti-libertarians. I over-estimated the air marshals, Hudson really did find two disgruntled individuals (one of whom had been fired) to opine that Flight 327 was a dry run, over against the incomprehensible conspiracy of the people who were there to cover it up. (The air marshal who was there must really be kicking himself for passing up the chance to cinch a Medal of Freedom award—oh, wait, that only goes to people who have screwed up.)

    The fact that the state of the art in yellow argumentation is that people (like the FBI?) who don’t support their reading of Flight 327 wouldn’t stop someone sitting next to them from blowing up a plane.

    Andrew J. Lazarus (24eb94)

  21. Body Heat a great movie ?!?!?
    oh please. Though I did rather like the Ted Danson DA and wished that there had been a branch movie starring that character.

    seePea (38fcb2)

  22. AJL, this probably flew right over your head, but the dude sitting there waitng for someone else to either stop a hijacker or place himself in phil’s sights as a panicky racist is a metaphor for the Left’s opportunistic take on real domestic terror. Sure, you guys want it stopped if you’re at risk, but knowing the chances are slim you will be at risk, you can sit on the high ground and preen.

    Is that plain enough for you?

    spongeworthy (45b30e)


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