Until recently I had never watched “The View,” a spirited little gabfest on ABC that is, apparently, trying to destroy America. Of course, I’m referring to co-host Rosie O'Donnell’s remarks suggesting there was some sort of conspiracy behind the collapse of World Trade Center 7 on 9/11 and that the British--in an incident involving the detainment of 15 of its sailors by Iranian forces--might have intentionally been trying to provoke Iran as a prelude to some larger action, a la the Gulf of Tonkin. “Google it,” Rosie told her viewers.
You know, I’m pretty sure I don’t have to. The Gulf of Tonkin incident involved cooked American intelligence suggesting North Vietnamese forces had launched an unprovoked attack on two American vessels in August 1964. The incident, or President Lyndon Johnson’s understanding of it, led to the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, which gave the president the authority to conduct military operations against North Vietnam without a formal declaration of war. And then we were off to the races.
Whatever else you might think about Rosie, you have to grant she has the advantage of unsympathetic enemies. First it was Donald Trump, who, stung by Rosie’s mocking over the Miss U.S.A.-Tara Conner episode, went after Rosie like an irate New York cabbie, calling her fat, ugly, a loser and various shades of crazy. Trump, I think it’s fair to say, got the worst of the exchange. In the most recent dust-up, Bill O'Reilly said Rosie was a “fanatical leftist” who was actively supporting Iran against her own country. Rosie’s legions of detractors--just Google “Rosie” and “traitor"--were even less kind. Fox News’ John Gibson called Rosie a “fat lesbian vampire bat bully,” which is probably my favorite insult of all time.
Yet when I watch “The View,” I don’t see a morning talk show hijacked by seditionists, wearers of tinfoil hats or Revolutionary Guard partisans. Anything but. The show couldn’t possibly be more conventional TV--the well-lit stage and sweeping camera booms, the eager Middle American applause, the endless roundelays about relationships and movies and kids. These people are making Easter egg figures with bits of yarn, for heaven’s sake. The doyenne of “The View” is Barbara Walters, who is nobody’s idea of an anarchist. Am I to understand that “The View” is a seething bed of anti-Americanism? If so, why are there so many commercials?
“The View,” by accident or design, has an almost eerie calibration to the public at large. For example, only one of the four co-hosts--the game and reasonable Elisabeth Hasselbeck, who deserves some kind of medal--is a supporter of President Bush. In other words, 25% of the cast has a favorable opinion of Bush, pretty much in line with Bush’s approval ratings nationally. Likewise, last year a Scripps Howard poll found that 36% of the U.S. public believes the government was somehow complicit in the 9/11 attacks. I estimate Rosie constitutes 36% of the cast.
I realize only people of the most serious mind read this column, so I’ll explain: Why does pop culture matter? Because it reveals, in its turbulence of shared neuroses or distractions or antagonism what is really on our minds. And what’s on our minds lately is reasonable doubt.
It was reported late last month that actor Charlie Sheen was onboard to narrate a new version of the online 9/11 conspiracy documentary “Loose Change,” with distribution by billionaire Mark Cuban’s Magnolia Pictures. We’re not talking about a couple of flaky moonbats in an Oakland basement. Cuban owns the Dallas Mavericks. Dallas is in Texas.
Sydney Pollack will direct a film about the 2000 election called “Recount"--any guesses as to its theme? And just about everywhere you look, official narratives are coming unglued: The blue-on-blue death of Pat Tillman, for example, or the firing of eight federal prosecutors. The abduction of British sailors in what Prime Minister Tony Blair claimed was indisputably Iraqi territorial waters has proved to be quite disputable, according to Craig Murray, former head of the Foreign Office maritime section. The ex-British ambassador claims the map used by the Ministry of Defence to support its case is a fake.
Gulf of Tonkin, anyone?
I suppose I should declare myself. I am not a 9/11 conspiracy theorist. I don’t believe shadow agents of the government perpetrated an American Reichstag fire. At the same time, I’m certain we don’t know all there is to know about those events, and I don’t believe it’s giving comfort to ask for better answers.
The mainstreaming of 9/11 conspiracy thought is less about the temperatures of melting structural steel or the smell of cordite at the Pentagon. It’s about a generalized and corrosive cynicism that makes people despair of ever hearing the truth again. The data stream has been so thoroughly corrupted. Weapons of mass destruction. Abu Ghraib. The silencing of climate scientists. It’s hard for the ministries of Washington to make an appeal to authority when they have been proven so unreliable.
When people can’t believe everything their government says, they’ll believe anything.