J.M. Berger is a freelance journalist. Over the last six months, he has worked for the Boston Globe, National Public Radio, and the National Geographic Channel. He also covers terrorism at IntelWire. You can also visit his website.
I recently interviewed Berger via email, asking him five questions about terrorism and the media.
With all the conspiracy theories out there regarding 9/11, have you arrived at any conclusions regarding the event? We often read about people describing the terrorism problem as the 'so-called war on terror.' Professor of Political Science at Ohio State University John Mueller contemplated recently in Foreign Affairs about the possible exaggeration of a terrorist threat within the United States in an essay titled 'Is there Still a Terrorist Threat?' Is the threat not real? In what form does it exist and to what degree?
I think the official story is essentially correct. The alternative accounts of that day proffered by some are a) far more complicated and unlikely than the official account, and b) predicated on some highly questionable leaps of "logic." I've seen too much "investigative" reporting that is predicated on "logic." Logic is the opposite of investigation even when the logic is sound, which is almost never the case in 9/11 conspiracy theories.
Have U.S. authorities exaggerated the threat of terrorism? The answer to this is both yes and no. I don't think they understand the threat of terrorism. They're happy enough to use fear as a political tool, and they have taken draconian measures that encroach on basic American values while often ignoring basic, common-sense steps that would actually make us safer. But to say there is no real threat from al Qaeda and groups inspired by al Queda is foolish. An attempt at nuclear terrorism is virtually inevitable. The question is whether it will happen sooner or later; and whether it will come in the U.S., or abroad; whether it can be prevented and whether it will be prevented.
The line between what is fact and what is fiction has blurred. A marvelous example of this is the Da Vinci Code and Michael Moore phenomena. My questions are twofold: Does this concern you? How would you suggest readers begin to separate fact from fiction?
It's completely specious to group The DaVinci Code with Michael Moore. One is fiction - pure and simple- and the other is documentary with a political agenda. Neither of these things are new phenomena.
The uniquely modern problem is that people are flooded with information, and they either don't know how to make discriminating judgments about the credibility of that information, or they simply don't want to be bothered. There's another level of problem that stems from the intense complexity of modern society. For instance, anyone who claims to be able to predict stock market activity is lying — often to themselves as much as to others.