Fisking Fisk

It’s perhaps something of a clichéd observation, but whenever someone clears their throat by appending “I’m not a racist, but…” to the start of their sentence, you can be all but sure that a racist remark of some kind or another will follow. In a similar vein, Robert Fisk claims that he’s “not a conspiracy theorist” in today’s Independent, and then goes on to perform a flawless impersonation of one. In my experience (and that of many rationalists), conspiracy theorists have a habit of claiming that they’re “just asking questions”; this term is then abbreviated, by said rationalists, to “JAQ” and further corrupted to form its own neologism: “JAQing off”. This undeniably pejorative colouration is due to the fact that the questions the conspiracy theorists are “just asking” are usually of the “Have you stopped beating your wife?” variety. Fisk’s are no different.

If it is true, for example, that kerosene burns at 820C under optimum conditions, how come the steel beams of the twin towers – whose melting point is supposed to be about 1,480C – would snap through at the same time?

This particular question serves as a classic example. Firstly, note the internal confusion over whether the steel is supposed to have melted or snapped: He begins by talking about the temperatures of the fires and the melting point of steel and finishes by asking how the “steel beams” (I think he means columns) could “snap through at the same time”. However, the two don’t appear to have any obvious and necessary connection. Secondly, he misleadingly places undue significance on the role of the kerosene itself: While kerosene-like Jet A-1 fuel undoubtedly accelerated the fires in the towers, it was not the only substance fuelling them; once they had taken hold, they had an abundance of office contents and aircraft wreckage available to work on. Thirdly, the question serves to straw man the position it purports to interrogate: No one is claiming that all of the columns snapped at the same time. Nor are they claiming that any of the steel melted. The following is from the National Institute of Standards and Technology FAQ on the collapse:

In no instance did NIST report that steel in the WTC towers melted due to the fires. The melting point of steel is about 1,500 degrees Celsius (2,800 degrees Fahrenheit). Normal building fires and hydrocarbon (e.g., jet fuel) fires generate temperatures up to about 1,100 degrees Celsius (2,000 degrees Fahrenheit). NIST reported maximum upper layer air temperatures of about 1,000 degrees Celsius (1,800 degrees Fahrenheit) in the WTC towers (for example, see NCSTAR 1, Figure 6-36).

However, when bare steel reaches temperatures of 1,000 degrees Celsius, it softens and its strength reduces to roughly 10 percent of its room temperature value. Steel that is unprotected (e.g., if the fireproofing is dislodged) can reach the air temperature within the time period that the fires burned within the towers. Thus, yielding and buckling of the steel members (floor trusses, beams, and both core and exterior columns) with missing fireproofing were expected under the fire intensity and duration determined by NIST for the WTC towers.

One might be excused for thinking that Fisk should have made at least a passing attempt to familiarise himself with the basics of the subject matter – perhaps by having actually read the above – before putting pen to paper.

They collapsed in 8.1 and 10 seconds.

This claim is particularly odd. The following is again from the National Institute of Standards and Technology FAQ:

NIST estimated the elapsed times for the first exterior panels to strike the ground after the collapse initiated in each of the towers to be approximately 11 seconds for WTC 1 and approximately 9 seconds for WTC 2.

It seems that Fisk (or the conspiracy theorist who deceived him) has taken these figures and deducted a second from each for good effect. In doing so, however, he’s caused himself something of a problem. Even in a vacuum (in other words, unimpeded even by air-resistance), the time it would have taken for an object to fall from the roofs of the towers to the ground is 9.22 seconds. So, we can see from the off that Fisk’s lower figure of 8.1 seconds is simply physically impossible. Further, it’s important to note the wording of the NIST quotation. The figures they cite are the “elapsed times for the first exterior panels to strike the ground after the collapse initiated”; they are not the total times for the collapses of the entire structures.

What about the third tower – the so-called World Trade Centre Building 7 (or the Salmon Brothers Building) – which collapsed in 6.6 seconds in its own footprint at 5.20pm on 11 September?

World Trade Centre 7 did not collapse in 6.6 seconds. Conspiracy theorists arrive at this figure by timing only the collapse of the visible exterior (the façades, etc.) of the building.  They ignore the fact that the collapse had initiated some eight seconds prior when the east mechanical penthouse began to sink into the main superstructure. Further, the building did not fall into its own footprint: The collapse caused significant damage to surrounding structures such as 30 West Broadway and The Verizon Building, and minor damage to several others.

Incidentally, World Trade Centre 7 was also known as The Salomon Brothers Building. Personally, I’ve never heard of “The Salmon Brothers Building”. Perhaps it’s a Fish ‘n’ Grill.

Why did it so neatly fall to the ground when no aircraft had hit it?

Indeed, World Trade Centre 7 was not hit by an aircraft. It was hit, however, by a collapsing 110-storey skyscraper. It then suffered approximately eight hours of widespread fires. It’s rather odd that Fisk simply failed to mention those rather important contributory factors.

The American National Institute of Standards and Technology was instructed to analyse the cause of the destruction of all three buildings. They have not yet reported on WTC7.

Well, I suppose that Fisk must have applied his structural engineering expertise to the interim report on the collapse and concluded that it’s not really a report at all. Further, the final version of this report is due for release later this year. The investigators are indeed taking their time over it, but I imagine this is because they are dedicated professionals who actually care about getting things right.

Journalistically, there were many odd things about 9/11. Initial reports of reporters that they heard “explosions” in the towers – which could well have been the beams cracking – are easy to dismiss. Less so the report that the body of a female air crew member was found in a Manhattan street with her hands bound.

I have to admit to being somewhat unsure of the point Fisk is trying to make. Presumably, we’re to conclude that the idea that the terrorists might have handcuffed a flight attendant is absurd – so absurd that the existence of a massive conspiracy is at least comparably likely. (Let’s not forget that said terrorists are believed to have murdered individual passengers and crew while initiating the hijackings.)

OK, so let’s claim that was just hearsay reporting at the time, just as the CIA’s list of Arab suicide-hijackers, which included three men who were – and still are – very much alive and living in the Middle East, was an initial intelligence error.

This is a tactic Fisk applies liberally throughout the article; it’s the rhetorical equivalent of humming the theme music from The X-Files: He raises and then superficially dismisses a number of supposed anomalies in the official narrative – presumably with the intention of fostering further suspicion without actually having to commit himself to the fallacious claim in question. One might call this the passive aggressive school of conspiracy theory.

I suppose it could be considered poetically appropriate that the “Some of the terrorists are still alive” canard just won’t die. The claim generally stems from this BBC article, which has since been superseded; the uncertainty in question seems to have originated from cases of mistaken identity. From a more recent article:

The story, written in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, was about confusion at the time surrounding the names and identities of some of the hijackers. This confusion was widely reported and was also acknowledged by the FBI.

The story has been cited ever since by some as evidence that the 9/11 attacks were part of a US government conspiracy.
We later reported on the list of hijackers, thereby superseding the earlier report. In the intervening years we have also reported in detail on the investigation into the attacks, the 9/11 commission and its report.

We’ve carried the full report, executive summary and main findings and, as part of the recent fifth anniversary coverage, a detailed guide to what’s known about what happened on the day. But conspiracy theories have persisted. The confusion over names and identities we reported back in 2001 may have arisen because these were common Arabic and Islamic names.

Fisk then goes on to cast suspicion on lead hijacker Mohammed Atta’s final religious writings; we’re informed that Fisk’s Middle-Eastern Muslim acquaintances are mystified by them. Well, that doesn’t seem all that suspicious to me. I suspect that Atta’s religious justifications for murdering three-thousand innocent people might leave them scratching their heads, as well. To be frank, I’d be rather concerned if his final thoughts didn’t confound a Muslim or two.

Now that the specifics are out of the way, allow me to indulge in some conspiratorial thinking of my own: According to one Robert J. Hanlon, one should “Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity”. Wise words though they are, Hanlon’s Razor, as it is known, only goes so far. It just doesn’t seem particularly feasible, for instance, to think that an experienced journalist like Fisk could have written such a straightforwardly error-ridden and innuendo-laden article due to incompetence alone. Further, he’s also reasonably well known for both fostering and manifesting a Westerner’s self-loathing of the most wretched kind. So, it seems at least possible that Fisk wrote this piece for purely ideological reasons: To spread misinformation and doubt about the core premise for some of the United States’ least popular actions – to groundlessly and cynically call 9/11 itself into question.


22 Responses to “Fisking Fisk”

  1. 1 Borden Rosenberger August 26, 2007 at 10:16 pm

    Fish should write an entire article thanking you.

    After all you just administered a more thorough beating on his rancid self-hating carcass than those Afghans.

    It would only be fair of him.

    However, don’t hold your breath. Fair to a wanker like him obviously involves corporal punishment.

  2. 2 jason August 27, 2007 at 3:18 am

    what a hit peice….go and do your homework b4 you decide to take on the big issues such as state building 7 did not fall on its footprint and that it was also damaged by wtc 1 or 2….that is a complete lie….go take a look at the footage of building 7 and then tell me it was hit by wtc 1 or 2 and that it it didnt fallon its footprint…..u are either a liar or a fool….more likely a liar working for some gov dept

  3. 3 Ronald Wieck August 27, 2007 at 7:07 am

    An excellent piece exposing the disingenuousness of a most unobjective “journalist.”
    The reflexive incoherence of dunces like “jason” shows that you struck a nerve. As the lies of the fantasy movement crumble into their own footprints, the agenda-driven cranks grow increasingly desperate.

    To the loons:
    Yes, I will gladly tell you that WTC 7 was hit by tons of debris and I will further tell you that it–demonstrably–did not fall neatly.
    Now, you tell us something that no other conspiracy liar to date been able to: How does the collapse of building 7 fit into your imaginary conspiracy’s plan to conquer the world for Halliburton, or whatever the hell the purpose was.

  4. 4 micro August 27, 2007 at 1:52 pm

    Fisk did somthig good by opening this to a open discussion. It does not mather if it is true or not. Many people think that it is true and therefore we need to talk about it and not hide it in the closet.

    Thanks Fish, You made my weekly hero list.

  5. 5 Ed August 27, 2007 at 2:20 pm

    Fisk did somthig good by opening this to a open discussion. It does not mather if it is true or not. Many people think that it is true and therefore we need to talk about it and not hide it in the closet. Thanks Fish, You made my weekly hero list.


    In that case, you must positively revere David Irving and other holocaust deniers. (Incidentally, you claim to be glad to see this issue “open to discussion”. So, it seems fairly ironic that you appear to have deleted the comments left by others on your blog that linked to my rebuttal, leaving only those that praise Fisk’s article.)

  6. 6 Ed August 27, 2007 at 2:23 pm

    …go take a look at the footage of building 7 and then tell me it was hit by wtc 1 or 2 and that it it didnt fallon its footprint…..u are either a liar or a fool….more likely a liar working for some gov dept

    Jason (and anyone else who might be inclined to take his rabid comments seriously):

    If you can manage to steady your hands long enough to click on a link, I advise you to take a look at this photograph.

  7. 7 Dave F August 27, 2007 at 8:08 pm

    Fisk has finally gone completely into meltdown. I can’t understand his continued holy status at the Indy. It’s like the hero worship of Bob Mugabe by his neighbours. Like Thabo Mbeki who dipped into the internet and found evidence of an Aids conspiracy plot thing, Robert has got busy on his keyboard and found some of the thousands, if not millions of loony sites preaching 9/11 denial. For god’s sake someone point him to the Popular Mechanics article which examined and debunked every single ignorant assertion about mysterious temperature anomalies, the “controlled explosion” of building 7, the missiles disguised with holograms of Boeings, etc etc.

  8. 8 Quixote August 28, 2007 at 1:10 am

    One quibble, just because I’m anal: Your required times for a cladding panel to hit the ground is based on a fall from the roof. However, it’s not clear that the initial panels to fall were at roof-level, and were more likely at the height the planes hit.

  9. 9 Ed August 28, 2007 at 1:26 am


    Well, I’m trying to make two separate points there. Firstly, I’m comparing Fisk’s lower figure of 8.1 seconds (a roof to ground time) with the free-fall in a vacuum figure of 9.22 seconds (also a roof to ground time). Secondly, I’m pointing out that what he states are total collapse times are actually (falsified versions of) the times in which NIST say it took for the first panels to hit the ground. (However, you’re quite right that the NIST timings would refer to the shorter distances of from the crash-sites to the ground rather than from the roofs to the ground; I could indeed have been clearer!)

  10. 10 Phil August 28, 2007 at 10:59 am

    Have you tried getting the Indy to print this?
    I guess it would be too embarrassing for Robert.

  11. 11 Ed August 28, 2007 at 2:12 pm


    I hadn’t thought about it until you mentioned it. However, my blogmate (if that’s the right term) took the liberty and contacted them on my behalf. We’ll see if anything transpires.

  12. 12 Quixote August 29, 2007 at 6:52 am

    Thanks, that makes sense.

  13. 13 The Vol Abroad August 31, 2007 at 6:09 pm

    Excellent post. And while I don’t agree with a previous poster that the Independent publishing this packet of half-truths (at best) contributes to an open and honest debate about 9/11 conspiracies – I think we do need to have some discussion about it. Too many in the ‘Arab street’ believe exactly what Fisk has described – and worse (specifically the lies that Jews received a warning from Mossad – the real culprit – and none died).

    Avoiding a rehearsal of conspiracy theories, the discussion needs to be about understanding each others’ sense of grievances and accepting facts as they are available.

  14. 14 janama September 3, 2007 at 7:10 am

    either way this subject needs to be discussed, just calling Popular Mechanics doesn’t carry any weight anymore as there are plenty of sites refuting their findings, like this one.
    Currently 65% of voters at MSNBC question the Government’s explanation of 9/11 events.

    as you say at the top of the page “I Might Be Wrong” In this case you may be. We are all guessing but somehow you seem to think you are guessing better than anyone else. That’s arrogance in my book.

  15. 15 Ed September 3, 2007 at 2:39 pm


    I have to wonder whether you actually read my piece before commenting on it. Not once did I as much as mention Popular Mechanics, let alone simply appeal to their authority. (I should point out though, that Richard Gage and his equally fraudulent group of acolytes don’t even appear to know how NIST conclude that the towers collapsed, so it’s rather difficult to take them seriously. Further, amongst the overpriced merchandise for sale on Gage’s website, are these “evidence cards” (a snip at only $1 each). On them, you’ll find some of the same tired old falsehoods that Fisk dredged up for his article. They seem to be the conspiracy theorists’ version of Pokémon. In other words, a fantasy-based money-spinner.)

    Given that this 2004 CBS poll shows that 55% of Americans believe in literal biblical creationism, the figure you cite, even if it were an accurate representation, shouldn’t cause me to think that my beliefs concerning the events of 9/11 are necessarily in error. People believe weird things – and in great numbers, too.

    I am not “guessing” about what occurred on 9/11. I am making an assessment based on the available evidence. That is a demonstrably better approach than the ones taken by the vast majority of conspiracy theorists, and there’s nothing all that “arrogant” about saying so. Nevertheless, instead of argumentum ad populum and accusations of superciliousness, perhaps you should tell me what, if anything, I get wrong.

  16. 16 Jeremy September 6, 2007 at 11:39 am

    I’m not a Nazi, but…

    It’s perhaps something of a clichéd observation, but whenever someone clears their throat by appending “I’m not a racist, but…” to the start of their sentence, you can be all but sure that a racist remark of some kind or another will follow.

    It’s actually, not appending, but prepending.

  17. 17 Ed September 6, 2007 at 2:21 pm


    Thanks for the tip. Indeed, “prepending” might have been more specific and perhaps stylistically preferable: I could have rendered the words “the start of” redundant. Marginally in my defence, however, as far as I can tell, “appending” is a fairly generic term and does not seem to imply that the appendage in question is being affixed to any specific location.

  18. 18 Martin November 2, 2007 at 8:50 am

    I had found Fisk’s article late while researching counter arguments against 9/11 conspiracies, on Oct 16, but sent him an airmail letter complaining (I had met him before and mentioned it, plus he knows a semi-famous guy I’m working with, so I thought he might read it.)
    On Oct 30 at 8:30am US Mountain time the phone rings, it’s Robert Fisk, calling from Beirut, thanking me for my letter and for the disk with the superb rebuttal by Ryan Mackey of David Ray Griffin “Debunking…” book.
    He said he mostly agreed with my criticism but that the cover-up of the grave mistakes in the run up and later the handling of the crisis, the reluctant investigation, and the sheer scale of the thing led people to suspect there was more, then making it up as they went along. Fisk mostly explained it as an artifact of the internet which gives (dubious) resources but not actual research skills to amateurs. He compared it to the Lockerbie trials which, he said, was also a botched investigation leaving many questions that sprouted similar conspiracy theories.
    I was stunned that my simple letter had had such an impact.
    (He even asked someone from Amnesty headquarters from London who called on the other line to hold while we were chatting…)
    Why am I telling this story? Perhaps because I haven’t felt that important in months :) Actually: because it showed me that journalists, even the best, depend on people filling them in on things. So if you have a case to make, do so. If you really want to influence someone, use your clearest language, and better yet, funnel it through someone whom the target knows and trusts. I often write two versions or split a letter to the editor in two: one part the brief polite one for publication, the other explicitely not for publication but as illustration or to provide evidence for my claims for the editor’s eyes only.

  19. 19 Bilal September 12, 2012 at 2:04 pm

    9/11 was inside game of america

  1. 1 Dodgeblogium » Blog Archive » Fisking Fisk Trackback on August 27, 2007 at 11:48 am
  2. 2 Jack’s Newswatch Trackback on August 27, 2007 at 1:36 pm
  3. 3 robmyers - links for 2007-08-27 Trackback on August 28, 2007 at 12:19 am

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