The media should engage with "conspiracy theorists"

Dismissing Japanese politician's concerns over the September 11 attacks gives credence to believers'

Since 2008, the Japanese Diet member Yukihisa Fujita has been voicing concerns over the US account of the events of 11 September 2001. His much-documented conversion to the "truth movement" via dubious internet videos such as Loose Change is a cause for concern, and it is tempting to dismiss him as an irrational fantasist.

Yet, beneath his recourse to contestable evidence, and his affiliation with sacred cows such as David Ray Griffin (with whom he co-authored Questioning 9/11 in Japan's Parliament), is a critical faculty absent from too much of the political class. Fujita may have deflated his own arguments with "facts" culled from the net, including doubts over whether the Pentagon was struck by a plane at all, but the knee-jerk reactions of the media have been equally counterproductive.

Yesterday's Washington Post insisted:

Mr Fujita's ideas about the attack on the World Trade Center, which he shared with us in a recent interview, are too bizarre, half-baked and intellectually bogus to merit serious discussion.

But why? Surely one of the functions of the media is to inform through reasoned debate. Such refusals to engage with "bogus" ideas only serve to fuel the believers' conviction. If they are wrong, why not prove it with evidence, instead of trying to force consensus with nothing but bullying language?

The Post accuses Fujita of being "fact-averse", and casts those who question the official account as members of the "lunatic fringe". But crucially, it identifies the MP's views as rooted in the rising tide of anti-US sentiment in Japan. If so, dispelling the myth of US complicity in 9/11 should help ease relations between the two countries.

Agree with him or not, Fujita is an articulate and intelligent politician. His criticisms of Japan's failure to carry out a full investigation of US claims for war in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks are sound. And his insistence that there is a distinction between acts of war and crime is a creditable contribution to the debate on war in the Middle East.

That such an influential figure -- the director general of the Democratic Party's international department, no less -- could succumb to the lure of "truther" polemics shows how inflated the issue has become.

The tarring catch-all that is the term "conspiracy theory" is inadequate as a tool for meaningful debate. Less strong-arming from the media, please, as well as the Loose Change set.

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Yo Zushi is a sub-editor of the New Statesman. His work as a musician is released by Eidola Records.

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Q&A: What happened at Barnet's polling stations this morning?

Eager democrats who arrived early in the morning to vote in the London elections were turned away. 

What’s going on?

When polls first opened at Barnet’s 155 polling stations at 7 this morning, many registered voters found that they were not on the station’s voting lists, meaning they were unable to cast their vote. Many reports suggested that the overwhelming majority were turned away. Rules were later relaxed in some, but not all, polling stations to allow those who arrived with their polling cards (which explicitly state they are not needed to cast a vote) to vote.

Why is this happening?

It is, needless to say, unclear. But some reports have suggested that polling station staff only had the updates to the electoral register (that is, those who have newly-registered) rather than the entire register itself. Which makes you wonder why nobody realised before 7am that there might be rather more people wanting to vote in Barnet than the lists suggested.

Is this a conspiracy?

No, of course it’s not. And if you think it is, take the tinfoil hat off and stop watching Russia Today. Barnet is a Tory-led council. If this mess harms any party it is likely to be the Conservatives. We don’t know how Barnet voted for mayor in 2012, but we do know the votes of Barnet plus predominantly Labour-supporting Camden: Boris Johnson got 82,839 first preference votes while Ken Livingstone received 58,354. But remember London’s not just electing a mayor today. It is also electing the members of the Greater London Assembly – and one of them represents the constituency of Barnet and Camden. The incumbent, Andrew Dismore, is from the Labour Party, and is running for reelection. He won fairly comfortably in 2012, far outperforming Ken Livingstone. But Tory campaigners have been talking up the possibility of defeating Dismore, especially in recent days after Labour’s anti-semitism ructions (Barnet has London’s largest Jewish population). Again, if there are voters who failed to vote this morning and cannot to do so later, then that will hurt the Conservatives and help Dismore.

Is it the fault of nasty outsourcers?

Seemingly not. As we’ve written before, Barnet Council is famous for outsourcing vast proportions of its services to private contractors – births and deaths in the borough are now registered elsewhere, for example. But though postal votes and other areas of electoral administration have been outsourced by Barnet, voter registration is performed in-house. This one’s on the council and nobody else.

What has Barnet done about it?

The council initially issued a statement saying that it was “aware of problems with our voter registration lists” and admitting that “a number of people who had not brought their polling card with them were unable to vote”. Which was a bit peculiar given the polling cards say that you don’t need to bring them to vote and there were plenty of reports of people who had polling cards also being denied their democratic rights.

As of 10.40am, the council said that: “All the updated electoral registers are now in place and people can vote as normal.” There appear to be no plans to extend voting hours – and it is not possible to reopen polling tomorrow morning for the frustrated early birds to return.

What does this mean for the result?

It’s very hard to form even a vaguely accurate picture of how many voters who would otherwise have voted will not vote because of this error. But if the margin of victory in the mayoral election or the relevant GLA contest is especially slim, expect calls for a re-run. Frustrated voters could in theory achieve that via the arcane procedure of an election petition, which would then be heard by a special election court, as when Lutfur Rahman’s election as Mayor of Tower Hamlets was declared void in April 2015.

Some have suggested that this may delay the eventual result, but remember that counting for the London elections was not due to begin until Friday morning anyway.

Is there a dodgier barnet than this Barnet?

Yes.

 

Henry Zeffman writes about politics and is the winner of the Anthony Howard Award 2015.