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September 8, 2021 42 min

For the second season of Is that a fact?, we’re exploring the origins of false narratives and the harm they have caused. We know that sharing misinformation is misleading and leaves people poorly informed, but we wanted to go deeper and explore how fictional information starts and then bubbles to the surface to misdirect the country’s civic and cultural discourse.

For our first episode of the season, we take a look back at the myths that surround the September 11 attacks as the 20th anniversary of that day approaches. One of the core drivers of 9/11 misinformation was the film Loose Change, which our first guest, Esquire magazine correspondent John McDermott tells us, “remains probably the single most popular piece of conspiracy media ever created.” He explains how the film started a movement of conspiracy theorists that planted the seeds for today’s Qanon believers. 

Our second guest, James Meigs, former Popular Mechanics editor-in-chief, discusses how his team of journalists debunked many of the myths propagated by Loose Change even before the film came out. “What was really powerful about Loose Change wasn’t the specific claim,” said Meigs. “It was the overall mood of the film making… It had really cool music. It had all this slow motion. It had this very compelling narration, even if a lot of it didn’t make a lot of sense. It was quite powerful to watch.”

Our final guest is Ann Van Hine whose husband was a firefighter killed the day of the terrorist attacks explained dealing with the anniversary in personal terms and explains what it’s like to come face to face with so-called Truthers while working as a docent at the 9/11 Tribute Museum.

Is that a fact? is brought to you by the nonpartisan, non-profit News Literacy Project. For more information, go to newslit.org.

Relevant interviews and links:

  • A comprehensive history of Loose Change — and the seeds it planted in our politics, by John McDermott, Esquire Magazine
  • Debunking 9/11 conspiracy theories, Popular Mechanics
  • Pieces falling: Navigating 9/11 with faith, family, and the FDNY, by Ann Van Hine
  • 9/11 debate: Loose Change filmmakers vs. Popular Mechanics editors of ‘Debunking 9/11 myths’
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