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Day of the Planes: A 9/11 excerpt from ‘The Management of Savagery’

In “The Management of Savagery,” Max Blumenthal explores the Saudi connection to the 9/11 attacks, the Islamophobic US backlash, and the neocon push to destabilize the Middle East
 
Max Blumenthal 
 
Part 3 - Pam Anderson’s Jet

The catastrophic and catalyzing events of September 11, 2001, unfolded live on one of New York City’s top morning talk shows.

At 9:01, Howard Stern delivered a brief update about the first plane hitting the World Trade Center, gashing open the face of the tower and sending plumes of smoke into the sky. “I don’t even know how you begin to fight that fire,” he commented. Then, without missing a beat, the legendary shock jock returned to an inane yarn about his date with former Baywatch star Pamela Anderson at a seedy Midtown bar called Scores.

I felt her butt,” Stern bragged to his randy co-hosts. A highly involved discussion ensued about his failure to “bang Pam Anderson.

I wasn’t gonna sit there and work it all night,” Stern explained moments before the second plane hit. Then, as soon as Tower 2 caught fire, he quipped, “I’m telling you, it was Pam Anderson’s jet.

Minutes later, Stern’s producers began piping in audio from the local CBS affiliate, setting a traumatizing aural atmosphere that recalled Orson Welles’ “War of the Worlds.” Stern apparently realized the flames were the product of a terror attack, probably by Muslim extremists. Confronted with a national calamity, he and his shrieking sidekick Robin Quivers immediately shifted gears.

We’ve gotta go bomb everything over there,” Quivers insisted. “We’ve gotta bomb the hell out of them!” Stern added. “You know who it is. I can’t say but I know who it is. This is more upsetting than me not getting Pam Anderson!

As the smoke engulfed lower Manhattan, Stern descended into a series of genocidal tirades. “We’ve gotta drop an atomic bomb,” he proclaimed.

There has got to be a war,” Quivers demanded. “But a devastating war, where people die. Burn their eyes out!

Thirty minutes later, as the news of mass civilian casualties poured in, Stern had transformed into a cartoon villain: “Now is the time to not even ask questions. To drop a few atomic bombs. Do a few chemical warfare hits! Let their people suffer until they understand!

Because we haven’t been bothering anybody,” Quivers interjected. “They started screaming about colonialism. We stopped.”

Moments later, Stern repeated his call for nuclear annihilation. “Blow them all to sky high!” he said. “Atom bombs! Just do it so they’re flattened out and turned into a paved road and we’ll take the oil for ourselves.

This was not right-wing radio, but one of the consistently most highly rated morning shows in the country. Stern’s exterminationist diatribes demonstrated how deeply the neoconservative mind-set had been inculcated into mainstream American culture, how it had been simmering just below the surface of the bawdy blather that normally dominated the drive-time airwaves and was waiting to explode upon what PNAC described as “some catastrophic and catalyzing event.

The sleaze-laden shock jock who compared himself to Dan Rather as the attacks unfolded had given voice to large sectors of a shell-shocked public, earning him praise for channeling the outrage that average New Yorkers felt on that clear blue day.

Exactly a week later, before an audience of millions on the Late Show with David Letterman, the real Dan Rather appeared in the guest chair to render Stern’s tirades into smooth, vaguely Texas-accented sound-bites.

This will be long, the casualties will be greater,” Rather informed Letterman. “We’ve suffered casualties but there will be more. When we send our sons and daughters into this kind of war, into this twilight zone that they’re going, there will be great casualties.

Visibly exhausted after nights of long, emotionally taxing broadcasts, Rather broke down several times. Following one teary display, he gathered his composure just enough to issue a vow of loyalty to the nation’s leader. “George Bush is the president,” said Rather. “He makes the decisions. As just one American, wherever he wants me to line up, just tell me where.

When Letterman attempted a mild intervention —“What are the events that pissed [bin Laden] off?”— Rather insisted on the most comforting explanation possible, one that formed the basis of Bush’s talking points: “They hate America. They hate us. This is one of those things that makes this war different. They don’t want territory. They don’t want what we’ve got. They want to kill us and destroy us … Some evil, it can’t be explained.

Letterman explored another line of critical questioning, this one slightly more daring than the last, but softened it with a humorous tinge: “I think about the CIA, they can’t even find the drinking fountain. Have we made some mistake, or done something we shouldn’t have?” Rather quickly pivoted away from the uncomfortable question to one of the Bush administration’s pet obsessions.

Saddam Hussein—if he isn’t connected to this,” Rather stated, “he’s connected to many other things. He’s part of this ‘hate America’ thing … His hate is deep for us … It’s a new place and we’re headed for a new place.

And where was that new place? According to Rather, delivering an eerily faithful recitation of neoconservative plans for the Middle East, “the focus is on, and we should understand, not just Afghanistan—Afghanistan, Sudan, Iran, Iraq, Syria and Libya.

Like Stern, Rather could hardly be associated with the exclusive, almost incestuous family of the neoconservatives. But the outlook they had insinuated into the country’s political culture and impressed upon the Bush administration had clearly shaped his understanding of the Middle East, terrorism and warfare. Through familiar, trustworthy faces like Rather, the American public was seeded with the mentality of interventionism and military unilateralism.

Down at the Pentagon, whose western wing had been smoldering only days before, Wesley Clark, the former head of the military’s European Command, strode into the office of a member of the military’s Joint Chiefs of Staff. “We’re going to attack Iraq,” the general grumbled to him, a look of anguish on his face. “The decision has basically been made.

Clark returned to the same general six weeks later to revisit the issue of invading Iraq, a source of rising exasperation among the Pentagon brass. “Oh, it’s worse than that,” the general told Clark. He waved around a classified memo he had just received. “Here’s the paper from the Office of the Secretary of Defense [Donald Rumsfeld] outlining the strategy. We’re going to take out seven countries in five years.” He then rattled off the Bush administration’s targets for regime change: first Iraq, then Syria and finally Iran, with Lebanon, Libya, Somalia and Sudan somewhere in between.

The memo was a virtual mimeograph of the neoconservative “A Clean Break” produced in 1996 for Netanyahu. The momentum toward an invasion of Iraq was almost unstoppable.

***

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