Across these ten pages runs a sober, carefully reported narrative by a well-respected reporter, Christopher Ketcham. He’s a journalist whom publications such as Harper’s and Salon.com have been happy to publish. Indeed, it was in May of 2002 that Salon published a 9,000- word story by Ketcham on the socalled Israeli “art students” whose curious activities before 9/11/2001, around U.S. government offices and in locations in many cases identical to those frequented by the 9/11 hijackers, had been the subject of much speculation.
In the fall of 2005 Ketcham ran across a short report in the Philadelphia Times-Herald about a 166-page memorandum written by a retired corporate lawyer named Gerald Shea. The memo, which Shea sent to the 9/11 Commission and the relevant Senate and House intelligence committees, reviewed all publicly known information about the activities of possible Israeli intelligence operatives working in New Jersey, Florida and elsewhere, and posed the questions: how much had the Mossad learned about the hijackers’ plans; what had they divulged to the agencies of the U.S. government ?
These are not questions likely to receive an enthusiastic reception in the U.S. press or in Congress. Shea’s memo, which he sent to many major news outlets, received almost no coverage aside from that tiny story in the Philadelphia Times-Herald (written, it should be noted, by Keith Phucas, who broke the Able Danger story).
After reading Shea’s full memo, Ketcham went back to the leads and sources he’d developed for the earlier piece that he’d done for Salon. By May 2006 he’d completed an 11,000-word report for Salon. One hour before it was due to go up on Salon’s site, the story was killed. The word from inside Salon is that the top editors suddenly decided that there was nothing newsworthy about Ketcham’s report.
Anyone familiar with the verbal smokescreens sent up by a publication killing a story knows well two standard ploys: one is the last-minute assertion, often after weeks of enthusiastic editorial preparation, that “there’s really nothing new here”, that “it’s an old story”. The other is that the facts are so explosive, so fresh, that unusually explicit corroboration is required, demanding the reporter get multiple named sources and so forth.
Salon’s editors obviously decided that an exposé with words like “Israeli spies” and “9/11” in the same headline was just too hot to handle. But in that case why wait to the last minute, after long hours of editorial work preparing the story for publication? They probably didn’t like to admit to themselves that were just not prepared to take heat for the story and that they simply got cold feet.
Ketcham took the story to a number of other magazines and got nowhere. Then, in the late summer of 2006 he took it to the Nation, whose editors said that yes, they wanted the story, but wouldn’t schedule it till after the crush of political coverage in the run-up to the November elections. The target publication date was December 8. At the last minute, the Nation pulled the piece.
When we first read it, we felt – and still feel – somewhat baffled at the difficulty this piece had in getting published. This is a report that deals with substantiated events that demand explanation, starting with the van on the New Jersey shore and the Israelis who were seen cheering as the planes crashed into the towers, and who on the afternoon of 9/11 were arrested following an FBI alert.
It is not as though Ketcham is alone in probing the background and activities of the celebrating Israelis. That has been the topic of a fine piece of investigation published in The Forward in 2002. The Forward’s sensational discoveries were studiously ignored by the press. (“Old story….”, “unsubstantiated”…) Similarly, the saga of the “art students” has been the object of careful investigation and broadcast pieces by Fox News’ Carl Cameron. Yes, when it comes to Israel and the U.S. press we are familiar with obstructions to raising edgy topics. That’s why we’re glad we have CounterPunch, to welcome good reporters like Ketcham in from the cold.