Columnist and reporter Jim Dwyer provided comfort to left-wing anti-Bush conspirators everywhere when he gave respectability to Rosie O'Donnell's wacky theorizing about how World Trade Center No. 7 collapsed ("miraculously, for the first time in history, steel was melted by fire").
Even the headline misleads: "On Her Way Out the Door, Rosie O'Donnell Revives a Conspiracy Theory About 9/11." Actually, the recently departed co-host of "The View" said it on the March 29 edition of the show - two full months ago.
"The first day of the post-Rosie O'Donnell era on 'The View' television show has come and gone, and by any fair accounting, an often useful provocateur has left the building.
"In her final months on the air, she mostly dropped her public torment of an attention-starved, orange-haired real estate developer. Instead, she opened debates with others about terrorism, peace and citizenship."
(You can read some of O'Donnell's more "useful" debates (including her conspiracy theory on WTC 7) in this compilation by the Media Research Center.)
"She also recently took up - without quite spelling out - a theory that one of the buildings at the World Trade Center, No. 7, was brought down by bombs late in the afternoon of Sept. 11, 2001. No. 7 was not one of the towers struck by the airplanes, she said, but a separate building 'that got hit by nothing - 47 floors and dropped, 5:30, into itself.'
"She also said: 'I do believe that it's the first time in history that fire has ever melted steel. I do believe that it defies physics that World Trade Center Tower 7 - Building 7, which collapsed in on itself - it is impossible for a building to fall the way it fell without explosives being involved."
"That conversation has been left dangling by her abrupt departure from the show, but her statements made their way to Queens and the home of Daniel Nigro, retired after a life in the Fire Department. He began the morning of Sept. 11 as second-in-command; by 10:30, he was in charge, when the chief of department, Peter J. Ganci Jr., was killed.
"'I feel like I watch the show because it's replayed so often on the news: 'I never saw fire melt steel,' and the studio audience clapping, like this was some great revelation,' Mr. Nigro said. 'It's true that there has never been a skyscraper collapse as a result of just a fire. It's a natural progression to a conspiracy theory.'"
Dwyer eventually let Nigro debunk the theory. Yet he bizarrely inserted this in the middle of Nigro's dissection, as if to shore up the wacky premises behind O'Donnell's delusions.
"Few civic virtues are as useful as skepticism, though it is rarely honored until too late. The citizens who questioned the validity of the case for war in Iraq were widely scorned or ignored in 2002 and 2003 by the government and the news media."
This is not the first instance of a Times reporter giving credence to a bizarre left-wing conspiracy theory involving 9-11. In June 2006, reporter Alan Feuer gave respectful coverage to a conspiracy convention in Chicago who thought Bush caused 9-11, and he also tried to shore up its credence by pointing to more "plausible" conspiracy theories like the ones over the Kennedy assassination.
Right-wing conspirators didn't get the same sympathy from the Times during the Clinton era. The February 23, 1997 New York Times Magazine story "Clinton Crazy" by Philip Weiss, a 9,000-word story on those who thought Clinton aide Vince Foster's suicide was actually murder, referred to Clinton "haters" six times, "Clinton crazies" 11 times and four "far rights" for good measure.