Fishing for Truthers

Stanley Fish, a regular in the New York Times editorial pages and a part-time Andes resident, writes today about how he lied to a bunch of left-wing 9/11 conspiracy theorists having a meeting in Livingston Manor in order to observe them at close range:

I was the only insincere one in the room. I didn’t announce myself as a columnist looking for something to write about. I let them think I was one of them. When a speaker began his presentation by asking, “Is there anyone here who holds to the official story?”, I didn’t raise my hand. When he followed up by asking whether anyone was on the fence, I raised my hand weakly, along with one other person who, presumably, was telling the truth. Technically, I hadn’t done anything wrong, but I felt dishonest and I was certainly being duplicitous.

Oh Stanley, I bet you weren't as undercover as you think you were. Probably because you were busy scribbling down the names of the speakers in a suspicious, journalist-ey manner:

I distanced myself from my discomfort by regarding the event as theater and inventorying the dramatis personae. They were straight out of central casting. Sander Hicks, the master of ceremonies, looked like an amalgam of Johnny Depp, Sean Penn and Matt Dillon; he kept things moving and implored “put your hands together” as each speaker came to the podium. Paul Zarembka played (and was) the left-leaning academic economist. He said, “The ruling class will do anything to keep in power.” The Rev. Ian Alterman preached gentleness, humility and respect. He said that those who have an investment in the official lies because that’s all they’ve ever heard cannot be approached in a confrontational manner.

What was the point of all this elaborate subterfuge? It's unclear: Fish ends his column with a vague conclusion about how people can really surprise you sometimes:

At the end of the afternoon and before the conference-ending dinner, I slipped away. I thought about identifying myself before leaving. I should have, but I didn’t. Instead I drove home to a small dinner party: my wife and I, another couple and a friend. I told them about what I had seen and heard. The man of the couple said that on Sept. 11, 2001, when he heard the news, “inside job” was the first thought he had, although he hadn’t bothered much with the thought since. Our other guest told us that her brother-in-law was even more a partisan of the “government-did-it” view than those I had listened to. I guess you never know.

An observation: Is it paranoia if undercover journalists are really out to get you?