Rosie O'Donnell's 9/11 Question

A view of ground zero on September 12. (Photo: The New York Times)

The debate over the third building that collapsed at ground zero on Sept. 11, 2001, is back.

Rosie O'Donnell's 9/11 QuestionKicking off her 9/11 investigation, Rosie O’Donnell gave fans a piece of advice: “Use google.”(Photo: Mary Altaffer/AP)

On the campaign trail, former Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani and a former senior aide are blaming each other for setting up the city’s emergency command center in a building at the World Trade Center that would be evacuated during its biggest emergency ever, collapsing hours later because of damage sustained in the terrorist attack.

Or was detonated from within? Rosie O’Donnell smells a cover-up, and has been using her seat on her morning talk show, “The View,” to raise questions. Before leaving as a full-time host, she plans to tackle the issue in a special segment.

If her reading list is any guide, the soon-to-be-ex-talk show host is inspired by the prevailing sources for 9/11 conspiracy. Alex Jones, a Texas radio talk-show host who The Times’s Alan Feuer called the William Jennings Bryan of the movement, covered all of them in a 2006 speech. Mr. Feuer summarized it thusly:

Mr. Jones set forth the central tenets of 9/11 Truth: that the military command that monitors aircraft “stood down” on the day of the attacks; that President Bush addressed children in a Florida classroom instead of being whisked off to the White House; that the hijackers, despite what the authorities say, were trained at American military bases; and that the towers did not collapse because of burning fuel and weakened steel but because of a “controlled demolition” caused by pre-set bombs.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology has been charged with leading the federal investigation into the collapse of buildings at the World Trade Center, but it has yet to issue a final report on Building 7. One is expected before the summer.

Glenn P. Corbett, a fire expert who is part of the inquiry, explained the working theory in 2004 (A technical explanation is explained in question 14 on a page of the inquiry’s site):

The reason 7 World Trade Center collapsed straight down, he said, was most likely the large amounts of diesel fuel stored in the building’s lower levels. The fuel was meant to power emergency generators.

‘’The conspiracy theorists fail to recognize that there was structural damage in Building 7 caused by flying debris after the first two towers collapsed,'’ Mr. Corbett said. ‘’This led to fires that burned for several hours which eventually collapsed Building 7, too.'’

Ms. O’Donnell is not convinced by Mr. Corbett, or her co-host Elisabeth Hasselbeck, who echoed the explanation. “I do believe that it’s the first time in history that fire has ever melted steel,” Ms. O’Donnell said during a show available on YouTube.

Popular Mechanics, which published a book called “Debunking 9/11 Myths,” backed up Ms. Hasslebeck on its Web site, but without the courtesy: “Ms. O’Donnell fundamentally misstates the case with her use of the word ‘melted.’”

As the fire raged for hours, it was probably fed by the emergency command center’s fuel tanks in the basement, the head of the investigation told the magazine. Under those conditions, it is possible to reach temperatures that “ultimately weakened — not melted — the steel structures,” it said, before tossing out some factoids:

Steel melts at about 2,750 degrees Fahrenheit—but it loses strength at temperatures as low as 400 F. When temperatures break 1000 degrees F, steel loses nearly 50 percent of its strength. It is unknown what temperatures were reached inside WTC7, but fires in the building raged for seven hours before the collapse.

[Update, 3:16 pm ET: Aside from the physics of it, Ms. O’Donnell is the most prominent person lately to endorse the demolition theory, which “has managed to endure what would seem to be enormous obstacles to its practicality,” Jim Dwyer wrote in a Times article on efforts to counter conspiracy theories about 9/11:

Controlled demolition is done from the bottom of buildings, not the top, to take advantage of gravity, and there is little dispute that the collapse of the two towers began high in the towers, in the areas where the airplanes struck.

Moreover, a demolition project would have required the tower walls to be opened on dozens of floors, followed by the insertion of thousands of pounds of explosives, fuses and ignition mechanisms, all sneaked past the security stations, inside hundreds of feet of walls on all four faces of both buildings. Then the walls presumably would have been closed up.

All this would have had to take place without attracting the notice of any of the thousands of tenants and workers in either building; no witness has ever reported such activity. Then on the morning of Sept. 11, the demolition explosives would have had to withstand the impacts of the airplanes, since the collapse did not begin for 57 minutes in one tower, and 102 minutes in the other. ]

Almost 1,000 comments on the Popular Mechanics article show how unconvinced some remain. For those people — including 16 percent of Americans in one poll who thought the demolition theory was likely true — Ms. O’Donnell’s report will be yet another reason to believe.

Until, of course, the federal investigation dismisses all the conspiracy theories with its final report. Just like that fella Warren and his commission did in the 1960’s…