So often I find myself wondering - is it true, or did I just read it in the Times?
On Friday, the Dead Tree Times introduced this odd perspective into what happened on Flight 93:
...The report from the 9/11 Commission on Thursday provided new, chilling details about what happened in the cockpit of Flight 93 in its last minutes. It provides a gripping account of the battle to gain control of the aircraft by passengers who knew that terrorists had seized the plane and were determined to prevent them from using it as a missile. It also discloses that the phrase "Let's roll," previously reported as a rallying cry for those passengers, may have been misinterpreted.
...The voice recorder captured sounds of continued fighting, and Mr. Jarrah pitched the plane up and then down. A passenger is heard to say: "In the cockpit. If we don't we'll die!"
Then a passenger yelled, "Roll it!" While earlier accounts reported the phrase as "Let's roll," which was repeated in speeches by President Bush and became the title of a bestseller, some aviation experts have speculated that this was actually a reference to a food cart, being used as a battering ram.
Here is a (possibly transient) link to that version of the story. An RSS link to the July 23 version is not available. However, the earlier (July 22) version does not include the speculation about "Let's roll". Evidently, more time for reflection and research has not helped this story improve.
Now, do I even need to tell you how seriously wrong the print version is? Without looking it up, I can tell you that the common belief is that Todd Beamer used the phrase in a phone conversation before the passengers began their attack. I also recall his wife saying it was a favorite phrase of his, and that the kids used it around the house all the time, which is certainly plausible - it is not like his last words were "Veni, vidi, vici" or "Rosebud".
But what I do need to look up is this - did the 9/11 report actually address the "Let's Roll" controversy, as the Times suggests? A word search of the main document says they did not. The "roll it" reference appears on p. 14, with a footnoted reference to the cockpit voice recorder as a source. As noted, this phrase was used during the final assault on the cockpit door. "Let's roll" is not mentioned.
So what was the Timesman thinking, why is his story getting worse instead of better as he rewrites it, and will his editors eventually intervene?
One guess is that over-eager reporter Michael Wald thought he had a scoop, and, although he managed to get some idle speculation from "some aviation experts", he forgot to run his fantasy past anyone in the building. Gee, reporters get excited just like bloggers! Too bad they don't have Google - maybe the Times could spring for a subscription.
For a gloomier guess as to what happened inside this Timesman's head, check the comments at Atrios (source of the Times link). Many of the commenters creditably point out that Todd Beamer might really have said "Let's roll" even though Bush later repeated it, and that the Flight 93 passengers might really be heroes even though Bush says they are. However, some of the comments take a different tack.
Lest you wonder, the LA Times realized that "Roll it" and "Let's roll" were distinct. I have not spent a lot of time checking other papers.
Now, the blogosphere (or general outrage) bent the AP to our implacable will on a related story. We can do this.
The Times is always happy to hear from their readers:
Public Editor DanielOkrent: firstname.lastname@example.org