Someone once asked the famous Chicago Tribune writer Mike Royko if it was difficult to write a daily column.

“No,” he replied. “I just sit at the typewriter until little beads of blood form on my forehead.”

Weekly columns aren’t anywhere near that hard to conjure up, except when you are writing on or near the date of a major historical event and you think you should have something useful to say about it.

Except everyone else within 20 feet of a keyboard also wants to write about the same topic, so what’s left for you?

I was still pondering that question this week when a colleague dropped a copy of the Portland Phoenix on my desk and said, “Look at this.”

If you’re not familiar with the Phoenix, it’s the local edition of a Boston-centered line of tabloids that mostly covers topics of interest to the southpaw side of the political spectrum.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that. It prints a weekly column by Al Diamon, and I’m a big fan of Al’s, so I look at the paper (or at least its front half) fairly often, though I hadn’t seen this issue.

It was worth reading, though, because the cover had a large photo of the World Trade Center towers standing whole and proud, with a headline promising “The ‘truth’ about 9/11: Checking in with doubters and skeptics ten years later.”

Home free, I thought, home free. How can you resist writing about truthers when they get this kind of coverage right in your own backyard?

If you’re among the few who don’t know what a “truther” is, in general terms they think a domestic conspiracy has hidden the real truth about the events of Sept. 11, 2001.

Some believe that the U.S. government knew about the attacks but did nothing to stop them because it wanted a war on terror (as some of our grandparents believed Franklin D. Roosevelt knew about the attack on Pearl Harbor but didn’t do anything because he wanted a war with Japan).

Others think the entire Islamic-jihadist-hijacking-masterminded-by-Osama-bin-Laden story is phony, and the towers were blown up by explosives planted by the Bush administration to foment a “war for oil” in the Middle East.

At this point, any normal person’s moonbat alarm should be going “Ahhoogah! Ahhoogah!” at top volume, but let’s not forget for every truther on the left, there’s a “birther” on the right who thinks Barack Obama was really born in Kenya and is ineligible to be president.

For a while, it was popular on the left to say that people who watched Fox News were much more likely to agree with the birther viewpoint, until others noted that people who listened to National Public Radio were equally as likely to be truthers.

Since it’s much more probable that the networks merely attract people on opposite sides of the political fence, and so do birtherism and trutherism, the fault remains in the tinfoil-hat-protected minds of the believers, not in their news sources.

But, you may be wondering, why on this very serious occasion is this guy writing about such minor vain ephemera?

Because it’s not that minor or ephemeral. As has been pointed out elsewhere, consider which conspiracy theory requires a darker view of the United States — that one politician has concealed his past for political purposes, or that tens of thousands of elected and appointed officials, including police, fire and military leaders and rank-and-file frontline workers, are keeping a secret of this magnitude from the American people?

The answer seems pretty clear. You have to have a really dark opinion not only of your country, but of huge numbers of your fellow Americans, to think they could conspire at this level to deceive us all about this for so many years without even one person coming forward to tell what actually happened.

But, unbelievable as it is, that seems to be what is at work here — and the fact that many people have that incredible level of cynicism and distrust about their homeland is significant for us and our future.

When you delve into the Phoenix story (first noting that the scare quotes in the front-page headline around ‘truth’ maintain a skin-of-the-teeth ironic distance between paper and topic — though the quotes are absent from the inside headline), you find that the movement is alive and possibly even growing 10 years later.

Take a look at a couple of examples of the “evidence” offered in the Phoenix story: One is that a building on the edge of the WTC complex is alleged to show signs of being “brought down by controlled demolition.”

OK, we have film of planes flying into the huge WTC towers, but this little building off to the side was blown up instead of being hit by falling debris.

Why? Damage to it was so minor in comparison to the towers, it makes no sense.

Unless, of course, people think the plane film was faked and the towers were rigged with the same explosive.

Which they do. As comedian and TV host Rosie O’Donnell famously said, “Fire doesn’t melt steel!” Of course, it does if it gets hot enough, but that’s only a fact verified by engineers, so it doesn’t count.

Another proof is that “We’ve done it before” — primarily in the assassinations of John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, both of which are said to have involved huge conspiracies as well. No real evidence exists and no one’s come forward to admit it? Ah, that just shows how effective those plots were, doesn’t it?

There’s no arguing with these views, and I’m not trying to refute them. But that’s only because they refute themselves, so I don’t have to. What’s more important is that a fair number of Americans think these ideas are true — and that truly is a serious cause for concern. 

M.D. Harmon is an editorial writer. He can be contacted at 791-6482 or at:

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