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Probably not much tomorrow either, but the Snopes entry down below has been updated extensively.

Friday update — Shorter Snopes, for those of you who don’t feel like scrolling through the unwieldy mess below: here’s the original version of their page on the bin Laden-family-flight thing; here’s the current version. Contrast and compare. Note the changes in the very description of the “rumor” itself, as well as the eradication of any reference to Michael Moore.

UPDATE: Google cache has mysteriously disappeared. Fortunately I archived the page. Some relevant excerpts from the original version:

Claim: Two days after September 11 — while all other planes were grounded — a secret flight arranged by George W. Bush flew Osama bin Laden’s relatives out of the USA.

Status: False.

Example: [Collected on the Internet, 2002]

BIN LADEN FAMILY ALLOWED TO FLY DURING GROUND STOPPAGE? Michael Moore was on the Daily Show on Comedy Central and alleged that when all the nation’s planes were grounded for 3 days after 9/11, the Bush Administration gave permission for a private Saudi jet to visit 5 cities to pick up around 20 members of the bin Laden family, over the objections of the FBI.

Origins: This just goes to show what a little bit of fact flipped onto its side and then spewed by a public figure can do. Yes, a couple of flights arranged by the Saudi government did collect a number of Osama bin Laden’s America-based relatives and whisk them to Saudi Arabia in the aftermath of the September 11 terrorist attacks, but this didn’t take place during the FAA-imposed ban on air travel in the US. The two flights in question took wing on September 18 and 19, days after the ban on air travel was lifted.

— snip —

How Michael Moore could have spun all of this into the tale he now spouts is beyond us. Yet spout it he does, as in this excerpt from a 2 January 2002 interview with Al D’Amato and Alan Colmes of the FOX Network:

Why don’t we look at the connections between the Bush family and Saudi Arabia, why this country will not really go after where the money probably came from? Why did this country allow the bin Laden jet?

Let me ask you this, Al. Why did this country allow the bin Laden family, two days after — two days after September 11 — to fly around America and pick up all the bin Laden relatives, about 24 of them, and take them to Europe? Not a single one of them was interrogated by the FBI. Do you think, if your brother was accused of killing somebody, and they couldn’t find him, that they might come and talk to you, maybe ask you a few questions? 5

The sum total of the evidence Moore cites is a 30 September 2001 New York Times article, most of which negates what he claims:

In his first interview since the attacks, Saudi Ambassador Bandar bin Sultan, also said that private planes carrying the kingdom’s deputy defense minister and the governor of Mecca, both members of the royal family, were grounded and initially caught up in the F.B.I. dragnet. Both planes, one jumbo jet carrying 100 family members, and the other 40, were eventually allowed to leave when airports reopened and passports were checked.3

Note that these planes were grounded, they were “caught up in the F.B.I. dragnet,” and they were not allowed to leave until “airports reopened and passports were checked.” This is hardly evidence of “secret flights” taking off “two days” after the attacks “over the objections of the FBI.”

Moore seems to have fixated on a single sentence in that article:

The young members of the bin Laden clan were driven or flown under F.B.I. supervision to a secret assembly point in Texas and then to Washington from where they left the country on a private charter plane when airports reopened three days after the attacks.1

Note that this is a single-source item, that it is wrong about the date on which the flight it describes took place, and that even if it were literally true, it still belies Moore’s claim that bin Laden family members were ferried out of the country before the FBI had a chance to question them — as do other news accounts…

— snip —

Some folks play fast and loose with the facts when they’ve an axe to grind, however, and in Moore’s case his axe is “the dastardly Republicans and how they’re responsible for every ill ever visited upon the USA.” In this case, inventing a bin Laden jet that secretly flew out of the country while the rest of us were barred from the skies, and peopling it with folks who were spirited out of the FBI’s grasp by a U.S. president intent upon paying back some unnamed (but darkly hinted at) favor, is a handy way of reinforcing the stereotype of Republicans as callous and greedy politicians whose paramount values involve money, not people.