The Post's blunder was hilarious but not historic. So why has this story lasted?

I mention these things because they are simple precautions that don't involve sealing off a room and such. It's bizarre to hear so much about terrorist scenarios with so little information about how to defend yourself. There's more concrete detail in the supermarket tabloid Sun—which proclaims this week that "a dire warning about a new, deadly terrorist attack is encoded in Holy Scripture"—than there is in any official terror alert.

People don't take these admonitions seriously because there's no way to act on the information. Maybe that's the idea. If we were more concerned with survival than with consumption, the economy might slow down. The Israelis issued gas masks to every citizen when they thought a chemical strike was imminent. Their assumption is that preserving lives (make that Jewish lives) is the first priority of government. For our leaders, the priority is not life but productivity. That's why they call it an alert rather than a warning.

After the twin towers collapsed, the government declared the air around ground zero safe. As research has shown, it wasn't, and the prudent thing would have been to assume that those substances, which had never before been airborne, were toxic. But job number one was opening the stock market and cleaning up ground zero. The lives of rescuers, office workers, and residents in the area were put at risk in order to minimize the economic loss.

I don't expect Peter Jennings to inform us that our leaders can't be trusted to protect us. Some truths are too self-evident to be spoken by "objective" journalists. But at least the networks could tell us how to protect ourselves. Right now, their message is, Consider yourself warned, but keep on having fun. Otherwise, doncha know, the terrorists have won. Believe that and you're making an error far more serious than anything in the Post.

Journos, Go Home

The British Guardian reports that foreign journalists covering the U.S. will no longer be able to renew their visas without leaving the country first. Some 20,000 correspondents will now have to return to their home countries and apply for re-entry at American embassies there. The state department says it isn't "feasible" to collect anti-terrorist information, such as fingerprints, from Washington. But the move is widely seen as hampering the ability of foreign media to cover the coming election here. And it may lead to reciprocal impediments for American journalists working abroad.

Feel safer now?


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