Jewish World Review Oct. 30, 2001 / 13 Mar-Cheshvan, 5762
Thankfully, it seems as if those who were crafting the way that many of us thought about, and reacted to, the events of September 11th fully understood the magnitude of what was happening and elected not give in to their child-like instincts to play with fire for their own amusement and personal gain. Consequently, the nation united as it never had before and in a manner that many observers (including myself) feared may not still be possible in this age of fragmented media and cultural divides. As a result, President Bush has suddenly reached record levels of popularity and now has the moral authority as well as the critical power to get things done quickly.
By almost any measure, we have weathered this storm exceedingly well. Since September 11th, there have been no new major terrorist attacks. America has shown itself to be the most charitable country in the world. Almost one thousand suspects have been arrested or detained around the world, and we have seemingly determined exactly who the perpetrator was. The military campaign has begun in as civilized, expedient, and successful a manner as humanly possible. Even the stock market is almost back to where it was on that fateful day. However, I sense a definite and not so subtle shift in the tide of upbeat news coverage that created the relatively calm seas through which we have been so far able to navigate.
This change began with the overwhelming amount of coverage given to the sending of anthrax through the mail to members of the media and politicians. At first the focus of the news regarding these "attacks," while exaggerated, was on spreading information (not to mention irrational fear), but in the past few days it has been on assessing blame and questioning the preparedness and reactions of the administration. An enormous amount has now been made that Tommy Thompson originally theorized (but never came close to conclusively stating) the original anthrax victim had contracted the disease by drinking from a North Carolina stream. Then the overmatched Postmaster General's honest, but ill-advised, statement that he couldn't "guarantee" the safety of the mail (as if the mail's complete safety could EVER be "guaranteed") became the foothold that much of the news media used to start dishing negative dirt. Even ABC's usually reserved "Nightline" devoted an entire broadcast to examining whether more should have been done to prevent the deaths of the two Washington area postal workers (as if they were not adult enough to take their own precautions).
Now that the news media's post-tragedy "ceasefire" has been broken over the anthrax "crisis," it seems as if they now think that it is acceptable/safe to criticize the administration's handling of the military campaign. After only three weeks of bombing the media is already impatient (far more than the public appears to be) for the story to progress and is beginning to ask, "What's taking so long?," question if we will EVER get bin Laden, overplay the civilian casualty issue, erode the credibility of attacks during Ramadan, and even wonder if we aren't actually "losing" the war.
Not only are such ponderings counterproductive and of questionable appropriateness, they are all based on varying degrees of falsehood. No one is a stronger proponent of the news media's ability and willingness to report negative stories about the way our government is working or not working than I am. However, during times of war I believe that there should be some restraint in reporting that will be clearly harmful to the national interest, and that responsible news organizations should be extra careful to make sure that such stories are both actually true and put in proper context before pulling the trigger on them. It seems to me that there is ample evidence that these principles are no longer guiding the decision-making process.
In September the news media deserved an A- for their efforts. In October I
think the grade slipped to a C+. With the story starting to get a little
"old" in this era of short-attention spans, and the November ratings period
looming on the horizon, I fear that this trend will only get
10/22/01: Narcissism is at the heart of Anthrax overreaction