Robert Stein 1924-2014

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Saturday, September 10, 2011

Too Much News About 9/11 Terror Threats

On this anniversary weekend, an old question I used to ask editors and writers who were pitching a story during my working lifetime arises, “Why are you telling me all this?”

Starting right after the President’s jobs speech Thursday night, TV and cable news have been saturated with running accounts of two or three possible terrorists planning a U.S. attack on 9/11, with most of the information coming from government sources.

In New York, Hillary Clinton announces there was "a specific, credible but unconfirmed report that al-Qaida, again, is seeking to harm Americans and in particular, to target New York and Washington."

With all due respect, why are the Secretary of State, the Vice President and other Administration officials telling us all this? Is there anything the public can do to help them head off such a threat? If so, is there anything specific we should be looking for? If not, is there any tangible reason for spreading fear and anxiety?

No other reason for this running soap opera suggests itself than the ritual posterior-covering that precedes any plausible occasion for an attack. If nothing happens, everyone is too relieved to question whether the warnings served any useful purpose.

On this occasion, the exercise has gone well beyond the old color-coding with specific reports about would-be terrorists and their possible movements. Why are they telling us all this?

Update: The threat is "looking more and more like a goose chase," a senior U.S. official now says.

Yet in his Weekly Address, even the President joins the game, saying “they will keep trying to hit us again. But as we are showing again this weekend, we remain vigilant. We’re doing everything in our power to protect our people.”

We fervently hope so, but can we use a little better judgment in how we talk about it publicly?

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