2003-02-20 / View From the Middle

View From

The MiddleTime To Be Aware
By Charles Rogers

The Middle
Time To Be Aware — But Let’s Not Panic

"There are no specific threats to New York City," said Mayor Bloomberg last week, just after President Bush ordered the nation’s alert status increased to orange from yellow and somebody said we’d better start buying up all the duct tape and plastic sheeting we can lay our hands on and envelope ourselves in a cocoon. Then, on top of the dire warnings from the feds, there was this tape (and then another later) supposedly from Osama Bin Laden with vague threats on it intimating the guy would commit suicide like a martyr "in the belly of the eagle." That eagle is supposed to stand for the United States. Scary stuff!

Of course, we received all this information — the good and the bad — from the media; the very same entity that people are condemning every time you turn around. As the message-bearers, professional journalists have been inured to the adverse criticism through the ages, realizing that it comes with the territory.

One of the problems noticed recently, however, with which I must criticize my media cohorts, especially those on television, is how their broadcasts sensationalize the situation. I heard of the Bin Ladin tape and our homeland security dictum first via a short report on the radio. Shortly thereafter there were more reports on the United Nations and the Iraq situation. Obviously desiring to hear more on the topic I turned on one of the cable news channels on television and found that there was a "NEWS ALERT" coming up shortly. The news alert turned out to be a repeat of everything I’d just heard on the radio, no more, no less, except that they took about 20 minutes to do so (and that damned "NEWS ALERT" sign continued to crawl across the bottom of the screen).

Unfortunately, the media is crying wolf too much....but we still have to pay attention to the cries.

Indeed, it’s a dilemma. The public has to be aware of the danger of Saddam Hussein and of Osama and his minions who were behind the attack on the World Trade Center and other terrorist attacks throughout the world. We have to act on our awareness and the government has to not only be accountable to us but they must protect us.

In making announcement that we should, essentially, wrap ourselves in duct tape, it is understandable that our Homeland Security people merely want us to be as prepared as possible. It is the task of the media to relay this information to the public. It is also the task of the media to relay the other side to the public; let them know that, while they must be vigilant, running out to the hardware store or standing in line to buy a gas mask might be a proper gesture,but don’t get all uptight if the dealer ran out of supplies.

In other words, don’t panic.

Too often the media, going all-out to supposedly let the public know what’s going on by using the "NEWS ALERT" ploy, is still in there looking for ratings. If they can draw more people’s attention to a subject by any tactic whatsoever you can be sure they’ll do so.

The point at this time is to use your own head. I was watching one of the cable channels the other day when their good old crawl ("NEWS ALERT" again) came up and, after shushing everyone at the dinner table, heard the newscaster say something inane about Michael Jackson’s nose.

The mayor’s words about not panicking should, of course, be relative watchwords: "The bottom line is you don’t have any significant risk to your life as long as we do our job."

Be aware. Be very aware. But use your head.

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