Why didn't the headlines read "Bombers Not Smart Enough to Bomb JFK" or "Plot to Blow-up JFK Unfeasible"? No, as is often the case in our post-9/11 paranoid universe, media hype and authoritarian fear-mongering conspire to freak us out.
On Saturday night, local New York news stations -- in flashy "team-coverage" packages -- declared a major plot to destroy John F. Kennedy airport had been uncovered. Complete with frightening court-drawings of the "dark-skinned" alleged ring-leader and maps that showed a path of destruction stretching all the way from Queens to New Jersey, the news painted a picture of impending doom a la 24, thwarted at the last minute by brave undercover sources working for the F.B.I. Even HuffPost's link to the Associated Press story "Authorities Charge 4 in NYC Terror Plot" offered little explanation of the near-impossibility of the supposed plot. Needless to say, I went to sleep scared out of my wits, worried for the safety of my friends and family.
The next morning, of course, I found buried deep into the news coverage reporting about how would-be mass murderer Russell Defreitas was "not smart enough" to carry out such a plot, and the plot, itself, probably wouldn't have worked anyway. Oh, no matter, right-wing bloggers and conservative pundits went hog-wild all-day Sunday (perfectly timed) with the BREAKING news, using the charges to justify their attacks on all things Islamic and their "war on terror."
While most folks have a healthy distrust of the press, it's all too easy to get swept up in the media maelstrom around such trumped-up counter-terrorism proclamations.
I am reminded, of course, of the front-page news stories of Jose Padilla, the so-called "dirty bomber," whose mis-label stuck on him like super-glue, despite the fact that the charges against him three-and-a-half years later made no mention of a dirty bomb. What do people remember? The shocking lead-item statements of imminent apocalypse made by Attorney General John Ashcroft or the little news story on page three some years later that showed just how ineffectual and unthreatening Padilla was? Or what about the so-called "Detroit Sleeper Cell," whose case proved to be a mockery of the U.S. justice system, revealing it to be overzealous, and let's face it, completely racist?
Is it a coincidence that the alleged plots to attack Fort Dix and JFK come at a time when this U.S. Administration's support is flagging, and Americans are increasingly doubtful of its ability to effectively fight terrorism. While we'll never know for sure, there's one thing that is certain:The media needs to do a better job of cutting through the propaganda.