Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Confusion Begets Fear

There is something about the reporting of terrorism that seems to bring out tendencies to confuse, rather than inform. Consider the case of a possible precedent for the attempted attack on Friday's Delta/Northwest flight during its approach to Detroit. Here is how this precedent was reported by Associated Press Writers Mohamed Olad Hassan, Katherine Houreld, and Jason Straziuso:

A man tried to board a commercial airliner in Mogadishu last month carrying powdered chemicals, liquid and a syringe that could have caused an explosion in a case bearing chilling similarities to the terrorist plot to blow up a Detroit-bound airliner, officials told The Associated Press on Wednesday.

The Somali man — whose name has not yet been released — was arrested by African Union peacekeeping troops before the Nov. 13 Daallo Airlines flight took off. It had been scheduled to travel from Mogadishu to the northern Somali city of Hargeisa, then to Djibouti and Dubai. A Somali police spokesman, Abdulahi Hassan Barise, said the suspect is in Somali custody.

"We don't know whether he's linked with al-Qaida or other foreign organizations, but his actions were the acts of a terrorist. We caught him red-handed," said Barise.

This should be taken as good news. Investigation is all about identifying patterns and deducing what they may indicate. Finding precedent is an important part of the pattern-seeking process.

Consider, now, the "screaming" headline composed for this report:

Somali arrested at airport with chemicals, syringe

This carries a clear connotation of having taking place after Friday's incident, rather than providing investigators with a possibly valuable precedent. If there were any doubts about how the consciousness industry works or how the Associated Press contributes to that industry, the distortions of this headline implying one terrorist attempt following quickly on the heels of another should resolve them. Did anyone really think that a new President would get us out from under the oppressive culture of fear engendered by the Bush Administration?

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