A long time ago, a President of the United States told us that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.
If you weren’t gripped with fear last week about an imminent terrorist attack on the US, you just weren’t trying hard enough. Or at least that’s how most of the media made it seem. Television newscasts, in particular, were doing their very best to make you more than a little apprehensive.
The government upping the security alert status to orange had the same effect on television newsrooms as a piñata breaking open does to a group of kindergartners. Calling it a feeding frenzy would be an understatement.
Newscasters kept reminding us just how great our national fear factor was. On ABC, Claire Shipman (filling in for Peter Jennings) said we were, “living in fear, America in the age of insecurity.” NBC’s Tom Brokaw, who had conveniently left the country for the somewhat-safer confines of London, told us via satellite that “the country is at a high anxiety level” with “a case of national jitters.” The cable news channels put up the non-stop orange threat alert graphic.
It’s understandable that the major news divisions would see it that way, since they’re based in the twin 9/11 targets of New York and Washington. Plus, the more scared you are, the more you’ll stay tuned to find out what happens next. Is it too cynical to suggest a motive to the overzealous coverage?
Even First Lady Laura Bush complained, “constant news alerts are frightening people…it’s a little bit like crying wolf.”
Remarkably, it was CBS anchorbot Dan Rather, whose brain goes to Def-Con One faster than Barry Corbin in “War Games,” who showed the most restraint. He was the first to admit that “the anxiety level is not the same across the country.”
He’s right. The view from the midwest is substantially different. People here aren’t walking around with terror-stricken looks on their faces. Nor have the local stores had a tremendous run on plastic sheeting and duct tape, thus denying retailers a chance to raise prices and gouge us like the oil companies are.
Ah, duct tape! One of those miracle products (along with Krazy Glue) with a thousand uses that you already have around the house, just in case. So, it was suggested, why not whip out a roll or two and tape your shower curtain over the windows and vents? What better way to prove that fear can suffocate you, literally? That whole breathing thing is so over-rated.
In addition to duct tape and plastic (the advice from “The Graduate” comes back to haunt us again!), we were told to have enough water and food to last three days, in case of a chemical or biological attack. Yes, I’m sure that the effects of such an attack would wear off in exactly 72 hours. What a lovely sight that would mean — all of us simultaneously gasping for air and water on that fourth day.
Tom Ridge, head of the Department of Duct Tape Security, says that they only want to make sure we’re prepared and know what to do if there is an attack. Reminds me of those “duck and cover” drills we had in school during the Cold War, where getting underneath your desk would supposedly protect us from nuclear fallout (for those of you born more recently, desks were made out of solid lead shielding until 1966, when schools were forced to go unleaded).
Whenever there’s a potential for crisis, there are always those who hit the panic button quicker than Ryan Seacrest reaches for the hair gel. They run to the store to stock up on milk, bread, and toilet paper if there’s even a remote chance of snow. Their basements still have stockpiles of canned goods leftover from the Y2K scare — and maybe even the New Madrid Quake scam of the early 1990s. They’re the ones today with gooey duct tape adhesive marks around their windows.
For the most part, however, the rest of us live up to our “Show Me” nickname. But in this case, it’s possible there wasn’t anything to show.
By the weekend, ABC reported that the threats that led to the alert level going to orange may have been a false alarm, based on information from a captured al-Qaeda operative who later failed a lie detector test. Still, the threat level wasn’t lowered from orange — not even to tangerine, cantaloupe, or any of the less-threatening items in the produce section.
While we’re on the subject, how about dumping the color scale altogether — who do they think we are, Sherwin-Williams? — and going with one that Americans could interpret more easily? Make it food-based! The more disgusting the food, the higher the potential threat: “Based on its latest information, spokesperson Joe Rogan just announced that the Department Of Homeland Security has raised the threat alert from it current status, Fried Cow Tongue With A Side Of Brussels Sprouts, to the highest level, known simply as Haggis.”
Then we’d all comprehend just how scared we should be.