Thomas Sowell

THE media seem to be doing a major part of the terrorists' work for them. What is the point of terrorism, after all? To get the most bang for the buck from the limited resources at the terrorists' disposal. That means scaring as many people as possible from whatever actual damage you can do.

The September 11th terrorist attacks were the exception, rather than the rule, in creating huge damage. Usually, it is a question of getting as much mileage as possible from actions that directly harm a relatively few people, but put fear into the hearts of millions and spread confusion that disrupts a whole society.

The media handling of the anthrax attacks was all that the terrorists could hope for. The fourth person to die from anthrax produced front-page banner headlines. Tragic as the death of anyone may be, when you are in a war you do not headline the deaths of four people. More people than that can get wiped out with one burst of machine-gun fire. More people than that died in Andrea Yates' bathtub.

It is obvious that the people to whom the anthrax-laden envelopes were sent were chosen because their deaths would be big news. What the terrorists seem not to have realized was that anyone that prominent was likely to have someone else opening his mail.

The ideal, from the terrorists' standpoint, would be to get more publicity and more fear-mongering without having to actually do anything. This too was accomplished for them by big media coverage of potential attacks and highly publicized speculations as to what might happen next.

Government officials have not been wholly blameless in issuing public announcements of "credible threats" of a wholly unspecified nature. What are you supposed to do when you hear such ominous but unknown threats? Stay home from work? And how do you know that the terrorists are more likely to strike where you work than where you live? Such warnings seem less likely to protect the public than to protect government officials from criticisms that they didn't warn us.

The media not only help our enemies at home, but overseas as well. Military operations had barely gotten underway in Afghanistan before American reporters were seeking out every case of collateral damage on civilians from our bombing raids -- and were reporting the Taliban's claims as if they were facts.

Thomas Sowell

Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institute and author of The Housing Boom and Bust.

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