The American response to 9/11 hasn't just rained death and terror on
Afghanistan and Iraq; it has left Americans living in fear as well. The evolution
of a recent bomb scare in San Francisco provides an instructive case in point.
From the moment
the story broke, news reports (following the lead of the police, this was
not primarily a media problem but a police problem) described an item which
had been found in a Starbucks bathroom as "a homemade bomb." Not a
"suspected" bomb, but a "bomb." The original police spokesperson
claimed, without any apparent qualification, that this "bomb" "would
have caused damage if it exploded.''
a day, that claim had escalated to a bomb which was "powerful enough
to dismember or kill someone had it gone off." Again, based on what, it
isn't clear; it's not as if they had detonated it in a special chamber and had
seen what would happen.
Many of you probably already know the denouement. Three
days after the "bomb" was found, and one day after it
was revealed that "no explosive material" was present, the final
conclusion was announced -- the "bomb" was a flashlight with corroded
batteries. Interestingly, the initial stories in the press (which were not
reflected in the broadcast stories that I heard on multiple channels) described
the device as "a portion of a flashlight and a fuse"; the "fuse",
we can speculate without actually having seen it, was just one of those little
lanyard attachments at the end to make it easier to carry and/or hang from a
The damage, however, has surely been done, as millions of people around the
country received one more dose of fear and terror calculated to increase their
acceptance of the loss of their rights. I have yet to even hear the updated
true story on any of the national news channels who broadcast the original story,
but, if and when I do, it's a safe bet I won't be hearing about it on "high
rotation" for several days as I did the "bomb" story.
In case you're wondering, the headline reads "bomb 'scare'" and
not "'bomb scare'" for a reason. It's my way of indicating this was
not a "bomb scare" where someone calls the police or a newspaper
and announces there's a bomb someware that is going to go off, something that
would traditionally be called a "bomb scare." This was something quite
different - an attempt by government, in this case the police force of San Francisco,
to scare the people of their city (and the entire country) with a story that
was patently untrue from the start. It's not that it couldn't have
been a bomb, but the idea that they knew it was a bomb, and a powerful one at
that, was simply a lie.