- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 23, 1999

The prospect of New Year's Eve terrorism caused print and broadcast news organizations alike to ratchet up their reporting and flirt with some good old-fashioned media hysteria.
Things have been downright shrill.
In the past 48 hours, counterterrorism experts, former spies, officials, former officials, talking heads and on-site reporters explored and quibbled with one another over hair-raising scenarios enhanced by video clips of bomb-sniffing dogs, uneasy spokesmen and file footage of drunks on Times Square.
Such fare spells increased viewership: There is nothing like piquant extrapolations to tweak an audience.
"It's holiday terrorism today," CNN's Greta Van Susteren said shortly after noon yesterday.
With the double whammy of terrorism and possible year-2000 computer complications in the mix, journalists had a virtual picnic.
Television, radio and newspapers featured stories about conspiracy theories, espionage, bombmaking, public paranoia, American pride and the legal rights of suspected terrorists.
Meanwhile, ongoing announcements from the FBI, Federal Aviation Administration, and Justice and State departments downplayed any need for panic or drama.
Asked if Washington or Manhattan was a "sitting duck" for terrorist attacks, Deputy Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. patiently shook his head during a televised press conference yesterday. "We don't want to alarm people," Mr. Holder said. "We want them to be vigilant."
And sometimes caution among spokesmen was the story itself.
Said the Wall Street Journal yesterday: "Officials are in a quandary over how to convey their concerns about year-end terrorism without unduly alarming the public."
Observed the Boston Globe: "The government's corridors are abuzz about the end-of-the-year terrorism threat from UBL the initials for Osama bin Laden (U.S. officials spell the first name 'Usama' ," said the Boston Globe, adding a new acronym to the public discourse.
There were ironic moments as well.
Yesterday morning, Defense Secretary William S. Cohen and Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi appeared simultaneously on ABC and CBS, respectively, offering their perspectives on the situation.
Americans shouldn't change their party plans, Mr. Cohen said, but should be aware "of a general threat that is worldwide."
Col. Gadhafi advised that the United States is "hated everywhere in the world."
The topic of terrorism also prompted a few pirouettes among officials themselves.
On Tuesday, Manhattan's former FBI boss Jim Kallstrom told the press he was so wary of a New Year's Eve attack on Times Square that he advised everyone to stay home.
Heavies from the Customs Service and New York police quickly stepped in to counter his claims. "This kind of alarmist mentality is exactly caving in to terrorism," Police Commissioner Howard Safir told the Associated Press. "I will be in Times Square at 12 midnight on New Year's Eve, and my family will be with me standing right under the ball."
Even in the midst of all this grim stuff, however, there was still some dishy comic relief.
On-line gossip Matt Drudge reported yesterday that other networks were blasting CBS for claiming exclusive, live-broadcast rights for the burgeoning New Year's hoopla on the Mall.
"This is the people's party. Is CBS picking up the costs for the Park Police and other security? What about the public toilets?" asked someone whom Mr. Drudge called "an executive from a rival network."
"At the stroke of midnight, 'something magical' should light up the sky over the Mall, say planners," Mr. Drudge noted dryly.
"Let me guess," he said. "The CBS Eye logo."

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