- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 13, 2001

Media companies said they were being more careful yesterday after an NBC News employee tested positive for skin anthrax, the fourth confirmed exposure to the potential germ warfare agent at a news operation this week.
Several companies declined to give details on the precautions, citing security concerns. ABC, CBS and CNN confirmed they stopped normal mail delivery after authorities said the infected NBC employee had opened a letter that contained a powdery substance.
Mail arriving at CNN's offices in New York, Washington and Atlanta has been X-rayed in recent weeks, the Associated Press reported.
"We already have procedures in place to protect our employees, but in light of recent events, we are obviously strengthening those precautions," said Tricia Primrose, spokeswoman for AOL Time Warner Inc. The company owns several news networks, including CNN, and publishes the Time newsmagazines.
The infected NBC News employee, an assistant to anchor Tom Brokaw, worked in New York. A network source told the Associated Press that the suspicious letter the assistant opened was addressed to Mr. Brokaw.
The disclosure came a week after a photo editor for the Sun supermarket tabloid died of the inhaled form of anthrax. The bacterium was also found in the nasal passages of two other persons who worked in the Boca Raton, Fla., office where the publication is based.
The news media are targets for bioterrorist attacks and hoaxes because reporters are "easy to get to," said Roy Peter Clark, senior scholar at the Poynter Institute journalism school in St. Petersburg, Fla.
"We like to open letters," he said. Newspapers often receive mail from disgruntled readers, and reporters usually don't think twice about opening mail that has no return address or looks otherwise suspicious.
"What September 11 did was send up a flare to all the criminally irresponsible lunatics," Mr. Clark said.
Several newspapers have reported anthrax scares in their newsrooms.
The New York Times evacuated part of its newsroom yesterday after reporter Judith Miller, who has co-authored a book on bioterrorism, received an envelope with a suspicious substance.
On Tuesday, a St. Petersburg Times columnist opened an envelope that contained a cryptic handwritten note and a sugarlike substance. An analysis at a local laboratory determined the substance was not dangerous, a spokeswoman for the newspaper said.
A hazardous material crew was called to the office of the Winston-Salem (N.C.) Journal Monday after an employee opened a "nonsensical" letter that had been mailed from Iran, according to publisher Jon Witherspoon.
Authorities determined the envelope did not contain a threatening substance. "It was almost silly, but it was disruptive," Mr. Witherspoon said.
The Washington Times has given its mailroom employees instructions on handling suspicious packages. It has also warned employees to be careful when opening mail at their desks.
A spokesman for The Washington Post said it issued gloves to its mailroom employees earlier this week.
Other companies said they have followed extra security measures in their mailrooms since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Most companies were tight-lipped when asked to elaborate on specific changes or policies.
Marriott International Inc. spokesman Nick Hill said the mailrooms throughout the Bethesda-based hotel chain have been following a 15-step safety checklist created by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.
The list outlines things to look for on suspicious packages, such as misspelled names and addresses, strange return addresses and scribbled handwriting. The list was originally designed to protect against bomb threats, but an ATF spokesman said the anti-terror rules were virtually the same.
While some companies said they sent out basic warnings to employees, others, including Marriott said such a measure was unnecessary.
"It's common knowledge," Mr. Hill said. "People are aware."
* Tim Lemke contributed to this report.

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