- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 31, 2001

Last week, many Washingtonians began feeling slightly feverish, fairly faint and nervously nauseated. Even when their tests for anthrax exposure came back negative, they were unable to concentrate or read for any length of time. Oddly, many thought they felt much better when they put aside the morning paper.

These unfortunates may well have become victims of Headline Anxiety Disorder of Anthrax in The Washington Post, or HAD-A-WP. This temporary, treatable condition was manifested in readers who spent too much time last week looking at the above-the-fold stories in The Post.

Such adverse reactions were certainly understandable, since the headlines were as bold as they were bloodcurdling. "Anthrax Cited in 2 D.C. Postal Deaths," blazed Tuesday's across-the-top-of-the-page headline. That set up Wednesday's double-decked feature, "Anthrax Threat Takes a Wider Scope; New Cases Emerge; Some Mail Halted." While Thursday's creature was slightly less scary, "Postal Service Moves to Protect Mail, Purge System of Anthrax," that seemed to be only a teaser for Friday's, "Va. Case Alters Anthrax Equation," and Saturday's screamer, "Anthrax Scare Closes High Court; Treatment Urged for Thousands."

No wonder so many unfortunates came down with HAD-A-WP. In fact, it is rather astonishing that all Washingtonians weren't calling on Cipro (or Dr. Jack Daniels) to treat such symptoms. Yet, the reality of the anthrax attack, while certainly something to be concerned about, was far more benign than The Post's headlines made it.

To date, a handful of people in the District have tested positive for infections of anthrax. Two of them died, but the other three are being treated with the antibiotics that the anthrax is sensitive to. Less than two-score D.C. residents and workers have tested positive for anthrax exposure, including 28 at the Hart Senate Office Building. Even though anthrax spores are continuing to be found in other federal buildings, the possibilities of infection from such incidental exposure remain almost infinitesimal.(Twenty thousand Americans will die this winter of flu.)

Should D.C. residents remain on their guard against additional bioterrorism attacks? Certainly. But newspapers and broadcast stations, and that includes this newspaper, have a responsibility to provide accurate information about such attacks without provoking panic, and to save the end-of-the-world headlines until the end of the world is considerably nearer than it is this morning. Newspapers should not be agents of collective fear. If we work together, we can ensure that no D.C. resident is victimized again by HAD-A-WP.

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