- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 5, 2002

It is bomb bombast: The press has a brand-new word to bandy about after the U.S. military dropped something called a BLU -118B over the mountains of eastern Afghanistan on Saturday. The word is "thermobaric," and it is no doubt destined for a brief but brillliant shelf life in the annals of war correspondence.
Though the military has previously used the word to designate a specific class of "fuel-air" weapons, the "thermobaric bomb" has assumed center stage for a fickle press who were just getting comfortable with the term "daisy cutter," the nickname for a 15,000-pound monster bomb used in Afghanistan in recent months.
Media interpretation of complex weaponry can prove an interesting mix.
Yesterday, Agence France-Presse and Reuters described the thermobaric bomb as "a deadly bunker-busting bomb built on a principle roundly denounced by human rights groups." The BBC explained, "the weapons create a huge pressure wave which effectively sucks the air out of the lungs of anyone unfortunate enough to be within range," and later concluded that the BLU-118B was a "horrible weapon."
CNN billed it with "Thermobaric bomb debuts" and provided a convenient profile box and a clip from a Department of Defense file video.
"Here we have a case of a buzz-bomb word," quipped Robert Lichter of the Center for Media and Public Affairs yesterday. "There are some words which quickly come into vogue and then disappear."
"Thermobaric" may be chic at the moment, but it also serves a specific purpose.
"Journalists must pay very careful attention to war coverage, and it does not come easy when information is either very limited or very complicated," Mr. Lichter continued. "But then along comes a new weapon with a novel new term attached to it. Journalists then have a chance to explain something to the public and feel useful."
Explaining the principles at work is not easy, however.
"It tends to be more pressure a pressure effect, as opposed to an incineration," DOD secretary Donald Rumsfeld told one reporter who had inquired about the new "silver bullet" bomb.
"When the shock wave from a normal bomb hits a wall, it stops," said U.S. navy spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Matthew Klee. "With BLU-118, the shock wave goes around the corner."
Some accounts this week muddled numbers, calling it both the "BLU-118S" and the "BLU-118B," a designation released by the Pentagon last December after the Air Force first successfully tested the device in the Nevada desert.
One Australian news service even resurrected the term "BLU-118" an old name for a Vietnam-era bomb which carried 500 pounds of napalm. It was, they said, an "ancestor" of the bomb dropped Saturday.
Whether the media accounts were 100 percent accurate or not, the stories resonated with the American public yesterday. Most folks, apparently, can identify with the finality of a big bomb, no matter how it's presented.
"BLU is my favorite color," noted one visitor to Lucianne Goldberg's news analysis Web site (www.lucianne.com).
"Good old Yankee know-how," echoed another.

Contact Jennifer Harper at [email protected] or 202/636-3085.

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