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News Blitz

The media are too self-obsessed? Well, then how are we supposed to cover a story where we're the targets?


Headline news: Outside the NBC News building in New York after the announcement that an employee had been infected.  

It wasn't just the growing likelihood that we were under a bio attack (after all, we've been warned again and again, with the FBI ratcheting up the suspense). It was that the media was under bio attack. This was as weird as it was terrifying. Or, really, there seemed to be a constant recalibration of which was greater-the weirdness or the terror.

It was bizarre that the supermarket tabloids were targeted (if you wanted to attack the media, would you begin with the tabloids?). But now it wasn't just the tabloids; it was NBC and the New York Times. Was the idea to go from one end of the journalistic food chain to the other-least credible to most credible? And what a touch to send Judith Miller, at the Times, author of a book about bio warfare, an envelope of possible bio agents. How media-savvy was Osama bin Laden (with his karaoke microphone)?

And the mayor was back in his reassuring mode, this time with NBC chairman Bob Wright (did Jack Welch regret missing the moment?), who announced that Tom Brokaw's assistant, who contracted anthrax, was expected "to recover completely."

The New York anthrax was, we learned, cutaneous anthrax, the good kind, as opposed to the bad kind, inhalation anthrax, in Florida.

But reassurance didn't last long. The Times, after all, had locked everyone in. And there were people in haz-mat suits visible from the Condé Nast Building. "The irony is that the media have faithfully transmitted the reassuring statements of authorities that these anthrax cases are not a terrorist attack, but suddenly it's a bit harder to keep your knuckles from turning white," said the Washington Post's media columnist Howard Kurtz when I called to ask him if the Post was reporting this as a national story or a media story.

It would probably be a little of both, he said. Then he read me the internal e-mail he'd just received: "Some people who open a lot of mail may prefer to use latex gloves when performing that duty . . . "

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