Editorial by John Ziegler

Narcissism at the Heart of Anthrax Overreaction

10/20/2001

While I have not been at all impressed or frightened by the technological expertise of the terrorists against whom we are currently waging war, I have to give them credit for at least one thing. They certainly understand how to create the largest bang with the smallest amount of firepower. Whether by design, or just by dumb luck, they have been able to manipulate the news media and our politicians with a prowess that must make even Bill Clinton envious.

The recent hysteria over the mailing of anthrax infected letters to members of the news media and our political leadership may very well be the most overreacted to public safety development in the modern age (or at least since the now long forgotten shark frenzy of this past summer). The cold reality is that only a few dozen people in a nation of 280 million have even been exposed to a disease, which, if properly treated, is no more dangerous than a combination of a cold sore and flu bug. In fact, it is actually far less menacing than even that because anthrax is not contagious. While it is horrible that one man has lost his life because of anthrax, there is no doubt that far more people will die this winter because of the flu than because of this overrated disease. Heck, it is even quite possible that more people than that will die driving to the pharmacy to get Cipiro!

Certainly because of these dangerous and unprecedented times, the fact that it seems that a terrorist living in our midst is targeting prominent people with a potentially (though easily treatable) deadly disease is obviously a story of some note and should be given a high priority among law enforcement officials. But, on a day where the United States was in the middle of a major war, should the top story on every newscast be that ONE employee of Tom Brokaw’s staff contracted, and is already recovering from, a likely harmless disease? Why is it that the DEATH of tabloid media worker was not given nearly as much exposure? Should the House of Representatives have closed for the first time in its history without any evidence that anyone there was even targeted? To me, the answers to both of these questions, as well as the explanation for these mistakes, are obvious.

Quite simply, as harsh at it may sound in this most politically correct of climates, it is the abject narcissism of those who have been targeted that has largely driven the near hysteria surrounding the anthrax mailings. It is clear that, to the egomaniacs that populate the media/political world, any news event that affects them automatically takes on an exponentially greater significance. While I sincerely sympathize with the plight of those working at major news organizations, Tom Brokaw’s closing of his newscast by holding up a bottle of antibiotics and declaring, “In Cipiro we trust,” appeared, at best, over the top and melodramatic, and, at worst, seemed like a self-serving attempt to provide NBC News with a leading role in this ongoing national soap opera.

Similarly, the hasty and unprecedented decision by the House of Representatives to shut down so that its complex could be searched for anthrax (even though not a trace of it had been found anywhere in there), appears to have been motivated, at least in part, by the belief that anything that endangers political leaders needs to be treated with a far greater sense of urgency than if it simply threatened the mere mortals of the general public. Lisa Myers of NBC News has reported that members of Congress are spooked because they believe that the plane that crashed in Pennsylvania was intended for them. To use that possibility as an excuse for their feckless reaction to this situation disgraces the legacy of the heroes on that flight that sacrificed their own lives to bring that plane down.

The New York Post (whose lone infected employee is still at work), headline following the decision to close the House simply read, “Wimps!,” had it exactly right. If only to set an example in these uncertain times, the House of Representatives should have been the LAST entity to cower in irrational fear, instead of being among the first. How can they possibly expect mail carriers to continue their, far less glamorous and protected jobs, when they are willing to fold up and go home so easily? Instead of reassuring the already frightened public, our leaders have given the weak minded among us even more reason to be worried.

The bottom line here is that both the news media and the Congress have given these terrorists EXACTLY what they wanted: to instill the nation with fear and hinder our inner workings, all without risking even one of their own lives. Way to go guys! You have provided our enemies with one of the few weapons they have left: the ability to scare us. Perhaps in the future we should consider electing New York City Firefighters to Congress, and petitioning the major networks to use members of the NYPD to read the news. While we might lose something in the blown dry hair department, I somehow I don’t think a few letters laced with anthrax would cause such an overblown and counterproductive commotion.

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