Monday, November 17, 2003

And by the Way, We're All Going To Die

I'd be the first one to argue that, in the discussion of terrorist targets and vulnerabilities, airplanes receive too much attention--at the expense of things like ports, chemical plants, etc.

But when it comes to passenger planes, there is one security gap so insanely, gapingly large that, if I told you about it, you'd never believe me.

Just try reading the reporting here [registration required] and here without concluding that air cargo poses a serious threat.

(What's more, the recently-published revelation that U.S. intelligence sources believe Al Qaeda has explored making "bombs which could be placed on aircraft and detonated by changes in barometric pressure [translation: detonated when the plane reached a particular altitude]" makes this threat look more terrifying than ever.)

So, why haven't you heard more about this story? Where's the mainstream media been?

An article recently posted at msnbc.com is a great case study. After spending fifteen paragraphs of his sixteen paragraph report implying that the air cargo threat is restricted to cargo planes alone, correspondent Preston Mendenhall drops this little nugget:

Experts and pilots also caution that the air cargo industry’s woes also extend to passenger planes, which carry unscreened cargo next to passenger luggage in the luggage hold.

If that isn't burying your lede, I don't know what is.

It's hard not to take such willfully bad reporting as evidence that journalists--or their editors--are so terrified about the air cargo situation that they're afraid even to draw attention to it.

But wouldn't it be better to get this issue out in the open, shine some light on it, and then shame the Bush administration into taking quick action? Are we truly better off pretending the problem doesn't exist?

CONTRAPOSITIVE is edited by Dan Aibel. Dan's a playwright. He lives in New York City.