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The Adminstration That Cries Wolf

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Message Randolph Holhut

DUMMERSTON, Vt. —That didn't take long, did it?

It took barely a week before the supposed plot to blow up the fuel tanks and pipelines at New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport and incinerate the borough of Queens in the process was swept away by Paris Hilton and the blather over the last episode of "The Sopranos."

While the press loves to hype a good terrorist plot, pop culture apparently still trumps death and destruction. But in those rare moments where there isn't a celebrity doing something dumb, you can count on the press dutifully reporting upon the latest foiled attempt at a second 9/11 being thwarted by our brave and valiant law enforcement authorities.

Perhaps we're all better off when Paris Hilton's jailhouse toilet-phobia is front page news. At least there's a little more truth in that story compared to the JFK plot.

Americans have finally begun to figure out that the Bush administration loves to cry wolf and pump up the most absurd and improbable plots into the next 9/11. Before our press turned its eyes to Paris Hilton, we learned that the JFK plot had little chance of succeeding, that the so-called plotters had no explosives or financial backing to carry out the attack and that the chief source of intelligence for law enforcement agencies was a convicted drug dealer who infiltrated the so-called terror cell in exchange for a lighter sentence. None of the would-be attackers had ties to Iraq, Iran or any other country in the Middle East. They had no ties to al-Qaida or any other terrorist group.

Of course, none of this got the big screaming headlines that the initial news of the arrests did. But it's been par for the course in the alleged global war on terror that the Bush administration is waging.

Certainly, every lead needs to be investigated and people who might be plotting some sort of attack should be arrested. But not all threats are created equal and too many of them have been blown out of proportion.

Remember the guys who were going to use a blowtorch to take down the Brooklyn Bridge? The "Lackawanna Six," the Yemen-Americans allegedly linked to al-Qaida? Jose Padilla and the "dirty bomb" that never was? The "Seas of David" group in Miami that wanted to blow up the Sears Tower in Chicago? All of these were hyped into major plots, and in every case, there was far more talk than action.

Even the recent "plot" to attack Fort Dix in New Jersey, while slightly more plausible, had a extremely low probability of success. Unless the six guys are Sylvester Stallone, Chuck Norris, Bruce Willis, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Steven Seagal, and Jean-Claude Van Damme — in character, of course — they are not going to infiltrate an Army base.

The irony of the terrorism hype is that it helps the terrorists. After all, the whole point of terrorism is to terrorize. And if people are running around afraid that swarthy Arabic men are going to blow them to bits, well, the terrorists have won.

Last week, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg offered the best advice for Americans — "Get a life."

"There are lots of threats to you in the world," Bloomberg said. "There's the threat of a heart attack for genetic reasons. You can't sit there and worry about everything. You have much greater chance of being hit by lightning than being struck by a terrorist."

Instead of freaking out at every hint of a threat, Americans should take a deep breath and recognize that there is nothing worry about — except from politicians who want to manipulate our fears to carry out their policies.

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Randolph T. Holhut has been a journalist in New England for more than 25 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books). He can be reached at
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