By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
Thursday at 2 a.m. my wife received an urgent phone call: “Don’t go anywhere, don’t do anything!” implored my Russian mother-in-law, Bronoslava, from Moscow. She’d just seen the afternoon newscast on Moscow’s National Television (NTV) news service (it was 1 p.m. there). Among its top stories was a report about an item on the al Qaeda Web site warning Muslims to evacuate New York, Washington and Los Angeles because of imminent terrorist attacks in those cities. “The truth of this warning will be proven in a few days,” the Web site was quoted as saying.
I immediately went online to check The New York Times — nothing. Then the Los Angeles Times — nothing. Then London’s The Guardian— again, nothing. Could this be yet another conspiracy of silence? All of the alleged warnings that went ignored just prior to 9/11 flashed through my mind. I looked out my kitchen window to see the lights of downtown poking through a haze, like Oz, and wondered: Will they be there tomorrow?
The next day at work I checked the NTV Web site, which came through in Cyrillic. My Russian is sketchy, so I called my wife, a native speaker, and read her the headlines. The top story was about Putin’s crackdowns on the oligarchs — skip that. Ah, there it is, item three: “Al Qaeda threatens America with new terrorist acts.” I clicked on that story, printed it and faxed it to our Hollywood living room. Five minutes later, my wife called back with a translation: “According to some sources, a prime suspect for the preparation of a new terrorist attack is al Qaeda activist Hamed Ali, an Egyptian, who was recognized from photographs in New York after 9/11, and who has been an active member of conspiracy meetings of terrorists inside the United States. NTV obtained the information from the American Fox Television News Network.” Huh?! The Russians are sitting around watching Fox?!
“Other than be scared, what exactly are we supposed to do with this information?” one colleague asked me. The next day, another told me of a nightmare she’d had about a terrorist attack on Los Angeles, thanks to me. By Friday afternoon, Fox had buried the story (“American Muslims Told To Leave Major U.S. Cities”) deep inside its Web site (it took two levels of searching to find it). So I called Fox News to ask why they were diminishing the exposure of this absolutely terrifying story. Was it because they didn’t really believe it . . . or because they did? Fox failed to return my phone calls.
Finally, I called the FBI, and got someone who said that they’d heard about the story on Fox News, but since they had no corroborating intelligence, they were not passing it on to local law enforcement.
“In another words, you’re not concerned?” I asked.
“That’s another way of putting it,” said the spokesperson.
Saturday night’s local Channel 2 news carried a story about the vulnerability of cargo planes at LAX being used as bombs to be dropped onto American nuclear power plants and dams. The weather report was no less chastening: “Major storm headed south!” accompanied by the image of torrential rains and the sounds of sirens. Then a military-looking map filled the screen with green blotches (the storm) and a horizontal chalked line of attack drawn somewhere below Santa Cruz, with arrows pointing directly to Los Angeles. I looked out the window to observe the moon poking through a wisp of cloud. Turns out the rain tape was from San Francisco. The weatherman explained that the temperature up there was colder than here, inducing heavy rain, but by the time the storm would get to Southern California on Sunday, the raindrops — which would be very wet and potentially lethal — might not actually touch the ground.
Sunday turned out to be dry, though cloudy. From a hillside vantage, I was particularly relieved to see the Library Tower, still standing tall, despite all the suggestions of clouds bursting and skies falling.
Nasty Dogs and Funky Kings
Last week, the dapper and chipper Bob Merlis, who was once the head of publicity for Warner Bros. on the West Coast and now has his own PR concern, invited me down to the set of The Tonight Show to do a little interview with ZZ Top, who were booked that night as Jay Leno’s musical guests. Rock critics periodically get these sorts of requests, many of which are best ignored (15 minutes with the famous rarely gets you more than a few shallow lines that play best on E!), but Merlis got me on this one. I was right in the middle of a rather swooning swirl over the power and glory and lewd fuzz of the band’s newest album, Mescalero. If you haven’t heard it yet, I’d call it one of those “triumphant return to form” comebacks you hear so much about, except that, as far as I’m concerned, ZZ Top were always good. They never made a bad album; in fact, I don’t think they’ve even recorded one bad track.