“Let America be prepared to fasten its seat belt, because, thanks to God, we are going to surprise it in a place where it is not expecting.”

IN OTHER WORDS, IT'S GOING TO BE A BUMPY NIGHT — OR, at least, that's what al Qaeda spokesman Suleiman Abu Ghaith, in his best Margo Channing impersonation, had promised last June. Now, not that anyone's saying, “Bring it on!,” but it's September and we're still here. You can't blame our Homeland Security machine — it's done everything it can to keep us on our toes by filling the media every week with apocalyptic visions, as though bent on proving that Abu Ghaith is a man of his word.

The government's intimations of Armageddon generally fall under two headings: general terror warnings (“Heightened Security for Arbor Day”) and leaked news about FBI investigations. By now we've learned to ignore the first — does anyone seriously rethink a visit to Vegas or a football stadium because these happen to be some Bush appointee's idea of inviting cultural targets? The second kind is harder to ignore, not because news leaks are any more credible than the warnings, but because they appeal to our morbid fascination with catastrophe and frankly, without them we'd stop paying attention to the president's state of siege.

The nice thing about the various investigations is that they disappear from public discussion before any real questions are asked. What, for example, ever happened to Jose Padilla and his dirty bomb? You remember him — for days the papers screamed scenarios in which the former gang member would set off a uranium-enriched explosive in, say, Las Vegas or a football stadium. A Nexis tally of “major stories” reveals that Padilla had a half-life of barely three days before he began falling off the media's Geiger counter. For the record, the Associated Press reported last month that government investigators now say Padilla was never part of al Qaeda and was not in any stage of developing such an attack. Still, as an “enemy combatant,” this American who converted to Islam while working at Taco Bell remains under naval lockdown in a South Carolina brig.

Then there was the terror ship, first reported by The Washington Times, that held 40 well-trained and heavily armed ruffians, and was steaming from the Middle East to the West Coast. “The plan,” the Times reported, “called for the ship to unload the terrorists and their weapons near Santa Catalina Island, about 20 miles south of downtown Los Angeles.” Let's see, Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves — I mean, Al Qaeda and the 40 Terrorists — were going to disembark near Santa Catalina Island, which means they would be deposited somewhere in the water. If, as Henry Kissinger once remarked, South America was a dagger aimed at the heart of Antarctica, then imagine the chagrin of these al Qaeda SEALs upon discovering that they'd come so far only to end up ineffectually bobbing 26 miles from downtown Long Beach, let alone the heart of L.A.

Finally, whatever became of the Big Polio Scare of '02? This one, you may recall, arose when it was announced that scientists at the State University of New York at Stony Brook had created a live polio virus by downloading genetic information from the Internet and ordering the necessary chemicals in the mail. Now, this sounded pretty ominous on the radio during drive time, as though terrorists were going to start buying polio kits from eBay. What no one was saying, of course, is that the SUNY group could have also gathered the information (albeit, more slowly) by visiting libraries and stocking up at chemical-supply warehouses. But of course, that's not as fear-inducing as that scary Internet. And, by the way, am I the only person who found the truly frightening aspect of the SUNY project was that the Pentagon funded it? Anyway, the story melted away quickly enough, no doubt because, with Jose Padilla safely locked away, it will probably be a while before some brainiac tries to make the virus from scratch.

Lies, as a Russian proverb says, have short legs. But what of rumors — how far can they run before disappearing into the ether, and why is their exposure confined to the pundits' corners and op-ed pages? Judiciously timed and carefully placed leaks have always been part of America's public-policy battles, but the torrential flood of classified information, half-truths and innuendoes makes the White House and its ministry of fear, the Homeland Security Office, look more like an irrigation system of deceit than a war government. Will Big Media ever say “Enough!” or will it just go on fastening that seat belt?

Gray Like Me


And the Web edition of the San Francisco Chronicle writes that “Hugo Chavez may be the Gray Davis of Venezuela.”

–HughHewitt.com, March 13, 2002

Shapiro strategist Peter Fenn argues that his candidate could be the Gray Davis of the [Maryland] Democratic primary, coming from behind to nab the party nod if Shriver and Van Hollen feud too bitterly.

Roll Call, May 20, 2002

Next summer, when there are blackouts in Iowa, we'll start calling [Governor] Tom Vilsack the Gray Davis of Iowa . . .

–Panelist on Iowa Public TV, June 10, 2001

[New Jersey] Democratic Representative Frank Pallone Jr. opted out of the Senate contest after Corzine announced his candidacy. Pallone should have hung in there — he might have been the Gray Davis of 2000.

Washington Post, June 25, 2000

Reflecting on such numbers, some strategists suggest that [mayoral candidate James] Hahn is the Gray Davis of Los Angeles politics . . .

Los Angeles Times, March 23, 1999

LA Weekly