America has just been through a week of paranoia unparalleled in recent memory.
It actually began on Feb. 7, when the federal government raised its terror alert level to condition orange, signifying a “high” risk of attack. We had experienced that once before, late last summer around the first anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, but it was worse this time.
It was exacerbated by the release of tapes purportedly from Osama bin Laden. And by federal officials who seemed to be saying we all should rush out, buy duct tape and seal ourselves into our homes. And by 24-hour all-news networks that kept an orange logo in the lower right corner of the screen.
By the end of the week federal disaster officials were downplaying the duct-tape talk and on Sunday Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge said the terror alert may be downgraded soon. That would be a relief. But it’s only fair to ask how many times we can put ourselves through this. It is getting really, really exhausting.
The media can’t be blamed for reporting the news. These really are serious times. Terrorists really are out there and there is a big war in the offing. But maybe we ought to turn down the volume a bit.
For one thing, what about those terror alert logos on the TV screen? What good do they serve other than to make nervous Nellies even more nervous? And what about the constant parade of kickers that say “NEWS ALERT” and “BREAKING NEWS”? Often these show up on stories that are hours old or no more significant than the one Texas soap opera about the Mercedes-driving, husband- smashing dentist. A sense of proportion is needed here.
Asking the stations to cool it is probably futile, however, given the need to fill 24 hours a day with gripping material. So in the end our mood depends largely on us.
What’s really going on around us? Does safety lie in duct tape? Do our personal lives unfold any differently under condition orange than they would under condition green? Does it make sense to be hyperventilating allevery hour of the day, especially with a gas mask on?
Those are reasonable questions for unreasonable times. Be alert, sure. Stash some extra food and water, maybe some cash. It’s good to have those around anyway.
But let’s let up a bit on the national panic button.