August 14, 2004

If Profiling You Is Wrong...

...I don't wanna be right. Take this story, from, about two men who appeared to be of "Middle Eastern descent." The two contacted Arlene Thomas, who runs a helicopter charter service, and told her they wanted to see St. Louis landmarks by air. Thomas became suspicious, and called the police. The police searched the men's carry-on bags, and found:

a butane lighter, box cutter, two knives, duct tape, a powdery substance and a bottle filled with a clear liquid. The men also had maps of New York, Chicago, San Francisco and St. Louis with major landmarks highlighted in yellow.

Now, was it merely their appearance that made her suspicious? Nope. They also had out-of-state plates (on a rental car), out-of-state ID, wads of cash, and when they called that morning, they didn't seem to care about prices. Of course the men were terrorists, right?

Wrong. They were actually an NBC producer and cameraman, pursuing a story that was supposed to show how easy it was for a terrorist to slip into a small airport and charter a helicopter. Thanks to Arlene Thomas, "the incident at the airport was reduced to a brief mention at the end of the newscast. "


Do we really need the media digging up new ways to make us feel unsafe? I constantly hear accusations of the Bush administration manipulating our fear, but they're nothing compared to the networks. The networks rely on our fears to keep us from changing over to reruns of Everybody Loves Raymond. And then--as in this case--when things go as they should, and there's little scare to be had, the story becomes a minor footnote.

Airport director Bob McDaniel didn't think there was anything minor about it.

"I'm absolutely outraged that NBC News is out here trying to create news rather than report news," McDaniel said after meeting with members of the Transportation Security Administration. "This clearly scared the hell out of a lot of folks and wasted a lot of valuable resources, tying up emergency forces, and all of it was entirely unnecessary. "If they wanted to learn about security, we'd have been happy to take them on a ride and show how it works," McDaniel said. Thomas said an apology was in order from NBC to her and everyone who was

Rather than apologize, NBC felt the need to defend themselves:
"Nothing they did or carried was illegal," said NBC spokesman Allison Gollust.
Allison's got some big balls on her. That's like running up to the president, whipping out a toy gun and then later trying to explain it away by claiming a toy gun is not illegal (that's assuming you survived the incident). C'mon...they tried to enter a helicopter with knives, box cutters, and a lighter. While that may not technically be illegal (isn't it? Somebody out there help me out on this one.), it certainly isn't harmless either. NBC needs to take the same heat on this that they would have handed out had their little plan succeeded.

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