Saturday, October 08, 2005

Terrorism: Media vs Reality

Time more or less suspends itself within the confines of a football stadium, passing only as ticks on scoreboard clock or first downs on the field. That's probably why I can only tell you it was a few minutes before halftime of the game between Oklahoma University and Kansas State University when I heard it, a thunderous "BOOOOOOM" that rumbled through the west side of Oklahoma Memorial Stadium, and caused about 10,000 people in the west-side upper deck where my son and I sat to rise in unison for something other than a play on the field.

Thunder from an unexpected storm, I thought? No, the evening was warm and clear, and what bits of rain dotted the state were to the east, and had moved on long ago. An inadvertent blast from the guns of the RufNeks, an intense OU spirit squad that blasts their guns as part of its pregame ritual? Nope...this "boom" was behind us, west of the stadium, possibly from the parking garage. Nope, this was a "boom" that had bad written all over it, but no one knew exactly what. Only the scattering of Oklahoma Highway Patrolman out of the stadium in that same general direction alluded to anything out of the ordinary.

The "boom" turned out to be the explosion of a bomb either tied to or being prepared by a student named Joel Henry Hinrichs, a figure of fact, fiction, and myriad opinion as someone who either chose to end his life conspicuously, only a few hundred feet away from a stadium of 85,000 people, by blowing himself up; or, as a mistake-prone cohort of individuals with a broader objective of causing harm to those same 85,000 as part of a failed terrorist act. Only the FBI knows for sure, and it's a virtual certainty they're not sharing all they know with the rest of us, at least not publicly.

I thought surely this would be the beginning of an entirely new run of negative, frightening national publicity for Oklahoma, forever immortalized as home to the "Oklahoma City Bombing," unwitting conduits for one or more terrorists involved in 9/11, now the possible focus of yet another but larger-scale terrorist attempt right at the heart of one of Oklahoma's most loved pastimes - football.

One week later, however, nothing. Absent a few passing blurbs on FOX, some reports on what some might term "fringe" websites, and a passing reference on even The Drudge Report, the national media has taken a pass on this one. From one perspective, that's not so bad; Oklahoma doesn't need the publicity, at least not that kind. From another, I can't help but wonder, "Huh??"

The sense of wonder doesn't get any more curious than when the news of last night is peppered with reports about a potential bomb plot along the New York City subway system. One terrorist in one location reports that someone who might be plotting something just might be in the US, and the media's typewriters and video cameras can't start rolling fast enough to record and take pictures of -- absolute normalcy. Headlines crossfire about who and what might be involved; about who disclosed what and to whom; and that a soda can prompted an evacuation of the Penn Central station.

In the midst of it, I can't help but be struck by the irony; the national media in an all-too-predictable frenzy over the potential of a terrorist event in New York, but almost completely absent from the story of the actual detonation of an actual bomb within striking distance of 85,000 people in Oklahoma! And when you add to that the fact that local media outlets discovered that Hinrichs attempted to purchase of multiple bags of ammonium nitrate fertilizer - the same base component used in the Murrah building bombing ten years ago - and that Hinrichs apartment was apparently chock-full of explosive components, and that Hinrichs apparently attempted to enter Memorial Stadium twice (but was refused when he would not allow his backpack to be searched) and it would seem you have all the ingredients for a story the national media would trip over each other to cover.

Nope. They're sitting this one out.

I, for one, loathe conspiracy theories. I think Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone. I think we really did land on the moon. But I can't help but wonder why a story so rich in potential for the investigative journalism that is presumably held so dear by our fourth estate is given a free pass. If Hinrichs had, somehow, made it into Memorial Stadium before blowing himself up, he would have found himself in the midst of a halftime-throng of hungry, thirsty fans he could have taken out with him; men, women, and children of all walks of life - like me and my son -doing nothing more than waiting for a Coke or a corn dog. I guess that would have attracted media attention.

Our national media - all of them - have dropped the ball by ignoring this story. The sad truth is they didn't really ignore it; they just chose not to cover it.

And that is to their shame.


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