Looking Beneath the Surface of a Terrorism Case

October 10, 2006


Source: The New York Times


In the early summer of 2005 a conga line of television trucks with mushroom-shaped satellite dishes on their roofs descended like an occupying army on the unlikely town of Lodi, a small farm community nestled in the San Joaquin Valley in Central California.

Capitol police officers enter the Cannon House Building in a scene from “The Enemy Within,” the “Frontline” episode on PBS Tuesday night.

“There’s word of several terror-related arrests in Northern California,” Daryn Kagan, a CNN anchor, announced on June 8, 2005. “The F.B.I. says one of the suspects trained in an Al Qaeda camp to kill Americans.”

On television fear sells, especially when accompanied by what the comedian Jon Stewart called “the fear music,” “the fear voice” and “the fear font.” Fearmongering also generates political support, a fact that the Bush administration has used — or, to judge from “The Enemy Within,” on the PBS program “Frontline” tonight — abused in a variety of ways to press the hunt for terrorists on American soil.

The administration and television found common ground in Lodi, with results that are chillingly reminiscent of the Red scare of the 1950’s.