A return to pre-9/11 news values?



While we weren't looking, did the Atlantic Ocean revert to its pre-9/11 width, when the troubles of Europe could be met with a can't-happen-here shrug in the United States? The announcement that terror plots had just been smashed in Germany and Denmark got the kind of lackadaisical play in the Chicago press I associate with the good old days, when the U.S. was imperiled less by what it didn't know than by what it refused to imagine.

"3 held in alleged plot," Thursday's Tribune's account, ran back on page 9 (the story of the arrests in Berlin led the New York Times the same day). The next day's follow-up, "U.S. tip led to Germany arrests," ran on page 11. The Tribune missed a bet Friday. Its top story on page one was "Parts of Patriot Act struck down / Judge rules against warrantless access to e-mail, phone data." There's only one reason I can think of why this story would be separated by ten pages from the one beginning, "A U.S. intelligence intercept of suspicious communications between Pakistan and Stuttgart was the initial break that ultimately led to the arrest this week of three suspected Muslim militants accused of plotting massive car bomb attacks here against Americans . . ." That reason is a fear of cognitive dissonance. The stories should have been placed side by side.

As for the Sun-Times, a one-column AP story with the intriguing headline "Terrorists may be gearing up for 9/11" peeked out from page 27 Thursday. On Friday, "3 down, 7 to go in Germany," another AP story, ran on page 34. Absurdly, the Sun-Times labeled Friday's lead editorial "WHY THE PLOT IN GERMANY MATTERS HERE," with the subhead "Americans were in the bull's-eye" and a pullquote reading "They were plotting in Germany, but they wanted to hit America." I don't know who reads the Sun-Times editorial page, but apparently the editors don't.

Juxtaposing stories on an American intelligence intercept and on the Patriot Act ruling was never in the cards at the Sun-Times. The ruling by a federal judge in New York didn't make the paper.

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