On the Plane

False Alarm Frenzy

RAMALLAH, West Bank--On our way to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's meeting with Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas Monday morning, reporters were treated to a quick lesson in the pitfalls of instant global communications.

Rice's motorcade was about to leave Israel and drive into the West Bank. Suddenly, and unexpectedly, the vehicles halted. Security guards emerged with guns, setting up a perimeter. The secretary's car detoured into a nearby fire station for protection.

Back in the press van, we were told there was a suspicious vehicle on the Palestinian side of the border, and authorities were checking it out.

After a few minutes, the security concerns were allayed, and we were given a green light to proceed to the headquarters of the Palestinian Authority.

But during the brief stop, wire services reporters traveling with the secretary had dutifully called their desks to let them know that there had been a delay because security was checking into a car -- and that nothing untoward had happened.

But by the time we arrived in Ramallah, the following news alert was blinking on computer screens in newsrooms around the world: JERUSALEM (AP) -- A vehicle that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is riding in is diverted into an Israeli fire station due to security concerns en route to the West Bank.

An Israeli text message service sent out an alert as well.

The AP alert went out at 4:39 a.m. Eastern time on the international news wire. Eight minutes later, the wire sent out another alert, quoting a police officer saying it was a false alarm. But the damage was done.

In Washington, a local 5 a.m. newscast started its programming by reading the wire items over the air, with a "breaking news" banner flashing on the screen. Editors everywhere were breaking into sweats, and dialing their diplomatic correspondents who were traveling with Rice to find out what was going on.

The answer, of course, was nothing. For those of us now safely in Ramallah, the brief security delay was all but forgotten.

Makes you long for the days you had time to catch your breath before filing a story.

-- Michael Abramowitz

By Washington Post editors |  October 15, 2007; 8:06 AM ET  | Trip:  Rice in Russia and Middle East, October 2007
Previous: No Name, and Not Much to Say Either | Next: Rice's Diplomatic 'No Spin' Zone?


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In an era when CNN will dutifully follow
every single detail of a school anywhere in the USA
being evacuated, even for nothing, or a police chase
can be seen from overhead - for hours on end -
in just such an era this seems to be the news that
people want. Simple stuff just like the cops and robbers
and good guys and bad guys they see on tv. motorcades
and guns and explosions, and all that other good
stuff which the media is only too happy to slop
into our faces just as fast as they can because
the only purpose, the ONLY PURPOSE, that any of
this newsreporting serves is to captivate viewers
so that they will see the advertising, which, after
all, is paying for the reporting in the first place!

So why are you surprised? This is the kind of reporting
that your customers, the advertisers, really, really want!

Yes, your customers are the advertisers. absolutely!
They are the ones paying all of the bills - ALL of the
bills. As a viewer I can see it in every news report I see.
every single one.

You are not journalists any more. You are employees of the
great advertising game. Advertising pays all the bills. No
measure of enhancing the readers is made, only a measure
of how many readers are paying attention - to the advertising.

No longer journalists, now you are just purveyors.
Purveyors of self analysis, and false alarms.
Just verbage to fill the advertising page.

Posted by: Edward Bardell | October 15, 2007 12:49 PM

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