amBIGuity is a teRRible thInG…

Orange Alert. Should we be worried? Howard Kurtz considers the role of the news media during this heightened state of alert (and, presumably, prelude to war). Headlines around the country are screaming about preparations for terrorist attack.

Is this as a media-generated frenzy, or is this an example of government manipulation. The reality may be far more complicated that this simple dichotomy and (imagine!) may include sincere attempts by the press and government to protect the American people. We are at Orange Alert; that’s news. If we are on alert, then this suggests that citizens must react in some way, otherwise an alert is just a waste of a good logo. Is buying duct tape and plastic sheeting the most effective reaction? Who knows?

While we’re waiting for whatever calamity be befall us, I suggest reading Murray Edelman’s book Constructing the Political Spectacle. He discusses the political use of emergencies, by government and the press, to make sense of ambiguous political situations.

UPDATE (11:00 a.m.): From Romanesko, here’s more coverage of this “media frenzy”:

Hub Brown says: “I don’t know about you, but I’m starting to get nervous. When I’ve gone to my television screen for news this week, there among the growing clutter of tickers, logos and listings at the bottom of the frame was that little note. “Threat alert high,” in orange of course. It demanded action from me, especially given the breathless delivery of news these days on the cable networks about the constant drumbeat of war and the threat of terrorism here and abroad.”

The First Lady says these alerts are “a little bit like crying wolf.”

Washington Times headline: Hysteria runs riot; networks fuel the fear.

UPDATE (1:20 p.m.): ABC reports (yesterday): “A key piece of the information leading to recent terror alerts was fabricated, according to two senior law enforcement officials in Washington and New York. ”

UPDATE (1:48 p.m.): The Note says some in the Washington press corps are little freaked out.

UPDATE (1:52 p.m.): I got a chuckle out of this: “Ah, yes, President Duct Tape builds billion dollar bunkers, that we pay for, for himself and his pals. But for us Homeland Security is a “Do-it-yourself” project. Maybe he should have appointed Bob Vila as the head of the Department of Homeland Security.” –from Media Whores