Here's a startling example of how more news stories about bin Laden and al Qaeda might have made a difference. Shortly after he arrived in America, Mohammed Atta, the man we now believe to have been the ringleader of the 9/11 attacks, went to an unsuspecting Department of Agriculture loan officer in Florida and tried to get a loan for what he described as crop dusting. He told the loan officer, one Johnell Bryant, that he wanted to finance a twin-engine, six passenger aircraft, take out the seats, and fit it with a chemical tank that would fill every square inch except where the pilot would sit. Bryant thought the idea was impractical and rejected the application. Atta then turned his attention to an aerial photo of Washington on the wall of her office, pulled out a wad of money, and tried to buy it. He asked her to point out the White House and the Pentagon, and asked her how America would like it if another country destroyed Washington and some of the monuments in it, just as the cities in his country had been destroyed. And here's the amazing part: In the course of their conversation, Atta inquired if the loan officer had heard of an organization overseas of people dissillusioned with their governments; that group, he told her, was called al Qaeda. He also mentioned the name Osama bin Laden, and promised that bin Laden would some day be known as the "world's greatest leader."Imagine if we had a mass media that pursued stories relevant to the functioning of democracy with the tenacity that it pursues stories that do not. Imagine if the media was as interested in Cheney's dissapeared e-mails as it was the vagina of Britney Spears. Imagine if the media pursued the story of a conspiracy to fraud the nation into war with the tenacity that it stalks celebrities and their children. Imagine if the press followed a bipartisan effort to perpetuate a "constitutional crisis" as obsessively as it follows up on celebrity deaths. Imagine if the media was as interested in where the presidential candidates stand on one of the most massive (and illegal) civil liberty violation in the nation's history as they are in endlessly discussing bickering between candidates. Imagine if we had a media that devoted as much time as it does to telling us who Linsday Lohan is dating in rehab to informing us that we have a broken government.
All of this took place four months before 9/11. but none of this rang a bell with Bryant, for al Qaeda or bin Laden were going nearly unmentioned by the mass media at the time.
Addendum (5/31/08): Since posting this a significant flaw in the Bryant/Atta incident cited by Fenton has come to my attention.