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By Jeremy Schiffres, Daily and Sunday Freeman, Kingston, N.Y.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Da bomb (threat)

There was considerable media coverage last week, especially on cable TV news channels, about a series of bomb threats being called in to large stores, like Wal-Mart, in various places around the United States.

But unlike the typical bomb threat – in which the caller simply says there’s a bomb in the building and then hangs up – these threats were efforts at extortion, with the perpetrator demanding a large sum of money be wired to an offshore bank account in exchange for the alleged explosive not being detonated.

First things first: I’m amazed that some of the stores were dumb enough to send the money. Bomb threats are hoaxes, plain and simple. They’re crank calls. Every one of them. Without exception. In my 23 years in the news business, I’ve never seen a bomb threat result in a bombing, and I’ve never seen a bombing preceded by a threat. Giving in to the demands of a bomb threat caller simply gives the person a reason to do it again – and again and again.

Which me brings me to my second point: I’m even more amazed that major news organizations (CNN, Fox, et. al.) covered this story. Everyone in this business knows that reporting a bomb threat simply leads to – you guessed it – more bomb threats. And that’s exactly what happened last week: The more the story was reported, the more the problem grew. More and more threats were called in to more and more stores, and authorities eventually conceded that some of the later calls were from people copycatting the original extortionist. (Gee, what a shock.)

At the Freeman, we’ve had a longstanding policy of not covering bomb threats. Most of the ones in the Hudson Valley are called in to schools by students who want to get out of a test or give their friends some outdoor time on a pleasant spring day. Authorities have to be notified, of course, and the schools have to be evacuated and searched, but that doesn’t mean the local paper has to give credence to these non-news stories.

In my nearly 20 years at the Freeman, I can remember making exceptions to this rule only twice: The first time was in May 2005, when a bomb threat was called in to Northern Dutchess Hospital in Rhinebeck. This one struck us as newsworthy because it forced the evacuation of not only the hospital’s employees but also all of the patients, including one who was being prepped for surgery. (I’ll never forget the front-page picture we published of patients being wheeled across the hospital parking lot on their beds.) The other was in September 2005, when a threat was called in to Hudson Valley Mall in the town of Ulster just seven months after Robert Bonelli Jr. went on his notorious shooting rampage there. Our reasoning was that any event causing public alarm in a place that just experienced the worst local shooting spree in recent history warranted our attention.

Beyond those rare cases, though, covering bomb threats would be a waste of space in our newspaper and a waste of time for reporters who could be covering more important subjects.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your boss has no balls. He does not allow comments on his Blog. What is he afraid of? Is he so arrogant, that he feels his comments are the end? No other opinions matter?

September 4, 2007 at 2:27 PM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good article in the NY times today. You guys see this?

Wonder why the local paper doesn't have this detail?

September 5, 2007 at 7:50 AM 

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