THOSE SCARY ENVIROS. Now that we know "eco-terrorists" (don't you love the term?) weren't responsible for those December 6 arson fires in a southern-Maryland subdivision, it's time to ask a few questions as to why the media were so gullible.
Not surprisingly, though many news organizations picked up on FBI suspicions, few went as far as Fox News. Here's a bit from Special Report with Brit Hume from December 7. Reporting is Steve Centanni:
The housing development is near a place called the Araby bog, it's a sensitive type of wetland called a Magnolia bog and that prompted the Sierra Club to protest the construction plans. The environmental group called the subdivision urban sprawl that impacts on fragile wetlands. Raising that possibility ecoterrorists, like the ELF, the Earth Liberation Front, could be to blame.
That group, the so-called ELFs, have launched high profile arson attacks to protest development across the country, including a 1998 attack in Vail, Colorado. But unlike in previous ELF attacks, no calling card like a banner, sign or any other claim of responsibility has been found here in Maryland. Although one could still turn up....
One source close to the investigation tells FOX News, members of the Earth Liberation Front are likely to be contacted as part of this painstaking investigation.
Can't you just feel the fear? And don't you love the casual, connect-the-dots link between the Sierra Club and house-burning radicals? Subdivisions go up every day, many of them in wetlands and other environmentally sensitive areas. Yet how often do you hear about eco-terrorism? I'm not saying it never happens - evidently it has. But it seems sufficiently rare that it's bizarre for the Earth Liberation Front to emerge instantly as Fox's most likely suspect.
Here's CBS reporter Bob Orr on The Early Show for that same day:
While investigators are certain the fires were deliberately set, they don't know who's responsible. The neighborhood being built near a nature preserve has drawn criticism from environmentalists concerned that overdevelopment may threaten Chesapeake Bay wetlands.
So-called eco-terrorists have already used fire as a weapon. Last summer a group called the Earth Liberation Front admitted torching a $50 million development in California. Environmental extremists have also targeted upscale, gas-guzzling SUVs. Maryland authorities say so far they can't connect this fire to eco-terror. But the arson damage will top $10 million, and dozens of families have had their American Dreams interrupted.
"So far." But they will, by God! Except that they didn't.
To its credit, the Washington Post as early as December 8 ran a story by David A. Fahrenthold that took a skeptical view of the eco-terrorist angle, noting that it was only one possible motive, and that such criminal tactics are completely alien to the Maryland environmental movement. But it's so much more fun to say "eco-terrorist."
I'll grant you that this story never got completely out of hand, like the targeting of security guard Richard Jewell in the Atlanta Olympics bombing of 1996 (he was later cleared without ever having been formally charged), or the blaming of Islamist extremists in the Oklahoma City bombing of 1995. But will the media ever learn to restrain themselves when stumped investigators float theories in the hope of flushing something or someone out?
Now we're told that race may have been a motive. We'll see about that.
CAPTURED SOUND, ROUND 2. I received some excellent advice in response to my recent call for help in finding a digital voice recorder. After rejecting a suggestion for a $700 unit (an easy call, though I'm sure it's great), I'm looking seriously at an Olympus DS-660. One Media Log reader told me she's very happy with her DS-330; and it seems that the more-expensive toy is only slightly more expensive if I buy it online - like around $150.