The difference a week makes

May 6, 2010 2:16:54 PM PDT
If it had happened a week ago, if that U-Haul truck had stopped short of the toll booth on the Manhattan bound part of the RFK Bridge and the driver had just left it there with gasoline leaking from the bottom of the truck, there likely wouldn't have been much of a deal made of it.

It would have been towed, a lane or two might have been closed and, seeing that it happened fairly late at night, few people would have been inconvenienced.

But it didn't happen a week ago. It happened last night. The Wednesday after the Saturday when a guy -- born in Pakistan who became an American citizen but who apparently came to hate Americans and wanted to be a jihadist - left a bomb-laden SUV in Times Square. Or at least he thought it was bomb-laden. Turns out the firecrackers he bought wouldn't start much of anything, let alone ignite the propane and fertilizer he had packed in the car.

But I digress.

The point is when we went on the air last night, with news that the bomb squad and Hazmat had surrounded an abandoned U-Haul truck on the bridge, everyone in the area was operating in the shadow of the Times Square plot.

And so they shut the bridge in both directions. Lots of folks were stuck, and lots of others, watching from home, suddenly became worried.

Turns out there was nothing in the U-Haul. Why did the driver flee when the car died on the bridge? Cops say it was a stolen car, and the driver, afraid he'd get caught when authorities came to remove the car, split.

We didn't know that at the time - we found it out today.

But what we know for sure, now, is that killing Americans - New Yorkers more specifically - may be goal-number-one to Islamic extremists, but the secondary goal is nearly as important to them: To kill our confidence and sense of security. Mental murder is as insidious as the physical kind.

Or, as Bruce Springsteen sings,
"Fear's a powerful thing
It can turn your heart black you can trust
It'll take your God-filled soul
And fill it with devils and dust."

Meanwhile, the Times Square bomb plot investigation is uncovering some fascinating links with the Pakistani Taliban. ABC News tonight is reporting that Faisal Shahzad, the accused Times Square would-be bomber, connected with the Taliban through the Internet. The report says that once the Taliban identified Shahzad as more valuable in the U.S. than in Pakistan, they trained him to return to execute his bomb attack.

Not that they trained him well, as it turns out, to all of our benefit. But the bottom line, according to ABC News, is that this case might shape up as more significant than the Najibulah Zazi case, and Shahzad's web of contacts could mean he was far from a lone actor.

We'll have the latest on last night's bridge scare - a sign of the times in terms of reaction, and the Times Square bomb plot, tonight at 11.

Also at 11, Stacy Sager looks into a remarkable new procedure that melts tumors. And she has the story of one woman who's still alive because of it.

And we're watching developments on Wall Street, after the market closes, to figure out how and why stocks plummeted several hundred points in a matter of minutes. At one point the Dow Industrials were down about 1,000, and then, just as quickly, rose again. How did this happen? The market closed down nearly 350 points, but the wild ride shook up investors and experts alike. Was it the riots in Greece, as some opined, or was it human error - someone punched a trade for 16 million shares but typed "billion" instead? Jeff Pegues is investigating tonight.

And we'll have the latest on the troubled Lawrence Taylor, the former New York Giants football great, who tonight is charged with raping a 16-year-old girl in Ramapo. He was released on $75,000 bond.

Finally, a word about Newsweek, the venerable newsweekly magazine that, these days, is about as thin as a supermarket insert in the Sunday paper. The magazine's owner, The Washington Post Co., has the weekly up for sale, although with tens of millions of losses every year - and the trend isn't good - it's hard to imagine anyone buying it. And if someone does buy it, hard to imagine it will be anything like the Newsweek we used to know.

I bring it up because Newsweek was my first paying journalism gig. I was a stringer in Southern California for the magazine in the mid-1970s. Stringer is hardly a front-line reporter, but it was exciting and a great learning experience. And what a thrill to see your one-paragraph report printed (but never without radical re-writing), or your name at the bottom (with reports from "your name here").

During my work with the magazine, editors at one point were under orders to cut expenses. This was before computers, and we would send our "files," or stories, via Western Union, which charged by the letter. So to save money, editors told us to eliminate articles and prepositions and other short words they deemed inconsequential to the story.

To show you what it would look like, I'll take the first sentence from the preceding paragraph and eliminate those words and you can see what I would have sent to the editor via Western Union.

Here goes:
"My work magazine, editors one point were orders cut expenses. Was before computers, we would send "files," stories, Western Union, charged letter."

You can just imagine. A week later, the edict went out to stringers: No more eliminating words in files. Send the whole thing.

I feel sad that the Post wants to sell Newsweek, and that it's a shadow of its former self. But no sadder than I feel about the other old media that are fading faster than the Jonas Brothers. It's the new reality.

And of course the great news with the Internet is that editors will never tell you to eliminate articles and prepositions for space considerations.

We'll also have any breaking news of the night, plus Lee Goldberg's AccuWeather forecast, and Scott Clark with the night's sports. I hope you can join Liz Cho and me, tonight at 11.

BILL RITTER


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