Friday, September 21, 2007

Terror Quotes

"MIT coed with fake bomb 'art' arrested


BOSTON -- Troopers arrested an MIT student at gunpoint Friday after she walked into Logan International Airport wearing a computer circuit board and wiring on her sweatshirt. Authorities call it a fake bomb; she called it art."
It appears that someone at the Associated Press also calls it a fake bomb. The scare quotes imply that the headline writer agrees with the authorities, and doubts that the breadboard and LED setup that Star Simpson was wearing was intended for what she claims it was; namely a way to stand out from the crowd during career day. With any high-profile case, such as this one, the Court of Public Opinion is going to render a verdict; likely before the criminal justice system gets around to it. But the media shouldn't be acting as a witness for the prosecution. The use of scare quotes is completely inappropriate here, in no small part because the words fake bomb are left unquoted. If you've seen a picture of the item in question, it doesn't really look much like an explosive device, although I can understand how it might be mistaken for one. Personally, I find calling it a fake bomb much more of a stretch than calling it artistic. Mainly because, especially in the context of a hoax, a fake is designed to fool people into thinking that it is something that it isn't. I have serious doubts that someone smart enough to get into MIT couldn't come up with a more immediately convincing simulacrum of an explosive device. (Good Morning America seemed to agree. Their crawl this morning stated that Simpson was wearing a "fake explosives belt under her clothing," which pointed to a much more deliberate act of hoaxing.)

At the bottom of it all appears to be an unwillingness on the part of the authorities to simply lay it on the line and say that they're adopting a stance that tolerates numerous false positives, even flimsy ones, rather than risk any false negatives. It's a trade-off, and it's not necessarily an illegitimate trade-off at that. But false positives create an impression of incompetence that the authorities are keen to avoid - mainly because it undermines their authority. So what we end up with are dubious claims of hoaxes and muttered implications of bad faith on the part of the people detained. It's disingenuous, and unnecessary. And the tendency of the media establishment to subtly go along with them doesn't serve the interests of the public. And encouraging the public to prejudge events through leading headlines doesn't help matters.

1 comment:

ben said...

When was the last time someone got through security with 1) something that wasn't allowed and 2) something that was a serious threat.

I can only think of one incident (shoe bomber) and that was barely a "serious threat".

Security is a crock of shit. It's pathetic that the public puts up with it.

Of course - it's the same old argument... "you're fed up with retarded security at the airport - but what can you do?".

Exactly. Fascism: one small step at a time.