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Letter to the editor

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To the Editor,I am writing in response to A&T Register Copy Desk Chief Joshua Capers’ September 27 column, “Are We Really Safe?” In it Capers discussed the all too familiar subject of fear ?” in particular the American public’s seemingly constant fear of another 9/11. Capers specifically cited a report about a man named Adnan El-Shukrijumah, who the report said would “serve as the field commander for the next terrorist attack on U.S. soil.” More disturbingly, Capers went on to say that “the FBI . . . reported that in 2004 . . . El-Shukrijumah was last seen in Mexico, where he hijacked a plane so he could transport a nuclear weapon and nuclear equipment to the U.S.” Needless to say, this statement certainly caught my attention! As someone who follows the news closely, I was quite surprised to learn from Mr. Capers that I had somehow missed that FBI report about a hijacked Mexican airliner filled with nuclear weapons and piloted by a known Al-Qaeda terrorist that disappeared into the United States two years ago. I decided to investigate the matter further.I started with Capers’ only cited source for his story, a website called World Net Daily. I had never visited the site before . . . and now I know why. On the day I looked at World Net Daily it featured, among other things, an exclusive commentary titled, “Feminists: Morally Equivalent to School Shooter” (a disturbing reference to the man who recently killed several Amish girls in Pennsylvania). Other articles and editorials followed in a similarly twisted, fanatical Right-Wing vein. The advertisements on the site were also telling: a “Nukalert” keychain (“personal radiation monitor and alarm,” presumably useful for finding El-Shukrijumah’s missing nuke-laden plane) and several books on the persecution of American Christians and the evils of Islam. In other words, World Net Daily is a clearinghouse for Christian-Right paranoia. If Capers had bothered to do his homework, this would have been obvious to him and he might have considered double-checking his story, as I did.One or two Google searches later, Capers’ error was exposed. The FBI never reported the story about the Mexican hijacking, as Capers claimed; rather, that story appears to have come from one of the many crackpot bloggers who feed “information” to websites like World Net Daily. It is true that El-Shukrijumah is on the FBI’s most wanted list for his suspected involvement with Al-Qaeda, but the FBI’s website makes no mention of the other parts of Capers’ claims. The truth is the FBI does not know where he is (not exactly a reassuring thought).Why is any of this important for the A&T community? I can think of two main reasons. First, students need to know-and Capers, as an aspiring journalist, really ought to know-that all sources of information are not equal. Some are more reliable than others. And isn’t there a rule in journalism that says you cannot run a story without at least two corroborating sources? Second, and even more important, citizens in a republic need to possess critical thinking skills in order for democracy to function. A free press is essential to democracy, and there can be no freedom without serious, critical questioning of all truths. Stirring up unfounded fears, as Capers’ column did, produces the opposite effect and only plays into the hands of those who want to silence such criticism. In closing, allow me to suggest a title for a different A&T Register editorial: Are We Really Safe from Bad Journalism?Sincerely,Dr. James WoodAssociate ProfessorDepartment of HistoryNorth Carolina A&T StateUniversity(The article referenced to in this letter: Are we really safe?)

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