Homeland insecurity

YOU HAVE TO wonder if the anthrax attacks are the work of homegrown far-right wackos rather than bin Laden brigades. Consider: These bioterrorists used the domestic Ames anthrax strain. They targeted Tom Daschle, CBS, and NBC—not Tom DeLay or Fox News. Three years ago, a former Aryan Nations lieutenant who'd been convicted for trying to buy plague bacteria and a kooky-medicine "entrepreneur" were arrested with an anthrax stock (and later freed when it proved to be a harmless veterinary strain). And sending hoax anthrax letters is old hat for anti-abortion fanatics.

Finally, last month's biological letter-bombing seemed an awfully (or blessedly) small-bore follow-up to Sept. 11. The crude Islamist message in one letter was so brazen that it sounded like a setup. Any other violent zealots incubating their own anthrax batches would find convenient cover in the current turmoil.

The administration has acknowledged the possibility of domestic anthrax attackers, but the media have neglected or discounted it—at least in this country. Last Sunday, Britain's conservative Observer reported that "neo-Nazi extremists within the U.S. are behind the deadly wave of anthrax attacks against America, according to latest briefings from the security services. . . . 'We've been zeroing in on a number of hate groups, especially one on the West Coast,' a source at the Justice Department told the Observer. 'We've certainly not discounted the possibility that they may be involved.'" If so, it might complicate the War on Terrorism, but it might also be reassuring: It wouldn't be further evidence of Al Qaeda's reach.


As this orphan election stumbles to a close, the Times and P-I seem to be winning the contest—can they find more occasions to praise Mark Sidran than The Stranger can to praise Grant Cogswell. But the dailies and their writers do stop short on two points: They haven't hailed Sidran as (savor the thought) "folk hero," as The Stranger hailed Stranger-writer-turned-council-candidate Cogswell. And they haven't given Sidran money—except P-I columnist and longtime Democratic operative Ted Van Dyk, who disclosed on Oct. 18 that he'd given Sidran's and Schell's campaigns each $600 and recounted his other in-state political contributions. To "reassure" any readers who might doubt his independence, Van Dyk added, he planned no more such contributions.

Such abstinence is standard ethical procedure for news organizations, including this paper, which fear getting enmeshed or vested in campaigns and arousing even more public suspicion than they already do. The exceptions are so few they jump out of the public-disclosure reports: one former KING-TV colleague who gave $50 to Jim Compton's 1999 City Council campaign; three then-Weekly staffers (outside the newsroom) who made small donations to Schell's '96 race; and a non-news Times executive and a KIRO staffer who each made a small political contribution. On a much larger scale, the Times gave free ads to the baseball- stadium campaign and lobbied to repeal the estate tax—making teeth grind in the newsroom.

The unrepentant exception to this rule is The Stranger. In 1999 it reported $2,229 in contributions—ad space—to the anti-postering ban campaign. Last year it donated $4,000—a poster insert—to the second monorail campaign, and editor Dan Savage gave $500 of his own money. This year it gave Cogswell a $346 ad, and Savage gave him $300.

But an inquiring reader wants to know why The Stranger gave $350 to Sidran's mayoral campaign: "A love-hate relationship, perhaps?" Or a stunt. The paper bought a table at Sidran's kick-off breakfast and invited the last people expected there: advocates for the poor and homeless. Those hoping for fireworks were disappointed; Sidran thanked his friends from the alternative press for their support.

"We're not a daily newspaper, we're an expression of opinion," says publisher Tim Keck. "It's not a secret where we stand."


One other profession usually shies from giving to politicians: politicians. Here, the logic's less lofty: They don't want to alienate potential colleagues by subsidizing their opponents. The big exception is Margaret Pageler, who in '97 gave $400 to Peter Steinbrueck's and Richard Conlin's council bids. Her husband, John C. Pageler, gave the same. They each gave a little less to Jan Drago, Richard McIver, and Nick Licata. She doesn't worry about stirring bad blood: "This has not been the kind of town where people hold grudges."

Luckily, she picked all winners.


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