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SAFETY MUST BE GUIDING RULE



Published: Wed, September 11, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



SAFETY MUST BE GUIDING RULE

Detroit Free Press: At last, the pointless questions are history. No longer will air passengers be asked, "Has anyone unknown to you asked you to carry an item ... " etc.

The new U.S. Transportation Security Administration has dropped the queries as one of its first official acts. The decision was way overdue. In the 16 years they were asked, the questions never thwarted a hijacking or even led to an arrest. That's partly because they were never intended to be asked routinely of everyone, but only as part of a series of questions for passengers whose behavior or circumstances aroused suspicion.

Asked separately, they became a joke.

Inconvenience

Unfortunately, in dispensing with them, the TSA stressed the 20 seconds or so it took to ask them as an inconvenience to passengers. This should not be the new agency's guiding principle, or the message it sends to the traveling public. Especially since last September, U.S. flyers have shown they will deal with inconvenience if it leads to more safety. In a national survey released last month, AAA found that 81 percent of Americans support the installation of bomb-detection devices at airports by Dec. 31, even if that means disrupting travel. The nation's airports have asked that the installation deadline be delayed.

The nation's ailing airlines are anxious to minimize airport hassles to encourage more people to fly. They'd like more courtesy and efficiency on the ground -- both worthy aims for the new TSA, which is just beginning to move its better-trained, better-paid employees into airports. But the agency's first priority, and its message, has to be about effective, no-nonsense security. That will go a long way toward making the skies seem friendly again for travelers.

STAR CHAMBERS

Anchorage Daily News: In the fight against terrorism, government often must operate in secrecy. But the Bush administration has cast the veil of secrecy far beyond the battle lines and deep into the nation's justice system. It has claimed the power to hold deportation hearings in total secrecy anytime a case might involve national security.

As a federal appeals court ruled Aug. 26, such blanket secrecy is unnecessary and unconstitutional. If the government wants to exclude any public oversight of a proceeding, the request should, as the appeals court indicated, be handled case by case.

Justice that is dispensed in secret can easily produce injustice. That's particularly true in deportation cases. Detainees have no right to counsel if they can't afford it. The government has almost unfettered power to decide which foreign visitors may come in and which may stay. In deportation cases, the court noted, "the press and the public serve as perhaps the only check on abusive government practices."

Knee-jerk reaction

Closing deportation hearings is a case where the Bush administration's penchant for operating in secrecy went too far. In the case before the court, the government admitted the detainee's three previous hearings produced no information that threatened national security or the safety of the American people. The detainee and his attorney were free to speak in public about the case. If sensitive information was involved, the government could have sought a gag order. It didn't. The automatic secrecy was a knee-jerk reaction rather than a measured judgment of how to balance security needs with the public's right to know.

Indeed, the court wondered whether the Bush administration's enthusiasm for secrecy knew any bounds. "There seems to be no limit to the Government's argument," the court said. "The Government could operate in virtual secrecy in all matters dealing, even remotely, with 'national security,' resulting in a wholesale suspension of First Amendment rights."

Being able to operate in secrecy makes life easier for the government. But as the court noted, "democracies die behind closed doors." Without reasonable limits, like those set in the appeals court ruling, government secrecy destroys the very freedom and democracy the government is supposedly trying to protect.

A QUANDRY IN ADVERTISING

Los Angeles Times: Commerce and patriotism became uncomfortable bedfellows when airplanes slammed into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a field in Pennsylvania.

For days afterward, advertising uncharacteristically was pushed from the airwaves and front sections of newspapers as media companies dedicated their time and space to piecing together the jagged and painful puzzle of what had happened and why.

When the advertising window reopened several days after the attacks, marketers faced dilemmas: Go with the usual commercial fare and risk offending consumers not ready for business as usual? Turn to public service announcements that deliver a sober message and keep the brand name barely in the public eye? Drape cheerier product pitches in a patriotic blend of red, white and blue?

Concern over how advertising will be perceived resurfaced as media companies and marketers prepared for a day of remembering today. A recent poll by Lightspeed Online Research Inc. found that two-thirds of respondents did not think that advertising would be appropriate during daylong news programming.

Networks are making commercial time available, but advertisers aren't scrambling to fill it. Some big companies will underwrite special programming rather than break in with commercials. Others will stay away entirely. PepsiCo Inc. has pulled its commercials, as has Sears, Roebuck & amp; Co., which also will put telemarketing calls on hold for the day.

Advertising is supposed to reflect society's concerns -- witness the zany dot-com commercials that mirrored America's affair with tech in the late 1990s. So when advertising tiptoed back after the terror attacks, it was with public service messages that mirrored a national desire to pay tribute to heroes and the dead.

Consumer ire

The right tone evaded some advertisers. A General Motors Corp. campaign introducing 0 percent financing drew consumer ire for suggesting that Americans had a patriotic duty to buy a new car. But advertising agencies thankfully produced Super Bowl commercials that entertained without offending.

Television networks, which lost an estimated $300 million in advertising revenue after the terrorist attacks, stand to lose $60 million more today. The revenue will be missed in an industry stuck in a painful slowdown.

But there is precedent for pulling commercials that would be out of place; airlines, for instance, regularly suspend advertising after fatal crashes.




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