July 13, 2006

If we aren't free to pet our animals, then the terrorists have won!

Is petting zoo a terrorist target? 'This is absurd'


Times Staff Writer patricia.mccarter@htimes.com

WOODVILLE - Not once has Old MacDonald's Petting Zoo gotten a bomb threat.

It's a tranquil place between Gurley and Scottsboro, where children on school field trips feed goats and llamas, where there's no talk of national security or terrorists or explosions.

That's why Wednesday morning, when owner Sherry Lewis was told that her zoo on U.S. 72 was included in a New York Times story about terrorist targets, she was baffled. Baffled, and miffed.

"We've never had a bomb threat or anything that would possibly come close to terrorism," said Lewis, who has owned the zoo in Jackson County with her husband, Jim, for 11 years. "This is absurd. Who on earth would waste their money and time bombing us? Nobody.

"But I'm afraid this is going to have a negative impact on my business. I've already had one phone call today from somebody asking me if it's safe to come here."

Even though The New York Times story mentioned Old MacDonald's as being included on a list of possible terrorist targets by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, a state official said that isn't quite true.

In 2004, the zoo was included in an initial needs assessment list - submitted by county Emergency Management Agency managers to Homeland Security - of the state's key infrastructure and resources.

More than 700 sites were on Alabama's list two years ago during the first stages of compiling the National Asset Database. But Tracey Ayres, communications director for the Alabama Department of Homeland Security, said the list has since been winnowed to 28 sites.

As Ayres explained it, each county in the United States submitted its asset list directly to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. When the lists began arriving, Ayres said DHS realized that it hadn't provided enough guidance concerning what should've been put on the list.

For instance, some counties included ice cream shops and Wal-Marts and flea markets. In Tennessee, the annual Mule Days festival in Columbia made the list.

Indiana listed 41 "tall" buildings that could be possible targets; Illinois - home of the world's tallest skyscraper and dozens more in Chicago alone - listed only 28. In fact, Indiana was the state that listed the most possible targets with more than 8,500. New York listed fewer than 6,000. Vermont submitted 70.

Ayres said states were given more exact criteria in 2005 for what to include on their lists, and then the sites were verified. Just 14 percent of the sites on the states' initial lists rose to the level of "significant" for the National Asset Database.

Out of 710 Alabama sites proposed, Ayres said 28 are now on the federally approved critical infrastructure list. Ayres said the identity of those 28 places is classified.

Did Old MacDonald's Petting Zoo make the cut?

"You decide," she said. "The criteria is that it must have an economic impact of $1 million a day or the potential of 300,000 lives lost. I can't give you any other hints."

Ayres referred to the initial arbitrary lists as "old news," saying the U.S. Department of Homeland Security recognized the problem two years ago and corrected it. However, in late June, national DHS Inspector General Richard Skinner released a report outlining the progression of the database, recapping the temporary inclusion of such random places as the Woodville petting zoo.

Emphasis mine above.

So, the "Paper of Record" issues a story in which outdated information is included, making particular care to insert one rather silly item about a petting zoo in Alabama. It's almost as if they have a politically driven agenda to make the current Administration look stupid and out of touch, even if it means using information that is inaccurate. "Hee hee--that George Bush is so stupid. And so are those yokels in Alabama who think their petting zoo is a terror target! Hee hee hee."

Even though a newspaper in Huntsville is able to quickly figure out the problem with the information, and provide a detailed and succinct round-up of how the process was completed, and seeing as how the NYTimes seems to do this (i.e., willfully obfuscate) with great regularity, how can it still seen as reliable? As truthful? As objective?

One would have to strain mightily, it seems.

DHS and everyone else involved in keeping terrorists at bay have in the past done stupid, inexcusable, hamfisted, lame-brained stuff. But what's worse--that they did it and corrected it, or that an organization located in the heart of the place where the worst terrorist attack on U.S. soil was conducted would take this opportunity to use outdated, misleading information, seemingly for the sole purpose of weakening, rather than strengthening, our ability to fight terrorism? Add to this the Times' willingness to actively search out ways to inform our enemies of our intentions, and it begins to make one wonder what they put in the water cooler in their offices.

Second, even though the probability of a random attack on a small-town target in Alabama is much lower than a large scale attack on New York, the fact remains that we are a large, open, and free-flowing nation, and unless we realize that not just New York or Los Angeles could be targets, we set ourselves to become complacent. That complacency is what allowed 20 terrorists to take flying lessons at midsized airports across the non-New York/Los Angeles parts of the country, and no one really thought too much about it when none of them really seemed too concerned about being able to learn to land properly.

By the way--don't believe this story has legs? Look at this list of news stories on Google News.

As for the Times' story, the link is here. Any doubt that it might be commentary masquerading as straight news is dispelled by the headline--"Come One, Come All, Join the Terror Target List."

Bunch of jackasses.

Posted by Terry Oglesby at July 13, 2006 09:24 AM

Remind me to stay away from Mule Day! Oh wait, I already do...

Posted by: Jordana at July 13, 2006 09:27 AM

You must be one of them Yankee snobs!

Posted by: Terry Oglesby at July 13, 2006 09:29 AM

When have journalists ever substantiated their claim to be "objective?" It seems to me that the best writers aren't-- they convey their own feelings with verve and subtlety, without distorting too many facts, hopefully.

And as far as facts and accuracy are concerned-- I have known for a while now that most 'facts' reported in newspapers are innacurate. I was the object of media attention a few years ago, and they couldn't even bother to get my first name right, even though they had a picture of me on the front page.

I don't trust newspapers anymore. You shouldn't either. :)

Posted by: sare at July 13, 2006 09:44 AM

Thanks for dropping by, Sare. I am, like you, greatly mistrustful of the various agenda-driven media, but I do know there are good, solid journalists out there, and I have some in the blogroll. The article I copied is obviously written by someone who can do what we have been led to expect journalists should do.

Trust is something that has to be earned, and whatever trust anyone places in the vast majority of big media surely must be tempered with their track record of doing all they can to NOT earn my trust.

We can't do without the press--it's vital, if it's actually doing its job of either recording facts accurately or providing background information that is clear and not intended to mislead. I'm even willing to go out on a limb and give big media some credit on the front end that they actually believe they're being unbiased. However, in the words of the great Ronald Reagan, "trust--but verify." Fact-checking has become much more important, but luckily for us all, it isn't something we have to wait on anymore.

Posted by: Terry Oglesby at July 13, 2006 09:55 AM

The petting zoo is just down the reoad from me and it looks pretty dangerous. I suspect that the Madison County guys looked at places where people congregate to make up their list.

Posted by: Larry Anderson at July 13, 2006 12:18 PM

I just hope the BBQ Emporium is safe...

Posted by: Terry Oglesby at July 13, 2006 12:47 PM