Sunday, February 05, 2006

I wish the truth would hurry up and tie its shoes

Tell a lie often enough, maybe even get a few hack politicians to repeat the mantra along with you, and the media will report it even when they know it's false. That's the big lesson from the "debate" in Texas over border security. Most recently we find this AP story quoting a deputy sheriff spreading misinformation about the terrorist threat at the border:
A Texas sheriff's deputy warned U.S. legislators drug-traffickers are helping terrorists with possible al-Qaida ties cross the porous Texas-Mexico border into the United States.

Terry Simons, chief deputy in Val Verde County, Texas, offered little evidence publicly of his claims. An FBI special agent in Houston, Shauna Dunlap, said there's "no credible evidence" that supports the warning.

Simons, part of a group that has been pushing state and U.S. officials for more law-enforcement funding on the border, told congressmen meeting in Houston that Texas authorities have learned of newly established camps in Mexico, where so-called "narco-terrorists" are being trained in "escape and evasion, as well as fighting techniques and combat manoeuvring."

Simons also said the FBI has informed the border sheriffs suspects with Islamic backgrounds - and possibly al-Qaida ties - are training with them.

Simons and other members of the Texas Border Sheriffs Coalition outlined the threat in a presentation to U.S. Representative John Culberson, a Republican from Texas, and Representative James Sensenbrenner, a Wisconsin Republican.

"We need more boots on the ground," Simons said.

"The thing we're facing, it's a war."

Is it really? Or is Deputy Simons just full of crap? Over and over headlines trumpet false claims of Al Qaeda crossing into Texas, while further down in the story (or in future, less well publicized retractions) we're told it's just not true.

I understand why special interests looking to boost their pork barrel funding would spread lies and manufacture threats to justify increased budgets - anybody who's been around government much sees that kind of behavior from bureaucrats at every level. What I don't understand is why the media go ahead and report it after they fact check the story by going to the source - in this case the FBI - and discover it's not true. To me, once the reporter checked with the FBI, which was the deputy's only source, and found out the fellow's claims had no factual basis, the story should have been killed by AP's editors because it's not news. Not real news, anyway.

AP should leave the fake news to Jon Stewart.

Even police officers on the border - at least the ones who don't have their lips firmly attached to the money teat - think the dangers are being overhyped. The San Antonio Express News reported recently on how the $6 million Texas Governor Rick Perry devoted to the much-ballyhooed Operation Linebacker is being spent, and discovered that many cops on the Texas-Mexico border think threats are being overstated:

Although sheriffs embrace the funds, there are back-room rumblings from border police departments and even from within some sheriff's offices that Operation Linebacker is a golden goose for underfunded departments more than it is a border security plan. ...

"The situation isn't as bad as they're saying. They're using the danger in Mexico to their advantage to fund their departments," said one border city police officer, referring to ongoing drug war violence on the border.

"In the process, they're scaring everyone," said the officer, who asked that his name and department not be used to avoid a breakdown in cooperation with the sheriffs.

Jay Johnson, owner of a Del Rio bed-and-breakfast who dedicates himself to border tourism, said the sheriffs did well to receive the funding, but that they overstated the threat from Mexico.

"I know the sheriff and respect the sheriff, but I believe certain comments paint a picture that's quite unfair when it comes to our sister city of Acuña, even if it does bolster his argument for funds," he said.

Scared people will pay for protection, so baselessly hyping fear will probably get border sheriffs the pork barrel funding they're looking for in the short term. But let's not kid ourselves that anybody's safer as a result. The Canadian border is easily a bigger threat for terrorists to enter the country. In that sense, it's hard not to see fabricated claims of terrorists crossing from Mexico as anything but nativist xenophobia - a disgraceful diversion from more significant security concerns that likely makes us less safe.

Earlier I quoted Mark Twain who opined that a lie can travel halfway around the world before the truth can tie its shoes - I wish the truth would hurry and get those suckers laced up!

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