News came over the scanner Thursday about a potentially terrifying ordeal unfolding downtown.
An employee at the clerk’s office at the Nevada Supreme Court had opened a letter containing an ominous message along with an ominous-looking powder. The one-word message: “Anthrax.”
Many of us think of anthrax as a powdery substance, but it’s actually a disease caused by bacteria known as Bacillus anthracis. The disease is both deadly and highly infectious, which is why the employees who came in contact with the powder Thursday were kept in the building, while all other employees were sent outside.
Anthrax was thrust in the spotlight in 2001, when a man mailed spores to two U.S. senators, the New York Post and NBC. Five people were killed, a Senate building was closed down and the simple act of opening mail ceased to be a mindless, worry-free task. The mailings occurred during one of the most tense periods in our nation’s history, just after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
Fortunately, anthrax hasn’t been in the news much since, and frankly, we don’t love putting it in the news even when coverage warrants it.
That’s because we don’t want to encourage copycats. Unfortunately, there are people in society who will read about how much havoc one letter can wreak and seek to replicate it, for psychological reasons too bizarre to explore here. If there’s a bomb threat at an unoccupied building, we likely won’t report it. Because the anthrax threat came in a highly public forum — at a state building where at least 120 people work — we certainly couldn’t ignore it, but we played it on Page A3 instead of A1.
We don’t report on suicides for similar reasons, unless they’re public. An example is the Carson City man who shot himself in Reno two days after fatally shooting his ex-girlfriend’s father. That tragic event was news; so was his death at his own hand.
The letter that arrived Thursday apparently came from a prison inmate who might well read about the resulting panic. Let’s hope the inmate responsible is caught, and that he/she is hit with an appropriate penalty for such a cruel act.
Editor Brian Sandford can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.