Reporting on the 9/11 "threat" while knowing nothing

There’s a possible threat of something bad happening in one of two American cities, timed to coincide with the 9/11 anniversary but not necessarily on that day. Does that sound like news, or does that sound like the outline to a story that has had no reporting done?

Yet, into my inbox comes a New York Times “News Alert.” In part:

Counterterrorism officials on Thursday were assessing a new report of a threat of an attack in New York City or Washington using a car or truck bomb, timed to the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, according to several officials briefed on the matter.

So, there are some officials, and they are examining — not acting on — reports that say there is a threat. This alleged threat is about an attack, but we don’t know which city, what type of attack, only that it’s tied to the 9/11 anniversary.

The subject line to this e-mail is Onion-esque, by the way:

U.S. Terrorism Officials Investigating Reports of 9/11 Anniversary Threat

These indeed do sound like “terrorism” officials, not counterterrorism, in their ability to terrorize the public for a threat that’s probably bogus and one would likely not be countered by any civilian. Furthermore, because I do think efforts to limit terrorism, both government and in people’s day-to-day lives, are important. I’m just not sure how much more ready we could be after having the specter of terror driven into our heads for 10 years (if not longer).

Obviously, I know that if something, God forbid, does happen this weekend, this post is going to seem silly. All I’m saying is that, if you don’t know anything but feel that your media outlet must pass the “we don’t know, but maybe!” information along regardless, then keep it short, keep it simple. Here’s what the Washington Post did:

Officials have received a specific and credible but unconfirmed terror threat having to do with New York or Washington, the Associated Press is reporting.

A counterterrorism official tells the AP that law enforcement officials have been investigating the intelligence since it was received late Wednesday night.

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