Sunday, April 1, 2007

Slow down, you're reading too fast

"Minivan Terrorist" Driven Crazy by Press, Friends Say

By Angela Motorman

Associative Press (ASP)
Published: April 1, 2007
Filed at 4:20 p.m. ET

Pataskala, Ohio -- Family and friends of the man who crashed his family's minivan into the lobby of the Washington Post on Saturday morning after an all-night drive from his home in this Columbus suburb said today that he had expressed growing anger in recent days over the way national news organizations cover both domestic and international issues.

According to his wife, 58-year-old Alfred Cater had been spending most of every day watching and reading news since being laid off last year from his position as managing editor at The Buckeye Banner, a 40,000-circulation community weekly acquired in 2005 by Dallas-based PressCorp. Sandy Cater said her husband had become obsessed with what he considered the failure of the Washington Post, the New York Times, CNN and other major news outlets to inform Americans of the causes and consequences of government policies.

"He just couldn't believe the reporting could be so superficial," Mrs. Cater said. " He was staying up half the night reading internet sites, trying to fill in the gaps. It was making him crazy."

Lance Ryder, a Columbus State Community College professor who has known the accused since they both attended the OSU School of Journalism in the 1970s, said his old friend had become extremely agitated over the past week as details emerged implicating various Bush administration officials in the decision to fire eight United States Attorneys last year, allegedly for refusing to follow partisan political direction from the GOP.

"I think the last straw was watching Karl Rove rapping and dancing at the Radio and Television Correspondents Association dinner last week," said Ryder. "At last year's performance by Stephen Colbert [during the White House Correspondents Association dinner], the audience sat on their hands like there was nothing funny. This year, the sight of all those reporters and editors laughing along with this criminal Rove was more than Al could stomach."

Ryder added that Cater had been an early opponent of the US war in Iraq, and a frequent participant in weekly candlelight vigils held in his old neighborhood of Clintonville, on the north side of Columbus. "Just last week, Al was with us for the fourth anniversary of the start of the war, holding the same sign he always held," Ryder recalled. "The sign was starting to look pretty tattered, but he wouldn't give it up. The sign said 'Trust the People', but Al was running out of patience."

Lawyers for Alfred Cater entered a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity during Cater's arraignment yesterday in District of Columbia Superior Court on multiple charges, including assault with a deadly weapon. Attorney Leon Karg cited extreme emotional distress caused by exposure to propaganda, a defense never before used in American courts. "This man was fed a steady diet of toxic disinformation," said Karg. "It's no different than if he had consumed rat poison. Sooner or later, your system can't filter out the junk, and you lose control of yourself."

Karg associate counsel Amy Cuscuria noted that Cater had not only lost his career of 30 years, but was also about to lose his dream home after being unable to refinance the mortgage for the fourth time. "He blamed Dominion Homes," the attorney said, citing the development company under investigation for its lending practices. "But what made him really furious was the lack of warning the press had given homebuyers over the likely result of all those subprime loans."

Cater's suburban neighborhood just east of Ohio's capital city has been devastated by mortgage defaults over the past year, leaving only a handful of owner-occupied homes along empty streets in the once-busy development known as Shelter Ridge. Cater's next door neighbor, Dennis Menimen, said he and Cater were "the last fools on the block."

"We thought we were okay," Menimen said, "because we were able to keep up payments after everybody else defaulted. We didn't understand what all those empty houses would do to the value of our own homes." Like Cater, Menimen blames the national press for not explaining to consumers the dangers of what he called "time-bomb" mortgages.

"You'd think the media would want people to know how this stuff works," Menimen said. "Instead, these newspapers act like their business and real estate sections are just advertising flyers. No wonder nobody pays for those bird cage liners any more."
Menimen, a former supervisor at the shuttered Plastech Engineered Products plant in nearby Circleville, now works as a landscaper during the week and runs a flea-market booth on weekends. Menimen said he "can understand Al's rage", and agrees with his neighbor's decision to target the Washington Post.

"I wouldn't have the guts to do what he did," Dennis Menimen said, "and I'm sure glad he didn't hurt anybody. But it's time those [expletive deleted] got a wake up call, and if it takes a guy plowing an Aerostar through the lobby to get their attention, I'm all for it."

Cater's college friend Lance Ryder added that he can't disagree with Menimen's assessment. "The way news is produced these days is a real scandal," he said. "Al Cater and I studied journalism back when it meant speaking truth to power and holding the government accountable. We worshipped Woodward and Bernstein," he said, referring to the Washington Post reporters who broke the Watergate story. "But today, it's all bread and circuses and blondes in rehab. Our alma mater, OSU, doesn't even have an accredited journalism program anymore. It's a school for PR flacks."

The executive editor of the Washington Post bristled at accusations of collaborationism levelled at the national press by Cater and his defenders. Speaking on condition of anonymity, Leonard Downie said, "These nutcases are getting all hyped up on blogger juice and spewing facts and analysis like they have some right to credibility."

"Look at how they've treated poor Debbie Howell, not to mention Joe Klein and Michael Kinsley," he continued. Downie was referring to his newspaper's ombudsman and two online columnists for Time Magazine, all of whom have suffered the wrath of readers in the last year for alleged lapses in journalistic ethics and fact-checking. "It's not like we tried to sell them Judith Miller's stenography," he added, citing the New York Times reporter whose credulous accounts of Iraqui military capability are thought to have influenced Congressional acceptance of the Bush administration's decision to invade Iraq in March 2003.

"If they have facts they think we should be reporting, if they have analyses they think we need to print, let them try out as interns for three months," Downie offered. "Or let them use a damn typewriter for once and mail us an actual letter. I just don't believe we're failing our audience," he concluded. "If they really think so, I say to them: Bring it on."

Copyright 2007 CMI/Associative Press. All rights reserved.