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By United Press International   |   Jan. 15, 2002 at 4:45 AM
COVERING AMERICA'S WAR ON TERRORISM

The news media generally have had a good relationship with the U.S. military and have done a good job covering the war in Afghanistan, though a healthy wariness exists on both sides, panelists at a Brookings Institution forum said last week.

"I think we've done very well," Pentagon spokeswoman Victoria Clarke told the group. She said the war has been unconventional and the Pentagon has tried to facilitate news media access to "those things that can be appropriately covered."

Clarke said the Pentagon recently did enable selected reporters to "embed" -- or bivouac with and report on -- six Special Forces teams. But, she said, "any time having media along would compromise the mission or put lives at risk, we're not going to do that."

She said when U.S. Marines went into southern Afghanistan and established Camp Rhino, reporters from a regional pool were taken along.

Asked where the Pentagon had fallen short, she said the Defense Department erred and violated its own guidelines in temporarily confining reporters at Camp Rhino to a building, preventing them from photographing and reporting on friendly fire casualties who were arriving at the base. She said that error quickly was corrected and the reporters there have been free to do their jobs since then.

Michael Getler, ombudsman for The Washington Post and former editor of the International Herald Tribune, said reporters in Afghanistan and along border areas "have done a good, courageous job" -- pointing out how vulnerable they were because the cash and equipment they are carrying made them "walking ATMs" for thieves. "I think we are all in their debt for excellent reporting," he said.

Clarke said the Pentagon received feedback from many Americans who said the Defense Department was releasing too much information about the early stages of the war. When the Pentagon provided combat camera footage of a Special Forces raid near Kandahar, "many Americans took us to task," she said. "We do what we think is appropriate at any given time," she said.

She added that it was inappropriate to compare the Afghanistan conflict with the Gulf War because the Afghanistan war is "a very unconventional war. We need to think differently."

-- What do you think?

(Thanks to UPI Executive Editor Tobin Beck in Washington)


BIOTERRORISM

The American public must come to grips with the fact that bio-terrorism will continue to present small risks into the future, despite the best efforts of public health officials.

That's according to, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and one of the nation's top infectious disease specialist. "Although the risk of a bioterrorism attack (affecting the United States) is relatively small compared to other risks that you take, it is not zero," Fauci told a luncheon at the National Press Club in Washington. "And so the American public must learn to accept and deal with risks that are unfortunately going to be with us for a long period of time."

Accepting the situation should not include giving up, however. The very normal concerns over bio-terror can be converted into productive, heightened public awareness, Fauci said. These concerns also should spawn ongoing support from government leaders, he said.

The anthrax mailings were ineffectual from a warfare standpoint, but the episode was a very effective bio-terror scenario, Fauci said. Public officials responded to a basic need to reassure people with quick information and did not take the time to clearly differentiate conjecture from fact. This led, for example, to the confusion over the need for anthrax vaccinations on Capitol Hill.

"The textbooks were clearly incomplete in what they told us, since prior experience in bioterrorism with anthrax was minimal," Fauci said. "There was even minimal experience in this country in the naturally occurring anthrax diseases."

This lack of information was compounded by the small number of people affected, Fauci said. Disease symptoms do not always fall within a narrow band; even now, officials cannot be certain they have seen every possible manifestation of anthrax that could appear in a future incident, he said. Even so, the effectiveness of antibiotics such as Cipro mean any outbreak could be quickly contained, he said.

The public must keep in mind that "quickly" will not always equate to saving every patient, Fauci said. The patterns established by the anthrax mailing will be easily recognizable in the future, but spotting the signs means people have gotten ill, he said.

-- How worried are you about the chances of a bio-terrorism attack? What steps, if any, have you taken to minimize your risks?

(Thanks to Scott R. Burnell, UPI Science News)


WORKPLACE VIOLENCE

A security consultant says workplace violence is a process and employees and managers should be trained to recognize the warning signs as it escalates.

"Violence can happen suddenly, but typically it builds over time," Joseph Ricci told UPI Monday. His company, Ricci Communications of Alexandria, Va., has released a set of guidelines aimed at recognizing and preventing workplace violence. He said the recent stress created by corporate layoffs, a slow economy, the Sept. 11 attacks, as well as the resulting war on terrorism have heightened the risk of workplace violence and the responsibility of organizations to be diligent in efforts to prevent it.

The threat can be internal, coming from a disgruntled or terminated employee, or external, coming from someone with a grievance against the company because of product dissatisfaction or lost investments, Ricci said.

Organizations seeking to prevent internal workplace violence must screen potential employees before hiring, Ricci said. References must be checked; criminal history and credit checks should be conducted. In addition, policies should be instituted that would enable checking into the backgrounds of existing employees and contract personnel.

Ricci advises companies to maintain a zero-tolerance policy for verbal or written threats or other indications of violent behavior and to administer that policy fairly, quickly and consistently. Employees should have several confidential reporting channels regarding threats or misbehavior, such as a drop box, a phone line or anonymous e-mail.

According to the guidelines, it should be considered a warning sign if the individual demonstrates: (1) low self-esteem and considers himself the victim of injustice; (2) a fascination with death, violence or weapons; (3) a history of violence, paranoia or destructive behavior; (4) an often controlling or demanding manner; (5) an orientation toward the task at hand rather than people; (6) signs of persistent and inappropriate anger.

Ricci Communications lists "behavioral flags" as excessive tardiness, reduced productivity, changes in health or hygiene, excessive use of excuses, and increasingly violent mood swings.

Ricci agreed on the desirability of a "soft approach." Make sure counseling is available, he said. "That's why you have to educate people about the process. A lot of people won't seek counseling by themselves. You have to have a process in place."

The idea is not to fire the employee, except for violations of the zero-tolerance policy involving threats or actual violence. Rather, it's to institute a screening process that takes human factors into consideration.

-- Has your place of employment ever been the scene of workplace violence? If so, what happened? What policies does your company have in place to head off such incidents?

(Thanks to UPI's Lou Marano in Washington)

© 2002 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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