Too Much Information

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By now, we all know that the latest threats to airline travel are liquid and gel explosives. A terrorist attack was apparently thwarted when the dangerous potential of everyday products was revealed. Up until now, I thought hair gel was just a slimy, smelly product that made my nose itch when the guy next to me had it on. I thought a diet soda was just a fat guy's rationalization to help him wash down a pizza. I thought nail polish remover was, well, nail polish remover. But like the rest of the world, now I know that these and other common products are potential weapons.

When hearing about the bans on things like lipstick and bottled water, I heard many people complain about the inconvenience. I wasn't one of them. As with all the other safety measures, if I have to be slightly inconvenienced in order to be protected, that's OK with me. I admit that, at first, I was worried that we weren't going to be allowed to board the plane with any fluids in our bodies, either. But once I was reassured that wasn't the case, the whole thing didn't seem like a big deal to me.

No, I wasn't disturbed by the potential inconvenience. I was disturbed by the news coverage of these liquid explosives that I think went too far. I appreciated that the press applauded those who protect us. But then the media went a step farther into the dubious zone. They taught us all how to turn these everyday products into weapons.

In my opinion, it would have been enough to report that these things could be made into weapons. But on every newscast that I saw, in every paper that I read, there were very explicit directions for how to make explosives out of these products. Was this really necessary? Was a step-by-step "cookbook" of instructions really an important part of the news story? Wouldn't it have been sufficient to inform us that in the wrong hands, these things could be dangerous?

I'm a big fan of the First Amendment. In fact, it's one of my favorites. So, I'm not suggesting that the press and others be banned from giving out information that could be dangerous. I'm just asking for a little common sense and restraint.

Anyone can go on the Internet and get instructions for making a nuclear bomb. Somehow, this doesn't please me as a demonstration of how much free information is out there for every individual. I wouldn't be surprised if there were sites named "How To Impersonate A Secret Service Agent" or "The Home Phone Numbers And Addresses Of Every Pilot In The United States" or "How To Break Out Of A Maximum Security Prison." But I wouldn't be happy to learn that they were on my neighbor's "favorites" list.

Suppose you were an alienated young man, watching the news reports on the liquid explosive dangers last week. You're already bored writing crank letters and making phony phone calls to the bullies who picked on you at school and the girls who turned you down when you asked them out. You've been fired from every job you've ever had, because the boss always had it in for you. Several psychiatrists have prescribed medication for you, but you stopped taking it because you didn't like its side effect — it took the edge off. When you're in a crowd, nobody seems to notice you. You desperately want attention. Is it the best idea in the world for the nightly news to teach this kid how to blow up a plane?

I would have much rather those reporters turned their serious faces toward the airlines, and talked about how they should pitch in during this crisis. And how can they pitch in? Once everyone has boarded, just give each passenger a bottle of water, a toothbrush, and some toothpaste. They could give it out instead of those little bags of pretzels and wheat Chex or whatever that cardboard-tasting snack is supposed to be. That way, we could all be safe on the plane, but we wouldn't have to be thirsty, and we'd all have fresh smiles. That kind of journalistic approach would have left a good taste in my mouth.

Lloyd Garver writes a weekly column for He has written for many television shows, ranging from "Sesame Street" to "Family Ties" to "Frasier." He has also read many books, some of them in hardcover.

By Lloyd Garver