That, anyway, was the upshot of the breathless play the news networks were giving to an interview Omar had given to BBC radio, in which he referred to a "plan" to "destroy" the U.S. Destroy the U.S.? Stop the presses! By midday, CNN, MSNBC and Fox were playing the report at or near the tops of their newscasts, insinuating with the requisite "to be sure, this may be an idle threat" caveats that a desperate Omar and Osama bin Laden had hatched a nefarious, brand-new scheme to wipe us Americans off the face of the Earth.
So had they? Even a cursory read of the interview transcript makes abundantly clear that Omar's "threat" is, at worst, a reference to al Qaeda's long-ago-declared war against America and, at best, the wishful thinking of a desperate man, amounting to a call to God to destroy America Himself. Neither of which, to any responsible media outlet, should have been a top story, if indeed it was news at all.
Let's take the interview step-by-step. The "destruction of America" arises first only in Omar's attempt to evade a question about the sorry state of the Taliban:
BBC: What do you think of the current situation in Afghanistan?
Omar: You (the BBC) and American puppet radios have created concern. But the current situation in Afghanistan is related to a bigger cause that is the destruction of America.
"A bigger cause" in other words, presumably the same Americacide that Omar's al Qaeda guests have long dreamed of. Was there any reason to believe this was more than more wishful thinking? Following up, the BBC interviewer not Omar introduces the idea of there being a "plan" to destroy the country:
BBC: What do you mean by the destruction of America? Do you have a concrete plan to implement this?
Omar: The plan is going ahead and, God willing, it is being implemented. But it is a huge task, which is beyond the will and comprehension of human beings.
Not exactly "concrete," and, if we charitably assume that Omar considers himself and bin Laden to be human beings, any such plan is, in his estimation, beyond their "will" anyway. Sure enough, a couple questions later, Omar hints that his threat amounts to, essentially, destroying the world's only superpower through prayer. To wit:
BBC: Osama bin Laden has reportedly threatened that he would use nuclear, chemical or biological weapons against America. Is your threat related to his?
Omar: This is not a matter of weapons. We are hopeful for God's help. The real matter is the extinction of America. And, God willing, it [America] will fall to the ground.
Finally, Omar raises the destruction of America again, again in response to an embarrassing BBC question:
BBC: What was the reason for the fast retreat? Why have your troops fled the cities? Is it because you suffered heavily from the U.S. bombings or have your soldiers betrayed you?
Omar: I told you that it is related to the larger task.
In other words, "We got our asses whipped on purpose, so as to better help us destroy America." This is the military equivalent of stepping on a rake, whacking yourself in the forehead with the handle, and saying, "I meant to do that."
So: "Beyond the will and comprehension of human beings." "Not a matter of weapons." It takes an extreme flight of nervous imagination to translate this into any type of new threat. Fortunately, there's no shortage of that at the networks. And sure enough, by this afternoon, Omar's apparently desperate hope that God find a way to destroy America was being reported as a new and nefarious threat that could shortly end a nation of 300 million people.
By this afternoon, CNN's "Talkback Live" had rounded up experts to somberly tell us why we should take Omar's threat seriously because well, because you've just got to take threats seriously nowadays. All three cable-news networks put the interview story in heavy rotation, the implication being not just that the Taliban and al Qaeda wished the U.S. ill, but that they had a new, diabolical and massive plan to level the nation at one fell swoop. "Taliban Supreme Leader Says Plan Underway to Destroy U.S.," cried CNN. "Larger Strategy to Destroy America," screamed MSNBC. "Mullah Omar Tells the BBC the U.S. Will 'Fall to the Ground,'" warned Fox.
All kidding aside, we have enough real threats to worry about. There is, of course, plenty of information that Osama bin Laden wants weapons of mass destruction if he doesn't have them already and would like to use them to kill Americans wholesale. (The discovery of nuclear bomb-making documents at a suspected al-Qaeda building in Kabul was a more disturbing and much less widely reported news story today.)
That is, it is perfectly reasonable to suspect that bin Laden and Omar do hope to destroy the U.S. And it was perfectly reasonable yesterday, and the day before, and the day before that. But these longstanding, and exhaustively reported, old threats do not in any way make the obvious, vague ramblings of a cornered dictator more than the most minor news.
Nonetheless, the networks chose to report them as a top headline. Either no one at the networks bothered to read the source material closely enough and it's a very short interview to see how flimsy this "threat" was, or they irresponsibly and intentionally worried their American viewers that Omar and his pals had just set in motion a new plan to kill every single one of them. In other words, this became a big headline simply because TV news needed one.
I'd like to believe they were just lazy. And maybe it's a good thing no one at the networks read the rest of the interview. You could just imagine the anchors dragging in clergy to soberly assess this new threat: "So what do we know about this 'God' Omar refers to? Is there any indication that Osama bin Laden has access to new and more dangerous prayers to persuade Him to destroy America? And what are we planning to do about it?"
But, hey, there's plenty of time for that tomorrow. Could be another slow news day.