Things can’t get worse; they can only get worse. No, this is not poor grammar or end-of-semester illogic but my first impression after listening to the hard-to-digest dollop of the morning news. Another suicide bomb killed and maimed scores in Iraq, this time in the Kurdish town of Irbil. The Bush administration suggests that things are getting better in Baghdad since the wall-less security crackdown, but that is debatable. What is not open to debate is that other parts of the country continue to spiral in insecurity, perhaps due in part to the targeted crackdown in one place. None of this seems to matter to Vice-President Cheney who has made a surprise visit to the Green Zone, mainly it seems to convince the Iraqi parliament not to take a summer vacation this year and be nice about dividing up the spoils of America’s, I mean Iraq’s, oil profits.

In this case it is not only the shit hitting the fan, but the gold as well. Gold as in Fort Dix (Fort Knox or whatever…) but I hope not a golden journalistic award to a local newspaper. If the cover of today’s Newsday is worth a thousand words (and it may be a stretch to say this quasi-tabloid is worth wasting any words), then don’t order any pizza soon. In shades of purple and prison green there are sketches of six bearded (one only having a moustache) men with sinister “guilty-as-charged” demeanors. Today’s cover story suggests “The Plot” as “‘Brand-new form of terrorism’ – small cell that worked locally.” Then “The Bust” as a “16-month undercover probe.” Both lead to “The Question”: “How safe are U.S. bases?.”

Open the page and watch Daniel Pipes smile. Across a double spread the journalist banner banters “Jihad inside the U.S.A.” Are you scared enough yet? Well here is the opening salvo (journalism students take note of the yellow tint from the start):

“Six alleged ‘Islamic radicals’ acccused yesterday of plotting terror attacks on military targets ranging from Fort Dix to the annual Army-Navy game represents a frightening species of homegrown jihad that can easily fly below the radar, federal offficials warned.”

The visuals in the spread include a map of plot points centering on Cherry Hill (the same one made famous in the Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle movie, which should be prime evidence for this case). Below this is a picture right out of ET as “Neighborhood children and the media gather outside the home of suspect Drita Duka in Cherry Hill, N.J.” (see if you can tell the difference between media people and children before reading the rest of the Newsday article. Oh my God, what if there are extra-terrestrial Muslims going jihad-crazy for American hamburgers!). To the right of the intrepid neighborhood youth brigade are the black-and-white sketches of “The Suspects.” Included is an ethnic Albanian man (and undocumented immigrant) who is married and has five children; another calls himself “Elvis” and he once set up a Pizza & Pasta House and now builds roofs with his brother; yet another works for a 7/11 (no, not 9/11 but I am amazed Newsday copy editors did not catch the symbolic typo) store. Yet another works at a ShopRite supermarket in New Jersey. Put these six guys together and surprise, here is the “Brand-new form of terrorism” the Patriot Act activists have long been waiting for.

But if you actually read to the end of the article, you find a caveat:

“But experts like Cannistraro also cautioned that the threat from such groups shouldn’t be exaggerated. The Fort Dix ring, he said, appeared to be highly inept — handing over training videos to a video-store clerk, and then infiltrated by not one but two informants within a couple of months.

“It’s pretty clear this is not a trained clandestine cell,” he said. ” … These guys look like they probably couldn’t rob a bank.”

Are you still reading? I take it as good news that the brand-new form of terrorism is so amazingly inept. Would that all terrorists were as clumsy and self delusional. Surely it is reassuring that Long Island’s Rep. Peter King weighed in with his expertise:

“There was no threat to the country overall but they definitely could have caused death and destruction,” said Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford), who serves on the House Homeland Security Committee.

Thank Bush (I am agnostic as to the real meaning of this expression of shock), six guys who delivered pizzas and unpacked frozen foods at the supermarket did not pose a “threat to the country overall.” Of course who knows what six mouth-offs might have done facing only 13,500 personel on the military base of Fort Dix. The point is not that some crazies could do damage; criminal acts happen everyday, as we saw recently at Virginia Tech. But to cry “Jihad” as though the sky of freedom is falling every time an alleged plot is served up to the media is the shallowest kind of writing posing as journalism.

But do read on for the commentary. As columnist Ellis Hanican rightly suggests on the next page, “It’s another crew of local palookas, playing terrorist… These six palooka decided to assault an Army base. With guards at every entrance. Vehicle searches and X-ray machines. And thousands of men and women with guns.” Such common sense “wait-a-minute” advice is mitigated on the same page by a Newsday reporter who states that this foiled plot “is likely to make feds reassess defense systems at military bases.” Oh, no more pizza deliveries from ethnic Albanians. That should be operational in a jiffy. I note, and I kid you not, that just below this story there is a box that suggests an echo of the plot twist on the popular television program The Sopranos. Say it ain’t so, Tony. Well, wouldn’t you know it that one of the alleged plotters calls himself Tony. I think we have a slam-dunk case, what do you think?

Do keep on reading, at least for more entertainment. On p. A20 we see a story that a U.S. helicopter in Iraq yesterday opened fire on an elementary school and seven students were killed. A little blurb from the combined news services reveals that yesterday at least 68 people were killed in Iraq. Nowhere in today’s Newsday is there information on a story covered on NPR about the killings of civilians by U.S. military in Haditha, an event currently under investigation.

If this is “Jihad inside the U.S.A.” we should at last declare victory in the War on Terror and get back to watching American Idol (we all know this is the real reason the terrorists hate us since none of them would ever win in a commercialized popularity contest). This would make it yet another war with no winners, only losers. And the biggest losers are ordinary, hard-working Muslims in America, because they are now targeted in the Out-of-Sinquisition of Neoconmonium as a brand-new form of terrorism. Hey, if you must order pizza, don’t ask for pepperoni.

[Note: for the blog world’s reaction, see Slate.]

Luke Publican