Morning Report: 2010-05-02

New York car bomb. Smoke coming from a green Nissan Pathfinder SUV parked on 45th Street led to the evacuation of Times Square, New York City, and the discovery of an unsuccessful car bomb, on Saturday evening. CNN:
Officials said authorities are going through video from dozens of surveillance cameras in Times Square to determine who left the Nissan Pathfinder with its engine running and hazard lights flashing on a street shortly after 6 p.m. Saturday.

Inside the vehicle, police found three propane tanks, two filled five-gallon gas containers, two clocks with batteries, consumer-grade fireworks and a locked metal box that resembled a gun locker.

Full article, with extensive details and lots of videos, at the CNN link. Fox News recalls that
The theater district in London was the target of a propane bomb attack in 2007. No one was injured when police discovered two Mercedes loaded with nails packed around canisters of propane and gasoline.

Officials said the device found Saturday was crudely constructed, but Islamic militants have used propane and compressed gas for years to enhance the force of explosives. Those instances include the 1983 suicide attack on the U.S. Marines barracks at the Beirut airport that killed 241 U.S. service members, and the 2007 attack on the international airport in Glasgow, Scotland.

In 2007 the U.S. military announced that an Al Qaeda front group was using propane to rig car bombs in Iraq.

Again, go to the link for the full article.
Debka observes:
Mayor Mike Bloomberg said: "This could have been a deadly event." He also said the electric wiring of the device "looked amateurish."

This description exactly matches the bungled efforts of the would-be martyrs Reid and Abdulmutallab. It suggests that their al Qaeda masters have not been able to bring the new crop of jihadis up to professional terrorist standards. It is also possible that the Nissan SUV was supposed to blow up in another part of Manhattan and the perpetrator abandoned it on Times Square prematurely when he saw smoke coming out of his improvised device.

The Belmont Club has some thoughts.

Ignatius on embedded journalism. David Ignatius at the Wall Street Journal finds he has misgivings about the value of embedded journalists in the military, and longs for the good old days of objective journalism.

Commentary. It's really worth a longer post of its own, but I want to dash off a few thoughts on Ignatius' column now. First of all, he does have a couple of good points: journalists who embed with soldiers, or any other group, are likely to develop sympathies with the group they're with. Also, a non-embedded reporter can see things the embed cannot:
I covered the war as an unembedded or "unilateral" reporter, entering Iraq two days after the invasion with colleagues in rented SUVs. That experience taught me two things: First, it is too dangerous, in most cases, to cover modern warfare without protection from an army. Second, although my visits were brief, I was able to see things that the embedded journalists could not. I remember visiting villages in southern Iraq after the U.S. Army rolled through and finding local people who were intimidated by the beginnings of the insurgency. (And yes, you could see in that first week that there would be an insurgency, as I tried to indicate in my reports.)

Ignatius goes on to complain about the situation that many of us have noticed (and some of us have contributed to): the role of "objective" news reporters is being usurped by more openly ideological outlets, like cable TV and blogs.

The problem is, many of us have come to see that the traditional, "objective" news establishment wasn't as neutral or objective as it claimed to be. (I had my own experience with Jay Dixit of the supposedly non-political Psychology Today magazine.) Better to take one's chances with an environment where sympathies are openly declared, and may be factored into the equation by the reader or viewer. The availability of multiple viewpoints allows for critical thinking on the part of the audience.

As I argued in my earlier post on source bias,
A soldier on the front lines is going to have a very vivid, detailed, and specific recollection of a battle. The general in a command bunker may not see the battle up close, but he will have information on the "big picture" of troop strengths, enemy positions, strategic decisions, and other things that the soldier will not know, and may not be allowed to know. The soldier's memory may be distorted by trauma, confusion, fear, or shame (of a real or imagined failiing on the battlefield); the general may ignore or suppress key information, perhaps with his career in mind. Both perspectives are valuable, both have their limitations.

Do people tend to gravitate to similarly-minded communities - like "the Huffington Post and Daily Kos and MichelleMalkin.com and the Drudge Report", to use Ignatius' examples? Yes, absolutely, and that's an inherent limitation of the new journalism. But the environment that fosters crowd-pleasing, ideologically intense outlets like these also gives rise to a whole spectrum of intelligent opinion and analysis between and outside of these extremes. In the end it is up to the citizen journalist to provide the facts and analysis that will satisfy the audience, and it is up to the audience - that's you, dear reader - to sort it all out.

(UPDATE: Wow. Ignatius is getting clobbered in the comments. My treatment is charitable by comparison.)