Eyewitness News

Things that scare us

Tuesday, December 01, 2009
Bill Ritters daily take on the news.

Bill Ritter's daily take on the news.

My first recollection of fear was when I was five. I remember it so clearly - or at least I think I do. I was watching TV - cartoons or something - by myself in the living room when suddenly the program stopped and an enormous graphic appeared in the television, with a voice that seemed to come from God.

"This is a bulletin" from some such network - I wasn't much into paying attention to sources at that point. I'm not sure what I saw next - it may have been just the graphic, not a picture of a news anchor. This was, after all, September, 1955. And the voice boomed out, in tones that scared me to the bone, "President Eisenhower has just had a heart attack."

To a little five-year-old kid, it sounded like the end of the world. And what did I know that it wasn't?

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I would - the country would - get lots of scary pronouncements from the television set between then and now. And that feeling of dread, for me, accompanied many of them.

Pres. Lyndon Johnson's speech in August, 1964, ordering air strikes against the North Vietnamese after U.S. ships were attacked in the Gulf of Tonkin was a scary moment. It escalated the war - and it obliterated truth from the White House.

Johnson knowingly lied to the American people about the scope of the attacks from the North - something revealed later when the top secret "Pentagon Papers" were leaked to the New York Times.

Pres. Richard Nixon also had his share of scary TV moments - and, no the no-makeup appearance in his debate with John F. Kennedy wasn't one of them. I was in college and watched rapt - and frightened - when Nixon spoke to the nation on April 30, 1970, and said he would send thousands of troops to invade Cambodia to block supply lines to the North Vietnamese and to destroy "sanctuaries."

What Nixon didn't say is that the U.S. had been secretly bombing Cambodia - without the knowledge of the American people.

We remember Pres. George Bush, the first one, ordering military action to kick Iraq out of Kuwait in 1991, and then his son 12 years later ordering the invasion of Iraq.

For me, the declarations of military actions - no matter how old I was at the time, with the flash of a bulletin on the screen, or the authoritarian figure of a President making a pronouncement -sends me hurtling back, emotionally, to that day in 1955 of Eisenhower's heart attack, and a little boy running out of the room and screaming for his mom.

As much as I'd still like to, I long ago stopped both running from the room, and screaming for my mom.

I suspect many will want to do that after they hear Pres. Obama tonight make his case for more war in Afghanistan. He's at West Point, along with Secretary of State Clinton and Defense Secretary Gates, to announce another 30,000 troops will be heading to Afghanistan. It's a surge-like strategy that Obama, as Presidential candidate, opposed in Iraq.

Will it work in Afghanistan? There are many skeptics, and many members of the President's own party who have spoken out against escalation of a war we have already fought, arguably unsuccessfully, for eight years.

Already, the White House is putting out early spin that troops from the surge will start coming home in 2011. That has drawn criticism from conservatives, who say setting a timetable before the military action isn't wise.

Our Jim Dolan is at West Point, covering the speech. We'll also have reaction - pro and con - tonight at 11.

Also at 11, new developments in a story we broke a year ago. Our investigative reporter Jim Hoffer, armed with a hidden camera, documented how transit track workers in New York punched in - and then didn't work. In fact, they did just about everything but work. Slept, ate, drank, read, ran a business. Today, the Inspector General for the MTA - sparked by our investigation - issued a scathing report, backing our story, and issuing new guidelines to make sure this doesn't happen anymore. Jim has our follow up, tonight at 11.

Also at 11, the story that just won't go away: Tiger Woods. Florida authorities have issued the golf star a traffic citation for running into a fire hydrant and a tree - a violation that will cost the gazillionaire cost about $160. But the cost to Woods' reputation remains uncertain -- especially given the new claims from a young cocktail waitress who says she had a long-running affair with Woods. And she says she has the voicemails and text messages to prove it. Oh brother.

And as long as I was focusing on my childhood in this space today, it's fitting I pass along this item that just crossed the wire: Vin Scully, the voice of the Dodgers in Brooklyn and Los Angeles, is coming back next season - his 61st in the broadcast booth, making him the longest-running announcer in the history of sports. Scully is 82 - but in my mind, he'll always be young, and calling a baseball game like no one else ever.

We'll also have any breaking news of the night, plus Lee Goldberg's chilly AccuWeather forecast, and Rob Powers (in for Scott Clark) with the night's sports. I hope you can join Liz Cho and me, tonight at 11.

BILL RITTER

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afghanistan war, barack obama, tiger woods, eyewitness news, bill ritter
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