By David Franke
© 1999

If Jim Lord has done nothing else, he has succeeded in making Y2K a bigger topic in the nation’s print media than it’s been for months.

Until last week, the impression you’d get from most daily newspapers was that Y2K was old news — a problem that had been solved. Only kooks on the Internet (where else?) were trying to keep it alive.

Then Jim Lord, a veteran Y2K author and commentator, established his site, registered in Tonga, an island nation in the South Pacific, and on that site posted details from a “secret” Navy report. According to Lord, himself a retired Navy officer, the Navy report’s “results are horrifying. They expect more than 26 million American citizens in 125 cities to be without electricity, water, gas or sewer services next January.”

Well, that certainly got my attention, and the attention of a sizeable portion of the Internet audience. This was the hottest Internet story to surface since Hillary locked a chastity belt onto poor Bill, creating a news vacuum.

Jim Lord’s website also caught the attention of a writer for the Associated Press, Ted Bridis, who single-handedly got this issue into the print media. Faced with an impending article by the print media’s major supplier of news stories, White House Y2K czar John Koskinen actually admitted that the Navy report existed. (He put his own spin on the report, of course.) I strongly suspect that we would have heard nothing from the White House had this remained an Internet story.

So, kudos to Ted Bridis for actually thinking that this was news. But that’s as far as I go in praising the mass-circulation print media. Yes, that one story resulted in more Y2K print coverage than we’ve seen in months, but all that means is that some coverage is better than none.

Whether you agree or disagree with Jim Lord’s interpretation of the Navy report, and whether or agree or disagree with the subsequent White House spin on the report, you have to admit that this is one shocking story. It’s news by any definition, and it’s potentially blockbuster news — yet most newspapers ignored it.

Even worse, that self-appointed flagship of the American press, the New York Times, picked up the story and turned it into a vendetta against the messenger who brought it to the public’s attention. The headline read “Doomsayer pushes Y2K panic button with old data.” And that wasn’t just creative headline writing. In the text, “reporter” Barnaby J. Feder refers to “a prominent doomsayer named Jim Lord.”

In my book, “doomsayer” is a loaded term. I’d certainly like to hear Feder defend it as an objective term — after all, would he describe Paul Revere as a doomsayer for warning that the British were coming? This would be acceptable partisanship on the op-ed page, or in the commentary section, but this article ran as a “news” story in the Times’ national news section, and it was then picked up and circulated worldwide by the New York Times “News” Service.

Barnaby J. Feder, you’re a Y2K bigot. Now, don’t take that the wrong way. I’m just passing that on as an objective “news” observation.

Tomorrow: A Jim Lord detractor inadvertently supplies the “smoking gun,” suggesting that the White House and the Pentagon did, indeed, plan to cover up this story — until Jim Lord forced it into the open. Also coming: Jim Lord, the Navy, the White House — who is right, who is wrong? And what can we learn from this incident as we enter the final months before Y2K?

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