Finally, it’s over. After a few weeks on the learning curve, the cops appear to have pulled off a stunning investigative coup using lots of brains, shoe leather and patience. For that, they deserve the thanks of everybody. And to those who snickered at Chief Charles Moose, I say that I hope your local police force is as good.

Now it’s time to check the scoreboard and see how some other players did. I’m going to rate them 1 (terrible) to 10 (brilliant). So far, I’d put the cops at a solid 8.

The media is another matter. How about a 3?

After all, what made these guys (if they are in fact the guilty ones) think that they had an instant messaging service to every TV in America? After all, when President Bush delivered his Iraq speech a few weeks ago in Cincinnati, the three major networks wouldn’t even carry it! But the sniper-note writer scribbles a few sick lines on a piece of paper and the news instantly breaks over seven continents. So where did these guys get off addressing the world? I’ll tell you where – from the pandering, obsessing and instant celebrity status conferred on their alleged acts by the army of media-types who were inflating the killers’ self-esteem, and probably giving them some pretty sick yuks when, after a hard day’s work of cowardly murder, they sat back in a chair, turned on the news, and listened to the wall-to-wall coverage speculating about the what, why, when, how, where and who they were. These guys’ sense of grandeur wasn’t delusional – it was real.

As far as the rest of us – the great public – how about a 2?

Because in singling out the media, everybody should remember that audience share and ratings have zoomed upwards since this story began. That means that “you-know-who” – us – were the ones who fed the media’s appetite for this story. Don’t get me wrong. The Beltway Sniper story is legitimate news – very much so. The public had a definite need to know; experts should weigh in to help assess risk; the cops needed to reassure people that they were doing all they could. But what if it was likely – as many experts insist – that the very fact of obsessive media coverage helped drive these guys to kill? That the notion that tens of millions of people are glued to their TVs actually helps empower this guy to keep shooting?

It pains me to say this, but the leadership of the Muslim-American community may rate no better than a 5.

If reports are true that the elder of the conspirators trained at a Muslim “militia” range in Alabama, and that his deeds were inspired by radical Islamic sentiments, then, like it or not, it is one more mark in the public’s mind against Islam. Muslim leaders in America need to reiterate their strongest condemnation of terrorism and teach this country about the true nature of Islam. Otherwise, this religion will become one more victim of these snipers – one of the world’s greatest religions tarnished by some of humanity’s worst actors. I think the Muslim-American leadership in this country needs to focus more on healing the sores on its fringes that are open and running.

Meanwhile, I’d give the Republicans (yes, you read that right but won’t like the rest of this) a 10. But only for luck.

Why? Because to paraphrase Gresham’s old law, bad stories drive out good stories. We are now just two weeks before an election in which control of the House and Senate is up for grabs, not to mention the contests for many state houses. The sniper(s) have prevented the Democrats from getting their agenda in front of the public. Jobs, health care, prescription drugs and the things that really matter to people have been submerged in police press conferences and sniper-talk.

I think the Democrats need a little of that Republican luck. I love to drive my conservative friends crazy, so I would ask everyone to think about what happens if the Democrats should retake the House and increase their control of the Senate. How wonderful! We can roll-back or delay Bush’s foolish tax cut, put the brakes on his stampede for war, put an end to these right-wing federal court nominees and a host of other good things.

Then score 10 for America.

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