That afternoon the mood in the office took a hard turn south. Rosen pulled the first report off the AP wire and ran it into TJ as soon as he read it. Mark knew enough to know that this story had ramifications. TJ knew enough to know what those ramifications were:
New York, 4:42 PM EDT.
Unconfirmed Report of Shooting at New York Private School.
Witnesses say two gunmen entered sixth grade class at Manhattan's exclusive St. Matthew School and began random shooting of students where they sat. The two men were seen leaving the class and the building. No word yet on casualties, if any. The men were thought to be of Mideastern origin. Information will be made available as soon as received.
TJ was shaken. He turned to CNN on their office TV and monitored every word and image. Their reporters were already on the scene, as were the Mayor and just about every rescue vehicle in New York. Early reports suggested that at least a dozen kids were killed, several of whose parents worked in the UN or in the various embassies located in New York's Upper East Side. One of them was alleged to be the son of the Egyptian ambassador. The scene was pure chaos.
At 6 PM, with many of the details still unconfirmed, TJ left to pick up Father Lemanski for the meeting at Siona's. TJ threw his ill-formed schemes for slowing down the busses out the window. He had a real good sense this incident was going to change all their plans, but he had as yet no idea how right he'd be.
The others, Samuel included, were crowded around the TV when TJ and Father Lemanski arrived.
"What are they saying about the Mideastern connection?" TJ asked.
"Not much." answered Siona, "Why?"
"The Mideastern thing won't work for Kennedy," he shot back. "Every gonzo politician from here to DC in every party will crowd him on that one, starting with the President."
"The president's been on already," Siona answered. "So's the VP, especially the VP."
"So have both Senators, the governor, and the mayor," Ike added.
"You're making my point. He needs American extremists to make this work."
TJ challenged them to reread the conversation between Apple and Boston. See if this scenario didn't play into their hands.
"C'mon TJ," said Ike, "they're not that bad. No one is."
"Why don't we listen to it and find out?' Siona volunteered. "I got the tape and the equipment."
Siona cued up the tape, and they listened intently. TJ took notes. It had been a while since he had heard the actual tape. Ike and Father never had. Neither had Samuel. They had only read the transcript. When the tape ended, Father Lemanski almost shot out of his chair.
"Play that last part over."
Siona did as instructed. TJ followed along in his notes:
APPLE: No, like your very own Reichstag, man. Get an opportunity, seize it, blame it on whoever.
BOSTON: You're a cold mother.
APPLE: Only question is, do we wait or do we create.
BOSTON: A cold but clever, mother.
APPLE: What you need, my boy, is a Don Blaine.
BOSTON: Don who?
"Good God almighty!" said Father, "Did you hear dat last part?"
"Hear what?" TJ asked. "The Don Blaine part?"
"Dat's not Don anyone?"
"You Americans, ve Americans," Father Lemanski blushed to correct himself, "don't pay enough attention to rest of world. De word here isn't Don Blaine. It's Dunblane. Dunblane. Do you know Dunblane?"
It sounded familiar, but none of the others could quite identify it.
"Dunblane," Father continued, "is town in Scotland vhere, back about, oh, ten years ago, a man valked into school and began firing. He killed many, many children."
"Why Dunblane?" TJ asked. "Why not just say Jonesboro [a 1998 Arkansas school shooting] if that's what they meant."
"Jonesboro had no real effect. You had Republican congress den. But after Dunblane, British government used incident to take away few gun rights citizens enjoyed."
They were speechless. No wonder they wanted that tape back. It showed Kennedy and his chief advisor reveling in the potential murder of small children. Exposed to the light of day, even in the moral climate of 2006, the tape would at the very least slow down Josh Kennedy's career. After an incident like this, the consequences for Kennedy could be much worse. Only one problem. They didn't have a snowball's chance of getting exposure for that tape, and Kennedy knew it.
For at least ten years now they had watched the degradation of the mainstream media. As a response to the emergence of alternative news media, the mainstream media -- the major TV networks and the newspapers and magazines that took their cue from TV -- had positioned themselves as guardians of establishment orthodoxy. This new role hardened after the shocking Republican victories in 1994. Genuinely frightened, the high priests of the media shamelessly aided and abetted the White House in cutting the so-called revolution off at its knees.
A year later, the high priests bought into the administration's guide to "hate" journalism, almost laughably titled "The Communication Stream of Conspiracy Commerce." Hillary Clinton amplified the hysteria with her lament about a "vast right wing conspiracy," a charge that stuck even after the disgrace of the Clintons. Since then, the mainstream delighted in shooting down exposés of the established order's abuses of power, no matter how valid the exposé, no matter how abusive the act. The Clinton sex scandals threatened only the president, not the order. They were fair game. If anything, the active media role in that debacle steeled them to criticisms of bias.
As a consequence, the abuses were becoming increasingly flagrant, the protests against them increasingly futile. Josh Kennedy, golden child of the liberal elite, was the mainstream's Frankenstein's monster. He was sure he could get away with murder, and maybe he already had. They just had to convince the media of that. It wouldn't be easy.
As TJ had predicted, terrible as the prediction was, the story started to change perceptibly. The two men at the scene of the "St. Matthew's Massacre"--as the networks branded the incident complete with identifying music and logo treatment--were no longer of Mideastern origin. Now they were "swarthy, possibly Spanish or Italian or Indian"--a description that cut too close to home.
The five of them watched in awe and horror, marveling at the ability of some unseen hand to shape the news to its own design like a vase on a pottery wheel. They all knew Josh Kennedy could manipulate the media. They just didn't how well he could do it.