CPJ concerned about threatening incidents in the U.S.

New York, October 16, 2001—The Committee to Protect Journalists is monitoring with concern a pattern of threatening incidents involving journalists working in the United States.

In recent weeks, several employees of U.S. media companies have been exposed to anthrax. Robert Stevens, a photo editor at The Sun in Boca Raton, Florida, died after inhaling anthrax. Two other employees of the company have tested positive for exposure to anthrax, and blood tests suggest that five more employees may have been exposed. None have developed the disease.

On October 12, NBC News confirmed that one of its employees in New York had been infected with a much milder form, called cutaneous anthrax. The employee is being treated and is expected to make a full recovery. A second NBC employee reportedly has developed symptoms suggesting an anthrax infection. Authorities have linked the NBC anthrax infections to a letter postmarked from Trenton, New Jersey, opened after September 17 that contained a sandy substance.

Heightening the anxiety over these cases is the fact that other media outlets, including The New York Times and The St. Petersburg Times, reported receiving letters with threatening messages in envelopes that contained a white powder. Testing of these powders so far has shown no traces of anthrax.

On October 15, ABC News president David Westin announced that a seven-month-old infant who had visited ABC’s newsroom on September 28 had contracted cutaneous anthrax. The infant, who is the son of a producer for ABC News, is responding well to antibiotics.

Although these incidents may suggest an organized effort to target journalists, there is to date no definitive confirmation of such an effort. The continuing investigations are aimed at determining how the cases of anthrax exposure occurred, and whether any of the incidents are connected to the September 11 terrorist attacks in New York City and Washington, D.C.

While investigations proceed, many news organizations have taken precautions, such as monitoring incoming mail and warning employees to be alert in handling and opening letters and packages. Companies are also reminding employees that should a person inadvertently open a package or letter containing anthrax spores, he or she can prevent getting the disease by seeking immediate medical help. Anthrax is not contagious.