Rat poison bombs revisited.

Media criticism.
July 11 2002 4:34 PM

Rat Poison Bombs Revisited

The Middle East story that refuses to die.

(Continued from Page 1)

Once again, I'm not arguing that nobody has ever set off a rat poison bomb or that the suicide bombers aren't capable of building one. But if they have, the evidence arguing for its existence is remarkably thin. And the evidence arguing for its efficacy is even thinner still.

So why has the U.S. press repeated the story so uncritically? In my last piece, I guessed that such a horrific story is, in the parlance of journalism, "too good to check." But what explains the story's origin in the first place? My guess is that the battle-hardened Israelis and Palestinians have been at it so long that they've  normalized the real horrors of war and need to imagine something even more ghastly to keep them going.

And, as I found in further explorations of the Nexis way-back machine, the Israeli fear that the Palestinians might be rat-poisoning them is a theme with roots, and the bomb story might just be a new iteration. In feature story by veteran Washington Post correspondent Glenn Frankel eight years ago ("Divided They Stand," Oct. 30, 1994), we learn of Israeli worries—"some true, some fear-inspired fantasy." Frankel writes "of Arab employees in food processing plants urinating in vats of Israeli food staples such as hummus and tahini or slipping rat poison into coffee tins."

Jack Shafer was Slate's editor at large. You can follow him on Twitter or email him at Shafer.Reuters@gmail.com.

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