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National, regional media swarm over Lodi

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Posted: Wednesday, June 8, 2005 10:00 pm

The media circus came to town Wednesday as dozens of reporters from near and far flocked to Lodi following the arrests of two local men for their alleged links to the al-Qaida terrorist network. Reporters from USA Today, New York Times, San Jose Mercury News and San Francisco Chronicle newspapers prowled the Lodi on Wednesday looking for sources, and news vans from various stations including FOX, CBS and ABC were parked on both sides of Acacia Street and Poplar Street.

A yellow taxi from Beach Cities Cab Co. was parked off the shoulder of Lower Sacramento Road as the meter inside slowly ticked, reaching $725 before 9 a.m. That didn't count the $550 return fee.

Driver Steve Messina said he picked up two CNN crew members at 11 p.m. Tuesday night in Pismo Beach, where they had been staying while covering Michael Jackson's child molestation trial.

A news crew was flying in, but that wasn't fast enough.

"My understanding is that CNN wants a crew here all the time," Messina said as he read his hometown San Luis Obispo newspaper and talked by cell phone to friends and family members who were following the news.

"This is international news -- in Lodi," he said.

Mayor John Beckman said he received more than 20 calls from reporters Wednesday, the most he's received since he became mayor in December.

Traffic slowed along Lower Sacramento Road as white media vans lined the roadway near the proposed site of a future Muslim school.

"It's scary," said a man in a Pacific Gas and Electric truck, which had briefly pulled over to the side of the road.

An ABC News reporter, Chris Cochran said his camera crew drove all the way from Santa Maria. Cochran said the crew was covering the Michael Jackson case, got a call about the news in Lodi and left at 6 a.m. It took them about six and a half hours to drive to Lodi, he said.

Arleen Ng from European Press Photo Agency, said she drove at least an hour to get to Lodi from Oakland.

Nawaz Shah answers questions from the media outside of the Muslim Mosque in Lodi on Wednesday. (Dan Evans/News-Sentinel)

A troupe of reporters queried Julian Fernandez and his neighbors about what they may have seen in the area on Tuesday, when FBI agents searched homes in their Eastside neighborhood.

"I've never seen this happen before," said Fernandez, who has been living in Lodi for 22 years. "I'm just watching . . . there's so many reporters."

Mary Jackson, a reporter from Sacramento Television News Service asked Les Kolb what time everything happened on Tuesday and quickly wrote down the information.

"I'm going to have to get you on camera saying that," she said.

Kolb said his front yard and sidewalk has been bombarded with news vans and news crews since 3:30 a.m.

Roy Peter Clark, a vice president and senior scholar at the Poynter Institute, which studies journalism and provides training for reporters, said the perception of journalists as a "flock of vultures" or "pack of wolves" is generally overstated.

But when a media frenzy does occur, Clark said it can be so dramatic that it can stick in the public's mind and affect their perceptions of journalists and how they react to the press.

Reactions from the 'Blogosphere'

As news of the arrests of four men in Lodi spread this week, World Wide Web logs, or blogs, which often view the day's news through highly opinionated lenses, were quick to post items on the arrests.

"It looks like Al-Qaeda picked Lodi as a West Coast base of operations," read one post from the California Mafia Web site, http://camafia.blogspot.com.

At The Jawa Report, http://mypetjawa.mu.nu, the author says the arrests "puts a whole new meaning on that CCR song" referring to the Creedence Clearwater Revivial song "Stuck in Lodi."

The post goes on to say that one of the more worrisome aspects of the story is that a few of the men arrested were in the process of setting up a religious school. (The FBI has reported that the men overseeing the Farooqia Islamic Center on Lower Sacramento Road were being held on administrative immigration holds.)

At the California Conservative site, http://www.californiaconservative.org, a post on the news referred to a al-Qaida's "camp Lodi" and at Rand Holman's The Daily Polemic, thedailypolemic.blogs.com, the author states he's "more convinced than ever that Al Qaeda has indeed made a determined effort to plant operatives in the United States as American citizens."

According to the site http://hyscience.typepad.com/ the arrests in Lodi are "just a tip of the iceberg" of al-Qaida's efforts to "destroy American and European freedoms as we know them."

Blogger La Shawn Barber puts a link to a news article on the arrests in a post on his site http://www.lashawnbarber.com that calls for an end to all immigration.

-- News-Sentinel staff

"I think we can probably say that the more reporters you have working a story, the more likely people will change their behavior to play to the coverage," he said.

Clark went on to say that the intense coverage of the Scott Peterson trial was a case in which a story that had little value was blown up by the national media simply because of its dramatic nature.

While on the other hand, he said the intense media interest in the death of Terry Schaivo was largely worthwhile because it brought an issue of importance to the attention of the general public.

"Although it definitely had some circus aspects surrounding it, that case was a case in which the American people talked to each other maybe for the first time about life and death," he said.

News-Sentinel staff writers Layla Bohm and Andrew Adams contributed to this report.

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