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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

Government Officials' Messages about Anthrax

Aired October 19, 2001 - 06:24   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: No matter how troubling these anthrax cases are to you, health officials say the most important thing to remember right now is don't panic.

As CNN's Jeanne Meserve reports, that is among several messages government officials are trying to drive home.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): To pry out more information about the anthrax letters, the administration is trying a new tool.

ROBERT MUELLER, FBI DIRECTOR: A reward of up to $1 million for information leading to the arrest and conviction of those responsible for terrorist acts of mailing anthrax.

MESERVE (voice-over): The announcement came during a press conference which had as much public relations value as news value. Eight government officials from law enforcement and the public health system stood shoulder to shoulder with the director of homeland security in hopes of muting criticism like this, that came today from Capitol Hill.

REP. JANE HARMAN (D-CA), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: It's important that the same administration do a much better job of communicating what our primary threats are here, and how our country is going to mobilize against those threats.

MESERVE: Ridge and his supporting cast wanted to make several points. One: we are getting along, and we are getting the job done.

TOM RIDGE, HOMELAND SECURITY DIRECTOR: On an hourly basis, every single day, there is communication and collaboration between all agencies of government.

MESERVE: Another point underlined with a sharp pencil: Don't panic.

RIDGE: Thousands and thousands and thousands of people have been tested for anthrax exposure, and thousands of environmental samples have been taken as well. Yet only five people have tested positive at this time for anthrax.

MESERVE: Now, six have.

The third message: Be vigilant, and here's what you need to know. Government Web sites with anthrax information were promoted, and postal officials said mail rooms and every American household will get instructions on how to identify and handle suspicious mail.

JOHN POTTER, POSTMASTER GENERAL: Don't shake it, don't taste it, don't sniff it.

MESERVE: Meanwhile, the government is preparing for the next possible threat, a disease that was eradicated in the 1970s, small pox, acquiring enough vaccine to inoculate 300 million people. Because small pox vaccinations carry some risk of injury and even death, Ridge says a later threat assessment will determine whether the vaccine is ever used.

(on camera): The administration has taken some heat for letting so many officials say sometimes contradictory things about the anthrax situation. Ridge says part of his job is to coordinate and make sure those -- quote -- "alleged inconsistencies" are few and far between. So he will be briefing on a regular basis, perhaps daily for now, becoming the administration's point man for information after only 10 days on the job.

Jeanne Meserve, CNN, the White House.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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