Terror, via the mail
At press time: NBC anthrax case scares the media in NYC
By John M. Higgins and Steve McClellan -- Broadcasting & Cable, 10/14/2001 8:00:00 PM
The anxiety building since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks struck starkly home in the TV business when an NBC News employee was diagnosed with a form of anthrax after the company received a suspicious letter in the mail.
The woman is reportedly an assistant to NBC anchor Tom Brokaw, but her name and position were not immediately disclosed.
The discovery last Friday spurred federal and New York City officials to cordon off part of the third floor of NBC's headquarters at 30 Rockefeller Center, including the area where NBC Nightly News staffers work.
Shortly thereafter, Viacom shut down mailrooms in all facilities across the country and planned to test some of them for contaminants. Turner Broadcasting, its CNN unit and ABC shut down their mailrooms, and The New York Times headquarters was locked down after an envelope containing an unknown white powder showed up.
The NBC employee is afflicted with an anthrax infection on her skin. That's less threatening than the respiratory anthrax that killed a photo editor at American Media in Lantana, Fla., a week earlier. But the incidents—there have now been four— jangles nerves nationwie.
"We are absolutely terrified," a New York executive of one network said.
New York Mayor Rudy Guiliani said the NBC employee opened a suspicious letter containing a white powder Sept. 25 and then called security. The powder was tested and nothing unusual found.
A few days later, though, the woman developed a rash on her arm and went to a doctor.
He performed a biopsy, and the results came back as anthrax. City officials were notified Friday morning.
"We don't have reports of additional symptoms" from other staffers, Guiliani said. "The chances that this is contained are very good."
—Additional reporting by Joe Schlosser
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