BROOKE GLADSTONE: Unlike Ramirez, freelancer Marc Schultz had no paper to protect him, and when the FBI came a-calling last month, he talked. Marc Schultz wrote about his encounter with the FBI for CreativeLoafing.com. He says it all began with a call from Mom.
MARC SCHULTZ: My mom calls up and say says -- "Now you're not in trouble, [LAUGHTER] but the FBI is here and they want to speak to you." She wanted to know if they could come to my work and talk to me, and so I thought -"Sure, why not?" They showed up, and I had assumed that someone I knew had gotten some government work and they were doing a background check, and-- they started asking me about what kind of car do you drive-- [LAUGHTER] and that's when it dawned on me that they're here to talk to me. They, they started asking me about Saturday -the Saturday before. They wanted to know if I had been in this coffee shop and if I had brought anything in with me, and I had no idea - you know - I would go in this coffee shop 4 or 5 times a week, so-- I, I said "Yeah, probably I was in there and I probably brought in my sunglasses and my cell phone" and-- that was not what they wanted. Eventually they leveled with me. They said "What we're really here for is someone in the coffee shop saw you reading something -- a printout of some kind -- and it looked suspicious enough to them that they decided to call us, and so that's what we're here to find out about."
BROOKE GLADSTONE:And you were racking your brain to figure out what it was that might have set off suspicions in somebody else, and you actually couldn't remember until later in the evening, right?
MARC SCHULTZ: That's right. I figured it was some kind of left wing piece, because I - you know - I read a thousand of those things a week. It turned out it was a media criticism by Hal Crowther called Weapons of Mass Stupidity about Rupert Murdoch and Fox News and how they're lowering the bar for media coverage in this country.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:Now when you realized that it was this article called Weapons of Mass Stupidity and that this somehow brought the FBI to your door, how did you take that?
MARC SCHULTZ: Well-- I take it as being-- a slant I guess against my appearance. I've got a beard, and I feel like I must have been profiled.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Profiled as a Jewish lefty with a beard?
MARC SCHULTZ: [LAUGHS] Yeah. Well, I live in Cobb County -Newt Gingrich country - and it's quite possible someone took a look at me, saw my beard, decided this guy must be some kind of an Arab. On the other hand it could be someone who's a big fan of Fox News.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: But the point is, is that it seemed to have been enough to induce the FBI to look you up!
MARC SCHULTZ:Well that's the bizarre part - that whoever this was called up and said "Well I'd like to report some reading" and the FBI said "Reading, hmmmmm?! We'd better send some guys to check this out."
BROOKE GLADSTONE:Well an FBI agent named Paris was quoted in an article as saying "I've explained so many times I can't specifically comment on this particular case but any time a citizen calls up with a suspicion of terrorist activity, we have no choice to follow up on it. We have to err on the side of talking to too many people because God help us if we don't talk to the next Mohammed Atta." So-- do you think that's fair?
MARC SCHULTZ: I certainly see their side of it. They're under such constant fire for potential past mistakes; the question I have is -- can anyone really call up and report anyone they want? It seems like there should be some kind of quality control on these tips, you know? Any jerk with a, a cell phone can call in someone who cuts them off in traffic or looks at them funny. I read some quotes from Paris saying that the FBI does not investigate people to find out what they read, and-- to portray them that way is a disservice to the organization and the country. But that's how they presented themselves to me. What they said in fact was "There's no problem. We just need to get to the bottom of this; find out what you were reading, and if we can't do that, then you might have a problem - and you don't want that."
BROOKE GLADSTONE:What if you were reading, instead of Weapons of Mass Stupidity about Fox News and Rupert Murdoch, you were reading An Easy Guide to Creating Weapons of Mass Destruction?
MARC SCHULTZ: In that case, maybe someone should check it out, but I don't know what kind of a terrorist would be, while standing in line at a coffee shop, reading Instructions on How to Be a Terrorist.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: [LAUGHS] That's true. Well, Marc, thanks very much.
MARC SCHULTZ: Well thank you for having me!
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Marc Schultz is a freelance writer, soon to be a journalism grad student, and he spoke to us from WABE in Atlanta.