BOB GARFIELD: Want to protect yourself against terror? Take a roll of duct tape -- you probably have plenty of that -- and cut it carefully into 8 19-inch strips. Take those strips, and cover the screen of your television. Not since the early '60s when America contemplated the ethics of shooting fallout shelter trespassers have the media been so awash in dire warnings! Civil liberties are out the window, but civil defense is suddenly making a big comeback. You need look no further than the corner of the news channel's TV picture to see the color-coded level of suggested hysteria. At the moment the United States is poised at Code Orange, which translates, I believe, to "Don't say we didn't warn you." That's one level above Code Yellow -- "Do not use near open flame" and just one below the maximum Code Red -- Allah Akbar! Every morning I get out of bed, walk right past the newspapers and consult the latest internet headlines just to make sure I'm not already dead. So now comes a series of public service announcements directing us to a web site --www.ready.gov which sounds like a stuttering cockney taxi driver but in fact is a detailed clearinghouse for what to do when the anthrax hits the fan. In telling us to prepare or else, Homeland Security czar Tom Ridge looks soothingly relaxed and folksy. With his gentle delivery and warm smile, he's half Bill Ford trying to sell you a pickup truck and half Jerry Falwell just after he's informed you you're going to burn in hell. CNN wasn't too impressed. It cut away from Ridge's press conference to show a dog being rescued from a sheet of ice. And you can hardly fault them! A succession of frantic false alarms have made Ridge the Boy Who Cried Bioterrorism. But what's a Secretary of Homeland Security to do? It's easy to scold the administration for fomenting needless anxiety, especially with such vague alerts, and to chide the media for passing on the alarms without any detail or practical guidance. On the other hand, the government has the duty to protect its citizens, and guidelines for planning ahead for non-specific but certain calamity do not constitute fear-mongering. They constitute common sense. If a big snow fall denudes the supermarket shelves of water and milk, as it did along the northeast corridor a week ago, imagine in our complacent society what civil chaos an earthquake will set off, much less a dirty bomb. The new web site and the ad campaign show the first signs that the Bush administration understands how to use the media to defend the citizenry as opposed to terrifying it. The little colored flags do nobody any good. But the dispensing of real information is why the media constitute the nation's first line of civil defense. That and the duct tape which won't protect you from anthrax, maybe, but is handy to have around! Instant carpentry, auto repair, binding and gagging shoe bombers --whatever. [THEME MUSIC] BOB GARFIELD:That's it for this week's show. On the Media was produced by Janeen Price, Katya Rogers and Megan Ryan with Tony Field; engineered by Dylan Keefe, Rob Christiansen and Bill O'Neill, and edited-- by Brooke. We had help from Sharon Ball, Brian Tilley, Mark Herz and Andy Lanset. Our webmaster is Amy Pearl. BROOKE GLADSTONE:Arun Rath is our senior producer and Dean Cappello our executive producer. Bassist/composer Ben Allison wrote our theme. This is On the Media from NPR. I'm Brooke Gladstone. BOB GARFIELD: And I'm Bob Garfield.