Hijacking crises for fun and profit

Can this week produce any more sterling examples of media irresponsibility?  I’m not talking about the faceplant for John King and CNN (and for that matter, the Associated Press) in proclaiming that law enforcement was making/had made an arrest in the Boston Marathon bombing case. Getting burned by sources happens, which is why journalists usually wait for confirmation — especially on a scoop that doesn’t really need a “first!” declaration.

No, I’m talking about the David Sirotas of the world who glom onto tragedy and crisis in order to sell their pet theories and climb on hobby horses without the added burden of actually accounting for facts.  That didn’t just take place with the Boston Marathon bombing, either.  As I noted earlier this week, the murders of two Texas DAs and one of their spouses had been exploited by news media, especially MSNBC, as either evidence of a rising wave of white-supremacist violence, Mexican drug cartels declaring war on America, or (most amusingly) both.  Larry O’Donnell (again, MSNBC) went on air last night to blame the NRA’s opposition to mandatory taggants in ordinary gunpowder as the reason the FBI hadn’t caught the Boston bomber, even though no one has yet even been able to identify the bomber himself.

It’s bad enough when the media does this.  It’s much worse when politicians exploit crises for political gain. My column for The Fiscal Times focuses on the kind of irresponsibility that actually has an impact on our wallets — legislative demagoguery.  Without having the benefit of knowing anything about what took place in Boston,

Sirota’s piece is more of an embarrassment to Salon than it is a problem for anyone else.  That’s not the case with former Rep. Barney Frank and current Rep. Steny Hoyer, who holds the number-two leadership post in the House Democratic caucus. Both men couldn’t wait to find out what actually happened before complaining that budget austerity had made the nation less secure.

“I never was as a member of Congress one of the cheerleaders for less government, lower taxes,” Frank told CNN the morning after the bombing. “No tax cut would have helped us deal with this or will help us recover.”

Hoyer went one step farther during his weekly briefing with reporters the same day. Talking Points Memo reported:

“Asked by a reporter whether Monday’s attack makes the argument for addressing sequestration, Hoyer explained, “I think there are multiple reasons for ensuring that we invest in our security — both domestic and international security. That we invest in the education of our children. That we invest in growing jobs in America. And don’t pursue an irrational, across-the-board policy of cutting the highest priorities and the lowest priorities essentially the same percentage…. I think this is another proof of that — if proof is needed, which I don’t think frankly it is.”

Proof?  Well, that is an interesting concept.

Put aside, for the moment, the fact that at this point neither man knew who had conducted the bombing or for what purpose. Has sequestration crippled the Department of Homeland Security’s budget to the extent that it left us open to attack? In FY2007, the DHS budget was $42.7 billion.

By FY2012, it had grown to $59.7 billion, with the FY2014 budget request reaching $59.9 billion. DHS funding has increased 40 percent since Democrats took control of Congress after the 2006 midterms, and it has actually gone up by $3 billion since FY2011, when Republicans took back the House – and it didn’t result in any attacks such as those seen on Monday.

Homeland Secretary Janet Napolitano warned in February that the sequester could force reductions as high as 5 percent for DHS, which would have brought the DHS budget to the FY2011 level.  President Obama’s budget proposal this month made that “cut” moot, as well as the argument from Hoyer and Frank.

We can certainly debate whether DHS has enough cash to fulfill its mandate. What cannot be argued is that DHS has suffered through any budget cuts. In fact, the week before the bombings took place, DHS posted an RFP for new equipment– bagpipes and drum supplies. The RFP got pulled after critics lambasted Napolitano and DHS for buying musical instruments while singing the blues over its supposedly devastating budget cuts.

Until we know who the perpetrated the bombing, we cannot conclude that more DHS funding would have helped, or (alternately) that DHS failed at all.  This may have been the kind of lone-wolf domestic attack that nothing short of a police state can prevent, or it may have been a complex conspiracy with lots of missed opportunities. We can, however, put aside the idea that we have gutted funding to Homeland Security over the last few years, which exposes Hoyer as a knee-jerk demagogue.

Why not wait for the evidence before advancing either claim? And why root for the ethnicity of the perpetrators rather than just simply hope and pray that the real perpetrators will soon be identified and arrested? That’s what Dennis Miller wondered last night, too:

Miller then ripped in to Barney Frank, describing the former congressman’s effort to show empathy was misguided and came off as “arrogant.”

“Here’s the thing about Barney Frank,” Miller said. “Sometimes I find that liberals, in lieu of actual empathetic gestures, heartfelt empathy — they turn it into an affair of their mind. They intellectually empathize with you. Barney Frank will tell you everything he does is for the disenfranchised, the people under foot.”

“And you just want to say, ‘Can you start your empathy by just not being a jerk to the people you come across in your day-to-day life? Can you take a moment and not be so arrogant about your inner-voice that you bring it out immediately in the wake of a tragedy like this and tell us what you feel?’ Be heartfelt empathetic, not head-driven empathetic.”