Rushing to judgment is an imprudent approach to commenting on horrific events. Exploiting such events for political gain is equally imprudent.
Both things happened last week after the Boston Marathon bombings. First came a wave of commentary hinting that it could be an “anti-government” act of terrorism because of the date. Then came the linkage between the alleged shame of failing to enact a gun control bill in the very week that Boston was virtually shut down.
An Oregon newspaper couldn’t wait for the initial police work to be finished in Boston before concluding the following:
“Monday’s bombing had some characteristics of al-Qaida — simultaneous coordinated explosions — but not the sophistication, greater casualty toll, and subsequent public-relations blitz that are characteristic of the organization. That raised the specter of a ‘lone wolf’ terrorist, someone identifying with an organization such as al-Qaida or acting on his own. But the choice of Patriots’ Day — and Tax Day — was chilling. There are those extremists who think they, not our elected government, are the rightful heirs to the American Revolution and the ideals of our Founders. They are wrong, and they can be dangerous.”
Turns out it was a “lone wolf” with an easily manipulated partner, with their own ax to grind. It had nothing to do with Patriots’ Day or Tax Day. It had everything to do with a big event that could produce for the bombers some significant collateral damage.
After the Oklahoma City bombing, the rush to judgment concluded that it must be Islamic terrorism. To this day, some still believe foreigners were involved. President Bill Clinton exploited the Oklahoma City bombing for political gain, not so subtly hinting that his opponents in conservative talk radio should be held accountable for what “lone wolf” Timothy McVeigh did, with the help of an easily manipulated partner.
Horrific events are sure to happen again. What we don’t have to repeat are the rush to judgment and the political exploitation.