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Diane Dimond

Diane Dimond

Posted: September 21, 2009 04:09 PM

A Government That Feels Our Pain - Too Much To Ask?

What's Your Reaction?


This column is about both crime fighting and journalism - the two entities that come together to define what I do. Regular readers know this column has never been about politics but today it contains an appeal to politicians and other government workers nationwide.

Get your heads out of the rule book and think about the human consequences of what you do! Think about how your actions impact the feelings of your fellow Americans.

Look, I'm all for practicing crime fighting skills - practice makes perfect, I'd say. But what bureaucratic moron thought it was appropriate to stage a mock Coast Guard drill in the Potomac River at the same time the president of the United States was leading a solemn September 11th commemoration ceremony for mourners a short distance away?

The Coast Guard didn't warn anyone they'd be conducting an exercise simulating the interception of an unauthorized terrorist boat on the river - not the White House, the FBI, Homeland Security or nearby Ronald Reagan airport. Happening as it did on this most solemn day in our recent history news of it threw everyone into emergency mode.

This very real sounding exercise, right under the bridge President Obama traveled that day, included broadcasting make-believe commands over an open radio frequency. A crew member was overheard by an observant CNN producer saying, "Stop your vessel. ... You will be fired on!" There was mention made of 10 shots being fired. The video showed boats bobbing and dodging in the water.

The rest of the Coast Guard didn't know about an exercise and the lack of clarification wasn't cleared up for more than an hour. Later, instead of being red faced and apologetic about scaring the crap out of people on such a sensitive day our government authorities, like White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, seemed to blame the messenger - CNN - for what was happening out on the Potomac.

I agree with CNN's statement, "It would have been irresponsible not to report on what we were hearing and seeing. As with any breaking news story, information is often fluid and CNN updated the story with the official explanation from the Coast Guard as soon as it was provided."

Was CNN perfect in what it reported? No - it announced 10 shots had been fired when all CNN had heard was a crew member on a radio talking about 10 rounds and pronouncing, "bang, bang, bang." That does not a shoot-out make.

Nonetheless, I think former Homeland Security adviser Frances Townsend probably put it best when she told a TV interviewer the Coast Guard exercise constituted "felony stupidity."

This isn't the first time the new Administration forgot to take the public's reaction to its actions into account.

Last April, someone in the White House military office came up with the completely asinine idea that the government needed new pictures of Air Force One over the Statue of Liberty. I suppose they wanted a photo depicting how the new administration was ever vigilant about justice and liberty. So, in the midst of one of the worst recessionary periods in history it was decided to spend 330 thousand dollars getting new publicity shots for the Obama administration. The president's jet was sent out on a crystal clear blue-sky Monday morning (the weather much like it was on September 11th, 2001), accompanied by an ominous looking F-16 jet fighter to snap some shots. For a half-hour, the Boeing 747 and F-16 circled the Statue of Liberty and lower Manhattan skyline where the World Trade Center Towers once stood. Office workers panicked and evacuated. Dispatchers were inundated with breathless calls, eye-witnesses reported dangerously low flying planes.

No one along the chain of this idiotic command thought to alert local authorities to the photo-op exercise and obviously no one stopped to think what the effect would be on still skittish New Yorkers who were directly and devastatingly impacted the last time jets flew into that restricted air space. Later, the President apology fell on deaf ears.

I know the media isn't perfect and its recent inability to come up with a plausible estimate of how many hundreds of thousands of protesters turned out on the streets of Washington DC makes the point. But the media is there for you, to report what it knows, and in this 24/7 cable news era when it knows it. Because news is a fluid thing you can get a front row seat as the reporters and the anchors learn new information. A murder has occurred, a suspect is found, charges are filed and then there's a trial. News it's always developing.

Is it perfect system? No. That's why there is a corrections section in your local paper.
So when the government messes up - where's the correction page?

Diane Dimond can be reached through her web site: www.DianeDimond.net