As if to provide a warning to commentators, prognosticators, ax-grinders, think-tankers and television analysts about the dangers of petty speculation, the New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof posted this thought on Twitter a few minutes after today’s apparent bomb attack in Boston: “explosion is a reminder that ATF needs a director. Shame on Senate Republicans for blocking apptment.”
Part of talking for a living is knowing when to shut up. It is obviously true that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives needs a director. It might even be true that Republicans could try a lot harder to put a director in place. But after an explosion about which we know almost nothing, and in the face of sudden, violent death at the finish line of the Boston Marathon, this is not the time to guess about the perpetrators or to recommend policy fixes that would prevent such attacks from taking place. It certainly is no time to suggest that a political party you happen not to like is to blame for a tragedy about which you know nothing.
I don’t mean to single out Kristof (who has already apologized and taken the post down). In an era in which none of us like to leave anything unsaid, and in which technology offers us the opportunity to say things fast, we often succumb to the urge to speculate. Shortly after the 2011 shootings in Norway, I asked publicly whether a Mumbai-type attack had visited Europe, the implication being that Muslim terrorists were behind the atrocity. It was perfectly plausible to suggest that Muslim terrorists were to blame -- except that they weren’t. I learned my lesson.
Tomorrow or the next day, when law enforcement officers and journalists have done their work, there will be time to analyze and criticize and learn from whatever it is we just saw. But not today. Please, let’s wait to find out who did this and why it happened.
(Jeffrey Goldberg is a Bloomberg View columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.)
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