Column Date 2006-04-09

Government by delayed reaction

Have you noticed that Washington has put itself on tape delay?

Tape delay, you may recall, became common right after Janet Jackson’s breast was exposed during a Super Bowl half-time show.

From that time on, the half-time show has been taped, then delayed to let the network censors review it, then finally broadcast to your home TV.

Now our government is doing the same thing: suddenly there’s an enormous gap between the time something happens, and when the administration gets around to talking about it.

Sounds a bit far-fetched to you? Let’s look at the facts:

First, Hurricane Katrina. After the levees failed, it took our government more than two days to even admit that there was a problem -- two days after the Mayor of New Orleans ordered mandatory evacuation! (For all we know, there may even be a few 18-wheelers loaded with ice and emergency supplies still riding around the southeast, waiting for delivery instructions from FEMA.)

Then there’s “Deadeye Dick” Cheney, who shot a fellow quail hunter in the face and chest. Remember that it took a full 24 hours before anybody bothered telling the press about it? Did it take that long to work out a strategy to blame the victim for being in the wrong place? Does it take that long for alcohol levels in your blood to go down? (Those are just wild guesses, of course.)

And last week, when a company from the United Arab Emirates wound up with the rights to operate six major American ports, including New York, Philadelphia and Miami, it turned out that nobody had told President Bush. He heard it on the news, a day later.

”Government by delayed reaction” is obviously here. And we should all get mentally prepared for our first “Delayed Reaction Press Conference”:

“I’ll take your questions now.”

“Mr. President, will you comment on the Bird Flu epidemic that’s now reached Western Europe?”

“Glad you brought that up, Harriet. First, let me say that our people are doing everything they can to re-build New Orleans as quickly as possible.”

“Sir, have we made any progress getting the Iranians to stop building nuclear weapons?”

“Good question, Phil. As you well know, the country most affected by bird flu is Vietnam. I spoke with their Prime Minister recently and he told me that birds just don’t respect international borders, which is a big problem.”

“Sir, have you talked to your brother about your administration’s plans to drill for oil in the Gulf of Mexico, right off the coast of Florida?”

“I’ll have to get back to you on that. It’s very difficult to build atomic weapons and we don’t think they’ll actually have anything dangerous for some time.”

“Mr. President, back to the oil drilling...”

“No, I don’t recall ever meeting anyone named Jack Abramoff. But before we wind up, I’d like to congratulate the Boston Red Sox for winning the World Series.”

“Thank you Mr. President.”

©2006 Peter Tannen