Networks Use Bridge Tragedy to Build Support for Higher Taxes

     There used to be a delay between tragedy and people trying to capitalize on it.

     Used to be.

     But as terrifying and horrible as the I-35W bridge collapse is, it’s quickly become political leverage as tax-and-spend liberals line up to do just that.

     And the media might even be worse.

     In the aftermath of our latest national tragedy, the mainstream press has already called for the Big, Bountiful Solution – the Big BS for short – more taxes. Before families even get a chance to mourn, we are told to open our wallets, not our hearts.

     When the House of Representatives responded by voting for $250 million to rebuild the bridge, CBS anchor Katie Couric called it “really just a drop in a very huge bucket.”

     This from Couric, who immediately editorialized the night of the disaster about whether Americans are ready to have more money taken in taxes. That broadcast was filled with heart-rending photos from the scene with a typical TV disaster graphic titled “Twin Cities Tragedy.” Couric asked: “are taxpayers ready to spend the billions, maybe trillions, it would take to fix all the pipelines, tunnels and bridges?”

      In the days that followed, the media answer was obvious. We had better be – because journalists want to raise our taxes rather than our consciousness about how that money is spent.

     To hear the August 3 “CBS Evening News” describe it, an outpouring of money is necessary to prevent the end of American civilization. “Coast to coast there have been sewage leaks, killer chunks of falling concrete, broken pipes in the Midwest, contaminated water in Washington, D.C., and New Jersey loses an astonishing 20 million gallons of drinking water a day from leaky pipes.”

     Almost 21 years ago today, Ronald Reagan summarized the conservative position on big government. “I think you all know that I've always felt the nine most terrifying words in the English language are: 'I'm from the government, and I'm here to help.’”

     Few in government – of either party – now do more than pay lip service to the ideals of small government. And the media position is almost universally “send your dollars now.”

     But there are many reasons for small government. Government often does things poorly and inefficiently. Look at the I-35W bridge. It passed both state and federal inspection and wasn’t closed down.

     Like many bridges during the 1950s and ’60s, government built it “when designers were confident they knew enough about bridge strength and weight loads that they could build bridges lighter and cheaper,” according to a detailed Washington Post report. They were fatally wrong.

    We are now coping with that miscalculation. We have roughly 600,000 bridges in this country. Many are from that era and built without any redundancy. If something goes wrong, it goes very wrong.

     Looking at the safety ratings also shows how messed up the system is. I-35W wasn’t even the lowest-ranked bridge in the nation. It scored 50 out of 100 on safety. The Brooklyn Bridge gets a zero out of that same 100, and it’s three times as old as the one that collapsed. Yet cars drive over it every day because it was built far better.

     So much for modern government’s ability to accurately inspect and maintain anything.

     The government doesn’t even trust its own results. According to reports, the federal government asked states to make sure and check their own bridges. I can just imagine that call: “Oh, don’t forget to make sure your bridges don’t fall down.” Then again, some governments clearly do need that kind of guidance.

     But when the networks look for someone to blame, they don’t blame government. They turn to you and me – the American taxpayers. CBS’s Sharyl Attkisson called our poor state and local governments “cash-starved” because they can’t manage to keep our infrastructure from killing us.

     That theme was part of the Big BS used during the recent Republican debate. Des Moines Register columnist David Yepsen asked Rudy Giuliani about the “Republican dogma against taxes” as if conservatives had personally killed the people on the bridge.

      That idea is ludicrous. Politicians take our money by the millions, billions or even trillions and then waste far too much of it. Had a private business been responsible for bridge inspections, the media would have heaped blame instantly and called for the firm to be shut down. Instead, the journalistic response is to reward government for gross negligence with even more of our money.

     It’s not fair to say America has an infrastructure crisis. Ours is not so much a nation of rusting bridges, decaying roads and threatened dams. We are a nation of rusting legislators, decaying political ethics and damn idiot officials who worry more about keeping their jobs than doing the jobs they were elected to do.

     That just piles on more tragedy on top of an already unbelievable disaster.

Dan Gainor is The Boone Pickens Free Market Fellow and director of the Media Research Center’s Business & Media Institute.