Sometimes, politicians need to follow an axiom of reputable seamstresses and tailors: Measure twice and cut once.
That certainly should have been the case Monday, when D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray and Metropolitan Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier gave America the impression that they were large and in charge as the rampage was unfolding at the Washington Navy Yard.
They stoked fear instead of staying mum.
They fed false information instead of passing along verifiable facts.
They never were in charge.
The rule: federal installation, federal authority.
But standing before the cameras the chief tried to fool you, essentially saying be on the look out for a white guy and a black guy wearing "military-style clothing."
"We have no information to believe that either of those folks are military personnel, but we do have information that those individuals are wearing military-style clothing," Chief Lanier said.
False on both counts.
The FBI confirmed Tuesday that Aaron Alexis 1) acted alone, and 2) the mysterious "white man" and "black man" wearing "military-style clothing" played no part in the carnage.
As for the mayor, somebody give that man a measuring tape and a yardstick.
Appearing on CNN on Tuesday morning, Mr. Gray blamed the bloodletting on the Defense Department, saying sequestration reductions shot the Navy Yard in the foot.
"As I look at, for example, sequestration, which is about saving money in the federal government being spent, have we somehow skimped on what would be available for projects like this and then we put people at risk," Mr. Gray said.
D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, as usual, has jumped into bed with the mayor, going so far as to propose President Obama appoint a special panel to look at how military facilities can blend into the community.
"I think the president needs to appoint a specialized panel that would have security and military experts and experts on these facilities in large cities," Ms. Norton said Tuesday morning on CNN. "We don't want them walled off, we want them as part of the community."
There's no doubt that Mrs. Norton was referring to the Homeland Security and Coast Guard digs that are springing up across the river from the Navy Yard.
The new facilities are definitely going to be walled off and part of the community — the federal community that is.
Look, local authorities conducted most of the crisis-oriented business at hand on Monday as they should, including sheltering schoolchildren in place and making certain first responders were Johnny-on-the-spot.
But making yourself part of the story, is a no-no.
When chaos and panic are both at play as they were on Monday, getting things right should be the first order of business — especially for high-profile officials.
•Deborah Simmons can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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