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Conservatives Attacked Obama Over 23 Dead Americans on Malaysia Airlines—Who Didn't Exist

Why bother fact-checking when you're using a tragedy for political purposes?

Win McNamee/Getty Images

Contrary to widely disseminated, unconfirmed reports that 23 Americans were killed in the missile attack on Malaysia Airlines flight MH17, we now know, thanks to BuzzFeed's Rosie Gray, that nobody boarded the plane using an American passport. That doesn't preclude the possibility that one or more American dual nationals were aboard, so we'd all benefit from further circumspection. (Indeed, as this article was in production, President Obama announced that one American was aboard the flight.)

But it wasn't too early for those who propagated the incorrect information to pick existing political bones to start issuing their mea culpas.

Townhall's Guy Benson: "An NBC analyst ripped the State Department for lagging far behind news reports of 23 American casualties. Minutes later, president said the government was still attempting to determine if any US citizens were aboard. At which point, he quickly pivoted and launched into his regularly-scheduled speech on the pressing need for more domestic spending on infrastructure."

National Review's Jim Geraghty wrote a post called "What's the Consequence for Killing American Citizens?" then followed it up with another post criticizing Obama for not being more willing to jump the gun.

Reports indicate 23 Americans just got killed by someone when their airliner was blown out of the sky—perhaps pro-Russian separatists.

This is the president who didn’t address the country for three days after the attempted bombing of an airliner over Detroit on Christmas Day 2009, who gave a “shout-out” to an audience member moments before his first comments on the Fort Hood shooting, and who attended a campaign rally on September 12, 2012, when most Americans awoke to the news of the murder of four Americans in a terror attack in Benghazi, Libya.

I understand the Obama White House never wants to look like they’re overreacting. They behave as if it’s impossible to underreact.

Badgering politicians for not setting aside politics at chaotic moments is an old, lame paid operative tactic. If political writers want to engage in it, I guess that's their business. But doing so on the basis of information that turns out to be false and then moving on doesn't wear well.

This article has been updated.