There is an old idiom that says “fiddling while Rome burns” which means to occupy yourself with unimportant things or a priorities during a crisis. The idiom is based on a historical fallacy. A great fire broke out in 64 AD that lasted for five days under Emperor Nero. It is uncertain exactly what caused the fire but it spread fast resulting in damaging several Roman districts and three were destroyed. Some historians think Nero caused the fire while others report Christians confessed to it (likely under torture). Fires were common in Rome which may be the reason many writers of the period did not record it. Nero, at least according to one writer (Tacitus), raced back to Rome and set up a relief fund to help those damaged in the fire. He opened shelters for the homeless using his palaces, arranged for food supplies to prevent starvation.
Suetonius, the notorious gossip which so much dubious history is drawn from, claimed that Nero sang “Sack of Ilium” while the city burned. A legend grew from that which has Nero fiddling while Rome burned. There were no fiddles in ancient Rome but there was the lyre. Tacitus has him outside of Rome when the fire started. And considers it a rumor that Nero was in Rome singing while the city burned. Nero was not a well liked emperor in a lot of circles so the rumor probably started with his enemies. He did fix up the areas affected, instituted new policies to prevent such fires (like spacing buildings and using brick).
Now I spent time on this because it is important to understand what you say. When Arianna Huffington recently opined on ‘Real Time With Bill Maher’ about the congressional committee to look into the Benghazi debacle she said:
“What is the opportunity cost of having had 13 hearings on Benghazi, tens of thousands of pages, and all this attention being given to an issue which is basically the equivalent of saying Nero held Benghazi hearings while Rome burned, the captain of the Titanic held Benghazi hearings while the iceberg was hitting the Titanic?”
If she had used the idiom, it would have made sense. She would be saying that there are more important and pressing matters to deal with than Benghazi, where our ambassador and others were murdered by Islamic militants. Instead she takes a sloppy approach and uses Nero, mixing it up with Benghazi, and then tosses in Titanic for good measure. Talk about muddling the idiom! And bad history tossed in as well. It misuses Titanic for a political point and does it poorly. It provided some chuckles until one thought about what was said. For that Arianna gets our oft imitated and never duplicated Fractured Finger Award. Lyre sold separately.
Source:Arianna Criticizes Republicans Over Benghazi On ‘Real Time With Bill Maher‘(10 May 2014,The Blog-Huffington Post)