Maddow Gamely Spins Napolitano's 'System Worked' Absurdity About Flight 253

Next time Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano needs a media flack/coat catcher, I know just the right person.

MSNBC's Rachel Maddow is lashing out at critics who took Napolitano to task for claiming "the system worked" in response to a terrorist with explosives boarding Northwest Flight 253 and nearly bringing down the plane on Christmas.

In the lead segment on her show Dec. 29 (click here for audio), Maddow told viewers of a "dramatic, unexpected appearance" by Obama that day, breaking from his vacation in Hawaii to make an "unscheduled statement to the press."

"After praising the intelligence community for its hard work and for gathering the necessary information on Mr. Abdulmutallab," Maddow reported, "President Obama made a deliberate point of backstopping his Homeland Security secretary, Janet Napolitano."

As if that was the point of Obama's "dramatic, unexpected appearance." In reality, it was to prevent a bad situation from getting worse after Napolitano's remarks on CNN two days earlier.

"Napolitano," Maddow said, "has come under partisan attack in recent days for comments she made on Sunday about the response to the attempted terrorist attack."

Maddow then showed a clip of Napolitano's remarks --

NAPOLITANO:  One thing I'd like to point out is that the system worked. Everybody played an important role here. The passengers and crew of the flight took appropriate action. Within literally an hour to 90 minutes of the incident occurring, all 128 flights in the air had been notified to take some special measures in light of what had occurred on the Northwest Airlines flight. We instituted new measures on the ground and at screening areas, both here in the United States and in Europe where this flight originated.  So, the whole process of making sure that we respond properly, correctly and effectively went very smoothly.

Back to Maddow --

MADDOW:  The Homeland Security secretary, Janet Napolitano, arguing that the response to what Mr. Abdulmutallab allegedly did after he did it was appropriate. Once the guy's attempt failed, he was subdued by fellow passengers and then crew, he was brought into custody safely, the plane landed safely, the law enforcement and aviation security response seems to have been appropriate after all of that happened.

The assertion by Janet Napolitano that things went well after the incident shouldn't really be all that controversial. Unless of course you twist it and take it out of context. Cut the taking it out of context in three, two, one ...

(Footage of remarks by Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., and member of the Homeland Security Committee) --

KING: ... Napolitano said, the system worked. The fact is, the system did not work and we have to find a bipartisan way to fix it. He made it on the plane with explosives and he detonated the explosives.

Those wascally Wepublicans, Maddow fumed. "Through selective editing, Republicans have tried to turn Janet Napolitano's assessment of the response to the attempted bombing into some sort of excuse for the bombing happening in the first place. President Obama trying to put an end to that political trickery today by putting Napolitano's comments back in context." Then to a clip from Obama's "dramatic, unexpected" press conference --

OBAMA: As Secretary Napolitano has said, once the suspect attempted to take down Flight 253, after his attempt, it's clear that passengers and crew, our Homeland Security systems and our aviation security, took all appropriate actions.

Back to Maddow, still harping on keeping the matter in "context" --

MADDOW: Now we get to see if the media just keeps parroting the Republican attack on Janet Napolitano or if they will actually report her remarks in context. And the fact that Republicans are attacking her for saying something she never actually said.

Nice try, Ms. Maddow. The problem for Napolitano isn't that Republicans are putting words in her mouth -- it's that they are quoting her accurately (as shown by Maddow's footage of Congressman King). And what Napolitano said, starting with a simple declarative sentence that stands or falls on its own, was ludicrous.

In fairness to Maddow, she gets it half right, which is certainly encouraging. Napolitano did gloss over the lunacy of her "system worked" assertion by whittling "the system" to only those components functional on the day in question.

What makes Maddow's defense of Napolitano's inanity all the more bizarre is that it came after Napolitano backpedaled on it herself, appearing on the "Today" show Dec. 28 and agreeing with Matt Lauer when he asked if "the system" had "failed miserably" to prevent a terrorist with explosives from boarding an airliner.

Maddow condemns Republicans for "selective editing" and taking Napolitano's remarks "out of context." Having set the bar high for others, Maddow then shows her unwillingness to abide by the same standards.

Here is what Obama said Tuesday as shown by Maddow --

OBAMA: As Secretary Napolitano has said, once the suspect attempted to take down Flight 253, after his attempt, it's clear that passengers and crew, our Homeland Security systems and our aviation security, took all appropriate actions.

And here is what Obama said immediately after that, according to his remarks as posted at the White House website --

OBAMA: But what's also clear is this: When our government has information on a known extremist and that information is not shared and acted upon as it should have been, so that this extremist boards a plane with dangerous explosives that could cost nearly 300 lives, a systemic failure has occurred. And I consider that totally unacceptable.

Yes, Houston, we have a problem. 

Maddow further deludes herself into believing that criticism of Napolitano was solely "partisan" in nature. Hardly. The next night on "The Ed Show," Dec. 30, Maddow's MSNBC colleague Ed Schultz referred to Napolitano's "awkward initial response" to Flight 253's brush with disaster (2:39 into video link here).

Later in the same program, Schultz and Huffington Post founding editor Roy Sekoff said this (starting at 1:51 of this link) --

SCHULTZ (initially referring to Napolitano appearing on "Today" show): Now, Roy, the point in all of this is that any time there's a secretary of any department in the administration that speaks and then, you know, turns the corner and goes in a different direction, obviously there's going to be room for criticism. Do you think that she should come up and testify, has it gotten to that point? And do you think that maybe she might not be the right person for the job? What do you think?

SEKOFF: No, I think it's a quick mea culpa and you say, look, I gotta take a quick remedial PR course, you know, I've gotta have Think Before You Speak 101 and that was clearly a bad mistake on her part. But what Obama did was the right thing. He came out and he said, look, this is a systemic failure and I think it's a big mistake if we try to point the finger at the secretary alone.

Darn! I should have posted a transcript of the entire show rather than risk quoting Schultz and Sekoff out of context. 

Jack Coleman
Jack Coleman
Ex-liberal from People's Republic of Massachusetts