Rachel Maddow Too Dumb or Dishonest to Acknowledge Public Safety Exception to Miranda

When it comes to Miranda, Rachel Maddow would do wise to remain silent.

On her MSNBC show Tuesday night, Maddow falsely implied that Times Square bomb plot suspect Faisal Shahzad spilled his guts to authorities only after he was read his Miranda rights. Here's Maddow's slippery take, preceded by remarks from Attorney General Eric Holder and FBI Deputy Director John Pistole at a press conference after Shahzad was arrested --

HOLDER: He has been and continues to be questioned by federal agents. As a result of those communications, Shahzad has provided useful information to authorities.

PISTOLE: Joint terrorism task force agents and officers from NYPD interviewed Mr. Shahzad last night and early this morning under the public safety exception to the Miranda rule. He was, as the Attorney General noted, cooperative and provided valuable intelligence and evidence. He was eventually transported to another location, mirandized and continued talking.

MADDOW: Faisal Shahzad was arrested and questioned immediately -- and he talked. He was mirandized -- and he talked. And he talked. And he talked, and talked, and talked, reportedly confessing to receiving bomb-making training in Waziristan in Pakistan. Also to trying to blow up an SUV in Times Square on Saturday and to having a gun in his car, information that can now be used in a court of law to try to convict Mr. Shahzad on terrorism charges.

What's wrong with this picture? It's too legal!

Maddow then plays an audio clip of Sen. John McCain on "Imus in the Morning" May 4 --

MCCAIN:  ... don't give this guy his Miranda rights until we find out what it's all about.

IMUS: I wonder if they've already given him his Miranda rights.

MCCAIN: Well, I think obviously that would be a serious mistake at least until we find out as much information we have and there are ways, legal ways, of delaying that. 

MADDOW: What exactly makes reading someone their Miranda rights such a mistake? What's the disadvantage to American counter-terrorism and law enforcement officials using legal American tactics to arrest and question a terrorism suspect? No one can quite put their finger on what the exact problem is. It apparently just doesn't feel right.

Contrary to what Maddow implies, that Shahzad was arrested, read his Miranda rights and "talked, and talked, and talked," Shahzad began cooperating with authorities before Miranda was read to him. In other words, the first words Shahzad heard after he was arrested were not "you have the right to remain silent."

As Pistole stated, and which Maddow never went near in the entire segment (nor did her guest, Chris Hayes of The Nation), "joint terrorism task force agents and officers from NYPD interviewed Mr. Shahzad last night and early this morning under the public safety exception to the Miranda rule. He was, as the Attorney General noted, cooperative and provided valuable intelligence and evidence."

What is the "public safety exception"? While Maddow can't bring herself to acknowledge its existence, the left-wing Huffington Post displays no such hesitancy -- and to its credit. In a post published Wednesday, titled "Exception to Miranda Takes Center Stage in Times Square Plot," California State University professor Brian Levin writes --

Almost twenty years after Miranda the United States Supreme Court under the more conservative leadership of Chief Justice Warren Burger reined in Miranda for the first time by carving the public safety exception. In New York v. Quarles, 467 U.S. 649 (1984), the High Court held that in limited circumstances where legitimate concerns about public safety exist, evidence and statements are admissible in a subsequent trial even when a suspect is not informed of his Miranda rights. In Quarles an armed rape suspect fled into a supermarket where he ditched his gun. Upon capture by the NYPD he was found to have an empty shoulder holster and was asked where his gun was. The court held that a public safety exception existed because the abandoned gun was a danger to the public.

The public safety exception to Miranda is "center stage" in the investigation of the Times Square bomb plot, according to Levin, director of CSU's Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism.

For Maddow, it is abrupt exit, stage left.

Notice also what Pistole said occurred after Shahzad was read Miranda -- he "continued talking." Compared to providing "valuable intelligence and evidence" before he was mirandized.

Perhaps Shahzad would have cooperated with authorities had he been mirandized immediately upon arrest. But as the road not taken, it's impossible to know. What we do know is that those who took Shahzad into custody decided against that, due to the public safety exception, and it appears they judged wisely.

Remember the gotcha game that liberals played after the Iraq war began, asking those who supported use of military force to depose Saddam's regime if they would have done so had it been known conclusively before the war that Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction?

A question for Maddow along the same lines -- if we knew on Sept. 10, 2001 what we now know of the horror to follow, and Mohamed Atta was arrested that day on terrorism charges, should police have rushed to inform him of his right to remain silent?

After all, as Maddow asks, "what exactly makes reading someone their Miranda rights such a mistake?"

How about the potential slaughter of thousands of people -- does that qualify?

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