WaPo's Anne Kornblut Touts Napolitano As She 'Reemerges Strong' from Christmas Day Failure

Washington Post reporter Anne Kornblut issued a gushy article on Janet Napolitano on Tuesday, headlined "The crisis management expert: Homeland security secretary reemerges strong after the Christmas Day bombing." Kornblut quotes only Napolitano-praisers in her story, including aides and her colleagues at the White House. Kornblut praises her "encylopedic knowledge of pop culture" and tells of her always thinking of others, stopping to buy "an assistant of 11 years" a blue scarf in Madrid, complete with her security detail. Hyperbolic praise is the point of the piece:

Senior administration officials describe her as one of the most astute members of the national security team, some in hyperbolic terms. White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, in a recent interview, declared himself as "head over heels for her," which doesn't happen often. White House terrorism adviser John O. Brennan hails her as "passionate" and "formidable."

How Napolitano, 52, won over hard-to-please heavyweights while managing the most unwieldy department in Washington is a testament to her relentless persona. The tough and stocky former prosecutor once climbed Mount Kilimanjaro, and even delivered her speech at the 2000 Democratic convention three weeks after a mastectomy.

Kornblut carries one obvious bias with her: she wrote a book last year called Notes from the Cracked Ceiling lamenting the sexism that still prevails in politics. One star of that feminist book was Janet Napolitano, as one reviewer explained:

Kornblut's explanation of the challenges facing female candidates brings to mind a famous analogy in feminist philosophy: If you look at an individual wire of a birdcage, you won't be able to understand why the bird doesn't just fly around it, but taken all together, you can see that the wires are confining.

A humorous retort to all this comes from Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano. Kornblut asked her about the doubts women have about whether they're qualified to lead. After rolling her eyes, Napolitano said: "As opposed to, you know, what? Look at these yahoo guys that have been in public office for two hundred years. You think we cannot do as well as they do? I mean, give me a break."

Kornblut obviously feels it’s unfair for incompetent "yahoo guys" to wonder why Napolitano should not be embarrasssed by the government’s failure to protect Americans from the suicide-airplane-bomb plans of the Christmas Day bomber. Just before the "hyperbolic praise" paragraph, Kornblut polished Napolitano’s image like this:

That question -- of whether security devices work -- is one that has haunted Napolitano ever since a 23-year-old Nigerian named Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab tried to down Northwest Airlines Flight 253 in Detroit. After the incident, Napolitano's misconstrued claim that the "system worked" became a national punch line, one that briefly seemed as if it might derail her upward trajectory.

But four months later, after hunkering down in the granular details of international aviation standards, Napolitano has reemerged as one of the strongest members of the Obama Cabinet: On the shortlist for the Supreme Court, in line if the attorney general position should become available and, just this week, front and center at the Oklahoma City bombing memorial.

Kornblut even paints her in literary terms, as the obsessed Captain Ahab to the Moby Dick of terrorism:

In the months since, she has hopped from Japan to Mexico to scout the global aviation mess. She worked her way, Captain Ahab-style, toward Nigeria, the country where Abdulmutallab began his journey. Yet as Napolitano flew into the capital Abuja in mid-April, just hours after reviewing the dockside headaches of Barcelona, she came face to face with the dangers that make global travel so impossible to police. She would spend just 24 hours in Nigeria, traveling under heavy security in a city so violent her contingent was advised not to leave the hotel. Nonetheless, her goal was to somehow grasp the airport security status of the entire African continent, in the hopes of stopping a single terrorist from ever slipping lethal materials onto a U.S.-bound plane again.

Napolitano’s Sunday-show gaffe – that "the system worked" to stop Abdulmutallab because some passengers fought him – was explained away, an "unfortunate choice of words" now papered over by Team Obama considering her for a promotion and showering her with the hyperbole, complete with her "letting her guard down" with an aw-shucks reaction:

Within the White House, her support never waned despite the unfortunate choice of words. "Anybody in public service goes through rough spots," Emanuel said. "The question is, (a) do you learn something? And (b) how do you handle it when you go through it?" Several other officials said she had been right where it mattered -- in her actions, if not her verbiage. Tom Ridge, the first DHS secretary, said she had been unfairly criticized.

Napolitano is matter-of-fact about the incident, if not exactly thrilled to discuss it. "There's no time to sit and moan about a quote that's something you said," she said. "You've just got to move."

Still, traveling abroad as speculation about her future buzzed, Napolitano stuck to her script. She was flattered, but focused on her job, she said. Only during a long flight did she let her guard down, allowing that it was an odd sensation to be talked about as a potential justice.

"It doesn't, in a way, seem real, because you're reading about yourself. And I'm Janet," she said. "That seems like it's going on in another world, in a way. It's very unreal in that sense. And it is flattering. Who wouldn't be flattered by that?"

And who wouldn’t be flattered by Anne Kornblut and her Post editors so eagerly polishing Napolitano’s image?

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis