Since the attempted Christmas Day bombing of a Northwest Airlines flight, Fox News has waged war on Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, going so far as to ask whether she should be fired. In doing so, various Fox News figures and outlets have seized on Napolitano's comments that "the system worked" after the attempted terrorist attack while ignoring both Napolitano's later clarification that she was discussing the emergency response notification system that took place following the attempted attack, and that Bush administration officials Attorney General John Ashcroft and Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge previously claimed success for passengers' ability to thwart "shoe-bomber" Richard Reid's December 2001 attempted bombing of a domestic airline.
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Fox News wages war on Napolitano
Doocy: Napolitano is "number one on the list" of people who might be fired. On the January 5 edition of Fox & Friends, co-host Steve Doocy quoted President Obama saying the airline security breach was "totally unacceptable" and remarked that "it did sound for a little while like some career person might wind up losing their job, and Janet Napolitano was number one on the list" because, in Doocy's words, she said, "Everything worked before she said it did not work." The on-screen graphic that aired during Doocy's comments said, "What to Watch For; Do Heads Roll?" Later during the broadcast, Doocy again asked, "Will heads roll? Remember, it was Janet Napolitano, the director -- the secretary of Homeland Security, who came right out and said, 'The system worked.' OK, which part of the system worked? Was it the five guys who jumped on this guy, who were sitting nearby? Or was it the fact that something else happened, because a couple of days later she came out -- the next day she came out and said, 'OK, there was a system failure.' So will her head roll? Chances are, no."
Fox Nation: "Fire Napolitano? She Says 'The System Worked,' Then Backtracks." On December 28, Fox Nation posted an article about Napolitano, claiming that she "conceded Monday that airline security failed ... a turnaround from her declaration a day day [sic] earlier that 'the system worked.' " The headline asked if Napolitano should be fired, though the article to which Fox Nation linked contained no such declarations.
Fox Nation highlighted attacks on "hapless" Napolitano who shouldn't "remain in office." On December 30, Fox Nation posted a NewsBusters article under the headline, "Words NOT in Napolitano Op-ed: War, Islam, Yemen, Nigeria." The article claimed that "Janet Napolitano is seeking to diminish the Obama administration's NWA 253 failure by exaggerating the cunning of the Christmas Day plot"; described Napolitano as "hapless"; and asked, "How much longer can she possibly remain in office?"
Fox guest "Gunny" Bob Newman claimed Napolitano "not qualified to conduct a cavity search on a bowling ball." On the January 4 edition of America's Newsroom, former radio host "Gunny" Bob Newman said, "With all the ways Al-Qaeda can attack us, is we have got to get qualified people in the jobs." After naming deputy national security adviser John Brennan and national security adviser James Jones as examples of qualified people, Newman claimed, "Then you have the other end of the spectrum, again, and you look at Janet Napolitano, in charge of Homeland Security, and she's not qualified to conduct a cavity search on a bowling ball."
Cavuto compares Napolitano to fired Redskins coach Zorn. On the January 4 edition of Fox News' Your World, host Neil Cavuto compared the job that former Washington Redskins head coach Jim Zorn did with his NFL football team to the job Napolitano is doing as secretary of Homeland Security. Cavuto said that "Jim Zorn is out as coach of the Washington Redskins, Janet Napolitano still in as head coach of Homeland Security. He lost some games and lost his job. She could have lost a lot more and keeps hers."
Hannity calls Napolitano remarks "laughable," "absurd." On the January 4 edition of Hannity, Sean Hannity claimed that Napolitano "tried to convince us that [Abdulmuttalab's] attempt failed because 'the system worked.' Her laughable explanation had many enraged and now has critics from both sides of the aisle calling for her to step down." He added, "[A]bsolutely no one bought Napolitano's absurd claim."
Peter Johnson Jr. claims, "We should be concerned as Americans." Appearing on the December 28 edition of Hannity, Fox News legal analyst Peter Johnson Jr. claimed that his impression of the interview he conducted with Napolitano was that "we should be concerned as Americans. It was a disturbing interview. She gave an interview yesterday on all networks and embarrassed herself. She did the same thing today. And if she's embarrassing herself, and she's embarrassing us as Americans, what do our enemies think?" Guest host Tucker Carlson replied later, "That's such a measured way of saying she's a disaster."
Fox ignored context of and later explanation of Napolitano's "the system worked" remarks
Napolitano said "the system worked" before discussing the "the whole process of making sure that we respond properly, correctly and effectively." On the December 27 broadcast of CNN's State of the Union, Napolitano stated that "the system worked" before discussing the emergency notification system and response to the incident. From the December 27 edition of State of the Union:
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.
Napolitano later clarified that "the system worked" comments were in reference to the emergency response and notification system. On the December 28 edition of NBC's Today, after co-host Matt Lauer asked Napolitano to explain her remarks, Napolitano said, "I think the comment is being taken out of context, what I'm saying is once the incident occurred, moving forward, we were immediately able to notify the 128 flights in the air on protective measures to take, immediately able to notify law enforcement on the ground, airports both domestically, internationally, all carriers, all of that happening within 60 to 90 minutes."
Previously, when public thwarted shoe-bomber attack, Bush administration officials claimed success
Ridge: "Because of the vigilance of some citizens, we certainly have gotten some folks on airplanes, shoe bombers." In a December 28 article, ABC News' Jake Tapper noted that Bush administration officials "claimed success" in the public's role in thwarting a similar failed attempt by "shoe-bomber" Richard Reid. Reid was subdued and detained by fellow passengers when he unsuccessfully attempted to detonate a shoe-bomb on an American Airlines flight. According to Tapper:
Napolitano's predecessor as Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, Tom Ridge, went on MSNBC's Hardball on September 10, 2002, where host Chris Matthews asked him if the US government had thwarted any terrorist attacks within the US.
"You can't measure that success," Ridge said, "because it's difficult to determine with an organization that's so decentralized."
Matthews suggested that such success could in fact be measured "if you catch a guy about to blow up a building" or "you catch a guy moving a car bomb into an area of their building."
"Because of the vigilance of some citizens, we certainly have gotten some folks on airplanes, shoe bombers," Ridge said.
Ashcroft: "We've asked citizens to be vigilant" and "alert to any possible threat," and "success of this policy was made clear" in Reid case. Tapper also reported that Attorney General John Ashcroft stated in a 2002 press conference:
"Throughout the war on terrorism, our military and intelligence officials have made a concerted effort to share appropriate information with the public in order to enlist their assistance," Ashcroft said. "We've asked citizens to be vigilant, to be alert to any possible threat. The success of this strategy was made clear by yesterday's indictment of Richard Reid, who may very well have succeeded in destroying American Airlines Flight Number 63, as the indictment charges, had it not been for the courage and attentiveness of the citizen passengers and crew."