- The Washington Times - Monday, December 28, 2009

NAPOLITANO-NO

Oh, the woes for those cast as the public face of disaster: The homeland security secretary’s job has never been easy.

During their tenures at the post, Tom Ridge and Michael Chertoff both struggled to inject gravitas into their explanations of duct-taped windows, “go bags,” color-coded alerts and emergency strategies for pets during national threats of both the manmade and natural varieties. Both men got lousy press and only garnered tepid confidence from unconvinced Americans.

Janet Napolitano is now trudging in their footsteps, living up to the tradition that the calling of a DHS director is - as Gilbert and Sullivan once phrased such situations - “Not a happy lot.”

Her response to the would-be Christmas Day bombing aboard Northwest Airlines Flight 253 raised serious hackles among critics, who say she’s a disaster all on her own.

“Fire Napolitano,” says National Review columnist Jonah Goldberg. “It is her basic position that the ‘system worked’ because the bureaucrats responded properly after the attack. That the attack was ‘foiled’ by a bad detonator and some civilian passengers is proof, she claims, that her agency is doing everything right.”

There’s no logic in that, Mr. Goldberg says.

“Napolitano has a habit of arguing that DHS is a first responder outfit. Its mission is to deal with ‘man-caused disaster’ after they occur. It appears she really believes it. If the White House wants to assure people that it takes the war on terror seriously, they could start by firing this patently unqualified hack.”

THE UNPREDICTABLE

One word persistently followed Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano during the critical 48 hours after the foiled Christmas Day attack: “Unpredictable.”

That was her own description for a spectrum of new security measures in American airports in the aftermath of what was billed an “underwear bomb” in some press accounts. “Unpredictable” did not play well in the trenches.

“Almost all of the TSA’s child-like security procedures are massive impositions on the innocent traveling public while being virtually useless against determined terrorists,” noted one observer in a public commentary section at the American Spectator.

AND THE INEVITABLE

Disaster ranks as a big media commodity, right alongside scandal and political gaffes. The scuffle aboard Northwest Flight 253 was just a step away from reality TV: nimble passengers with cell-phone cameras chronicled the unfolding drama.

Now broadcast and cable networks are vying for the images.

CNN paid an undisclosed amount of money to license the rights to broadcast an initial cell-phone picture of suspect Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, taken by “hero” passenger Jasper Schuringa, who actually jumped the guy.

Chris Ariens, managing editor of TVNewser, says other news organizations are now offering “upwards of $10,000” to reprint or rebroadcast the picture. More pricey exclusives may follow, Mr. Ariens predicts.

Gawker, the online gossip site, did the math and came up with an estimated final tally for Mr. Schuringa’s take on his cell phone photo: $18,000.

“Welcome to the wonderful world of checkbook journalism,” Gawker correspondent Foster Kamer said.

STILL IN LOVE

Let us recall the halcyon days of a year or so ago, when the news media could in good conscience report on the incoming Obama administration with breathless admiration. And no wonder.

The new president made speeches from sets that looked like they were crafted on Mount Olympus; there were clever logos and magnificent sound bites. But alas. The heavy reality of White House responsibilities and global threats set in for the new president after a few weeks, even as many journalists kept up with honeymoon-style prattle.

But wait. Some say the press honeymoon still ain’t over.

“The public is no longer amazed, but the media’s thrills continue, says L. Brent Bozell III, founder of the Media Research Center, which has recently tracked the excruciating best of the worst Obama reportage.

“The year 2009 might be classified as the year Barack Obama came down to Earth. The latest NBC-Wall Street Journal poll found that 47 percent approve of the job Obama is doing, and 46 percent disapprove. Those are not exactly Messiah numbers. And that’s the big difference between the public and the press. The media do believe he’s God,” Mr. Bozell observes.

The conservative watch dog group awarded the “Obamagasm Award for Seeing Coolness in Everything Obama Does” prize to MSNBC anchor David Shuster, who summarized Mr. Obama’s presidency, charming persona and prowess for catching a live fly on camera during a June 16 interview.

“Unbelievable. Unbelievable,” Mr. Shuster marveled.

POLL DU JOUR

- 67 percent of U.S. voters say the United Nations has not been “tough enough” on Iran’s intent to develop nuclear weapons.

- 5 percent say the United Nations has been “too aggressive,” 19 percent say the pressure has been about right.

- 70 percent say it’s more important to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons than it is to prevent war between Israel and Iran.

- 50 percent say the U.S. should aid Israel in the event of an Iranian attack.

- 33 percent say relations between the U.S. and Iran will worsen, 41 percent say they will remain the same.

- 29 percent say the United Nations is an “ally” of the U.S.

Source: A Rasmussen Reports survey of 1,000 likely voters conducted Dec. 20-21.

Noise, joys, press releases to jharper@ washingtontimes.com

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