Janet Napolitano, Secretary of Homeland Security, sat for an interview recently with Der Speigel Online. The following exchange in that interview had the folks at Fox & Friends talking this morning:

SPIEGEL: Madame Secretary, in your first testimony to the US Congress as Homeland Security Secretary you never mentioned the word “terrorism.” Does Islamist terrorism suddenly no longer pose a threat to your country?


NAPOLITANO: Of course it does. I presume there is always a threat from terrorism. In my speech, although I did not use the word “terrorism,” I referred to “man-caused” disasters. That is perhaps only a nuance, but it demonstrates that we want to move away from the politics of fear toward a policy of being prepared for all risks that can occur.

On the heels of a brief discussion about Jessica Simpson’s weight gain came Fox & Friends’s debate of Napolitano’s “Nixing [of the] T-Word,” (as one of the segment’s many chyrons put it):

BRIAN KILMEADE: Let’s talk about something else, very consequential I think, especially if you’re hoping to win the war on terror. I got news for you, it’s not called the war on terror. The Homeland Security Secretary has renamed it. Of course, she chose to tell us about this renaming [in] Der Spiegel


STEVE DOOCY: We have a transcript, Ainsley?

AINSELY EARHARDT: [Reads exchange above].

DOOCY: [“Man-caused disasters?”] Are you kidding me? That’s like a fashion emergency.

EARHARDT: So our question is, are you stupid? Of course we know that terrorism exists. Look at 9/11. We all survived that. You know, we know that terrorism is out there. So call a spade a spade. If there is terrorism and that is a threat let us decide if we should live in fear.

DOOCY: That’s so odd that’s the terminology of the person in charge of the cabinet post to protect us? It’s not terrorism? These people with bombs and airplanes that fly into buildings those are man-made disaster-makers?

KILMEADE: Don’t tell that to Germany where the Hamburg cell gave birth to this entire plot or helped ferment the entire plot. Even by the question you could tell there, Der Spiegel, the reporter knew, are you missing something here?

EARHARDT: [Napolitano] goes on to say we want to move away from the politics of fear toward a policy being prepared for all risks that could occur.

DOOCY: Just call it terrorism! …[W]e have been talking about how some of the history books will not refer to Islamic terrorists — as they were— but, instead, you know, they call them trouble-makers and stuff like that. [But] for the person who is in charge of that department to call it man-made disasters rather than terrorism, that is just wack as my kids say.

How will people be able to “decide” for themselves “if [they] should live in fear” if they aren’t regularly hearing the words “terror” and “terrorism?”

These would be fascinating times for reporters on the rhetoric beat (were there some).


Liz Cox Barrett is a writer at CJR.