MSNBC’s Ruhle Fears Halloween Bombings, Analyst Urges Calm

The morning after NBC Nightly News scared viewers by instructing them on how to spot bombs in their mail, on Friday, MSNBC anchor Stephanie Ruhle suggested that explosives might be smuggled around by people dressed in Halloween costumes as the holiday nears. In response, NBC News analyst and former ATF Special Agent Jim Cavanaugh tried to provide calm.

Speaking to Cavanaugh just a couple hours before the mail bomb suspect, Cesar Sayoc Jr., was arrested in Florida, Ruhle worried that Halloween could provide the perfect cover for more bombs: “We are a day away from people – I realize actual Halloween night is next Wednesday – but this weekend, you’re going to have people all over New York City and other cities in masks, carrying packages. This is one of the scarier times in our calendar year.”

 

 

She then asked: “How does law enforcement handle themselves at a time like this?” Cavanaugh cautioned: “I want to focus this a little bit for you and the audience....These bombs and these parcels are very small. They can kill you if you open it on your desk and it’s a foot in front of your chest.” Ruhle interrupted: “Well, that’s how we open our mail, Jim.”

Cavanaugh continued:

But it’s not gonna kill anyone on street who’s running away. So one thing to get in your mind is this is a targeted bomb. This is not a massive car bomb placed in the street that can kill people for blocks. So I just want to just help people understand the type of device you’re dealing with here.

The analyst concluded: “So just keep that in mind. It’s not an at-large danger to everyone on the street in Manhattan for a parcel bomb that’s found in a mail sorting facility.”

Minutes later, Ruhle even played a soundbite from one the bomb targets, former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, who also warned people not to get too carried away:

I think anyone who has in any way been a critic – publically been a critic – of President Trump needs to be on extra alert and take some cautions, precautions particularly with respect to mail. But at the same time, we shouldn’t get too overblown about it, too overwrought, I guess is the right word, at this point.

Former FBI agent Michael German agreed: “And I think that’s important. I mean, one of the things we have to keep mind is terrorism is very rare in the United States.”

However, he then used the story to slam President Trump:

And that’s why I’m very troubled by the President’s rhetoric that blames the victim, saying that CNN deserves some kind of retribution, because that’s just going to escalate this conflict. And as you suggested, create copycats, create other justifications for using violence rather than resolving our differences.

Bringing on Virginia Democratic Senator Mark Warner, Ruhle referred to the midterm elections and hoped that “this is a moment for the exhausted majority to rise and say enough is enough, in the center.” Warner proclaimed: “That’s what I would hope. And you wonder how many more outrages before people say that’s enough. My hope is that out of this terror attack, the American people might step up and say we actually want leadership that would put country first, ahead of any individual personality.”

The liberal lawmaker dismissed Cavanaugh’s earlier caution: “...while I appreciate the commentary that we do need to put appropriate – view this in appropriate language, and this will perhaps not generate a mass casualty event, I feel – ” Ruhle interjected: “One casualty is enough.” Thankfully, there have been no casualties in any of these incidents.

Talking to former U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade, Ruhle asked: “...how does one take this as seriously – as serious as possible without celebritizing this bomber, without inspiring others to become copycats?” She asserted: “Because yes, if the goal was to sow fear and chaos, it’s working.”

McQuade argued: “Yeah, I don’t know that it can be accomplished because obviously there’s a lot of attention being be paid to it, and should be.”

Perhaps one strategy would be for news anchors not to scare viewers with wild speculation.

Here are excerpts of the October 26 coverage during MSNBC Live With Stephanie Ruhle:

9:34 AM ET

(...)

STEPHANIE RUHLE: I want to go back to Jim Cavanaugh. Jim, as we look at these images, I’m stunned. I’m stunned that we’re now at package 12 in midtown Manhattan. We are a day away from people – I realize actual Halloween night is next Wednesday – but this weekend, you’re going to have people all over New York City and other cities in masks, carrying packages. This is one of the scarier times in our calendar year. How does law enforcement handle themselves at a time like this?

JIM CAVANAUGH [ATF SPECIAL AGENT, RET.]: Well, Steph, they’re doing all the things they can do, that total containment vessel and the evacuations. You know, let me – I want to focus this a little bit for you and the audience and certainly New Yorkers. And we all love New Yorkers and what they’re going through here. These bombs and these parcels are very small. They can kill you if you open it on your desk and it’s a foot in front of your chest. That’s the way these packages are designed.

RUHLE: Well, that’s how we open our mail, Jim.

CAVANAUGH: No, no, that’s what I’m saying. But it’s not gonna kill anyone on street who’s running away. So one thing to get in your mind is this is a targeted bomb. This is not a massive car bomb placed in the street that can kill people for blocks. So I just want to just help people understand the type of device you’re dealing with here.

It’s deadly. It can be deadly if it goes off to the targeted person or a staff member, a congressional staffer or secretary, and even other people who might be in the office could be killed or seriously injured. But it’s not gonna destroy these buildings, it’s not gonna blow, you know, half the block up. These buildings are large, you know, cement and brick structures, they’re pretty safe. Orderly evacuations that the bomb squad would order is gonna keep you safe. So just keep that in mind. It’s not an at large danger to everyone on the street in Manhattan for a parcel bomb that’s found in a mail sorting facility.

(...)

9:38 AM ET

RUHLE: As a reminder, you are looking – this is an aerial shot of 52nd and 8th, the postal facility where that package was delivered. It was intended for James Clapper. Just a few minutes ago, he phoned in to our colleagues at CNN. Let’s listen to that.

JAMES CLAPPER [FORMER DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE]: I think anyone who has in any way been a critic – publically been a critic – of President Trump needs to be on extra alert and take some cautions, precautions particularly with respect to mail. But at the same time, we shouldn’t get too overblown about it, to overwrought, I guess is the right word, at this point.

RUHLE: Michael, James Clapper, who the package is intended for him, he’s saying don’t get too overblown over this.  

MICHAEL GERMAN [FMR. FBI AGENT]: And I think that’s important. I mean, one of the things we have to keep mind is terrorism is very rare in the United States. And you know, it’s obviously something for the people who are being targeted and certainly for the postal inspectors who have to handle mail that they don’t know what’s in it. But you know, what we have to do is ratchet down the fear. They’re interest is in creating the fear.

And that’s why I’m very troubled by the President’s rhetoric that blames the victim, saying that CNN deserves some kind of retribution, because that’s just going to escalate this conflict. And as you suggested, create copycats, create other justifications for using violence rather than resolving our differences.

RUHLE: Is that what this potential bomber wants? We’ve seen the governor and the mayor of New York say this is an act of terror, an act of terrorism. Is that they want to hear?

GERMAN: You know, we don’t know who the bomber is yet, so I’m happy that we’re being somewhat cautious about determining motives. But certainly by the victims, we know who – that these are the prominent targets of the right-wing echo-sphere. And unfortunately, so much of what used to be fringe when I worked these cases in the early ’90s has become part of our mainstream political discourse, much through the presidential campaign, where there was actual direct outreach to the types of people who prominently use these conspiracy theories to create conflict.

RUHLE: Or, Senator, this is a moment for the exhausted majority to rise and say enough is enough, in the center.

SEN. MARK WARNER [D-VA]: That’s what I would hope. And you wonder how many more outrages before people say that’s enough. My hope is that out of this terror attack, the American people might step up and say we actually want leadership that would put country first, ahead of any individual personality.

And while – my final comment – while I appreciate the commentary that we do need to put appropriate – view this in appropriate language, and this will perhaps not generate a mass casualty event, I feel –

RUHLE: One casualty is enough.

WARNER: There are literally thousands of postal workers all over the country processing. The whole host of folks who process the mail for congressmen and senators, if it’s sent to the Washington office. But one of these packages, I believe, was sent to the district office of Maxine Waters. What do I say to my staff and other members of Congress and in the Senate, to their district office staffs? We’ve tried to upgrade dramatically in the last 48 hours, our security provisions.

But I think there is this fear out there, and it’s not just in New York City. And if there is, again, from all of us in any form of leadership, need to step up our game and put aside the kind of back and forth and say this is not who we are as a country, support our law enforcement, support our intelligence community officials. And that would be a heck of a lot stronger if that message also came from this White House.

RUHLE: Barbara, how does one take this as seriously – as serious as possible without celebritizing this bomber, without inspiring others to become copycats? Because yes, if the goal was to sow fear and chaos, it’s working.

BARBARA MCQUADE [FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY]: Yeah, I don’t know that it can be accomplished because obviously there’s a lot of attention being be paid to it, and should be. Not only do you want to, you know, publicize the event because it’s newsworthy, but you want to alert the public of this threat so they can be aware of it and know what to look for.

(...)

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