09/21/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

NY Times Mega-Softballs Napolitano on Sunday, Exposes Department Abuses on Thursday

On Sunday, the New York Times Magazine ran an absurdly fluffy interview with Janet Napolitano, the Secretary of Homeland Security. It is difficult to envision how the magazine could have crafted a less substantial interview. A brief excerpt:

NYT: You were a Girl Scout?

JN: I still am!

NYT: I was, too.

JN: What's your favorite flavor of cookies?

NYT: I like the plain shortbread.

JN: Ah, butter-flavored shorties. Yeah! You can get me either with the thin mint or the peanut butters.

Now, I'm as interested in the cookie preferences of cabinet secretaries as anyone else, but I recalled the interview with disappointment when I read another piece in Thursday's paper, entitled "Immigrant"s Death Bares Hard Path to Detention Reform."

The article revealed a fact which those of us who have been paying attention have known for some time: abuses of detained immigrants are rampant and scandalous. Medical care is lacking, and there is hardly any accountability for the private companies entrusted with the job. Furthermore, just over a week ago the Times ran another article covering a speech in which Napolitano "defended the administration's assertive strategy against illegal immigrants and companies that employ them, relying largely on programs started under President George W. Bush...," and which "was notable for its lack of a single passage about the positive role many illegal immigrants play in society."

So I have to wonder, in the face of such controversy at the Department, what the Times was doing asking Napolitano questions like this:

NYT: I hear you've climbed Mount Kilamanjaro.

JN: It was fabulous.

NYT: In 2002, during your gubernatorial campaign, you publicly denied rumors that you were a lesbian.

JN: I just happen not to be married.

NYT: Are you seeing anybody now?

Of course, The New York Times Magazine has always been a strange animal. Described by the Times as the home of "features, columns, style and food," most of the content isn't particularly probing or insightful. After a week of bad news, the Magazine is a refreshing accompaniment to your Sunday waffle.

But the magazine's tone is eclectic, ranging from incisive political pieces to comics. And as often as they print spongy trivia, they print compelling stories about overseas suffering, and take a look at the questions given to the president of Liberia in the current issue. The rape crisis, literacy rates, and the power of women are all touched on. Even though the questions are as brief and unproductive as ever, the Liberian president gets asked about serious matters, but the head of Homeland Security gets asked about shortbread and her sexuality.

Perhaps the Magazine intends some interviews to be frivolous and fun. But 15-question Q&As with Napolitano are something of a rarity, and maybe ought not to be squandered on nonsense. There are a few things I'd like to know from Napolitano, for example:

-What exactly is the DHS actually doing these days to keep us safe, other than harassing immigrants and taking baby formula away from mothers at airports?
-When are you going to stop Sheriff Joe Arpaio from rounding up and detaining Latinos for minor traffic offenses?
-Is anything being done to end the blatant racial profiling regularly conducted by TSA officials?
-Why are airport security measures so damned arbitrary and useless?
-When will you stop outsourcing to private immigration prison companies?
-When it is reported are "expanding immigration enforcement," what does this actually mean? Will detentions and rights violations continue to go unchecked?
-Is Cat Stevens ever coming off the no-fly list?

Surely the New York Times disgraced itself with such a lightweight interview.