The right message

For better or worse, new CEO Mary Barra now owns General Motors' recall mess.

Faced with a frenzy over GM's delayed recall of 1.6 million older cars globally for ignition-system flaws linked to 12 deaths, Barra has been trying to get in front of the situation.

That's difficult as events keep snowballing, but she's right to espouse a message of contrition and vigilance to improve.

Barra has initiated three more GM recalls for unrelated flaws, has publicly apologized, appointed a safety czar and said plainly that GM is changing its ways. Separately, the automaker has hired outside counsel to investigate independently what GM knew and why it didn't recall the 1.6 million vehicles sooner.

GM took those steps before the U.S. Department of Justice announced March 19 that Toyota Motor Corp. would admit wrongdoing and be fined $1.2 billion for misleading U.S. consumers and public officials about safety issues related to unintended acceleration.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder bluntly warned: "Other car companies should not repeat Toyota's mistake."

GM may not have done enough to avoid similar federal punishment, but Barra's prompt contrition clearly hasn't hurt.