Eric Holder's Fast and Furious Fiasco Was Media Scandal, Too

Thanks to his stonewalling of the House of Representatives investigation into the Fast and Furious scandal, in 2012 Eric Holder became the first Attorney General held in contempt by Congress.

Maybe his resignation on Thursday will revive the story for the three broadcast network evening newscasts, but don't count on it. With Sharyl Attkisson no longer working at CBS News, there is no broadcast journalist who has shown any interest in pursuing this disgraceful story.

In fact, as the MRC documented after the 2012 re-election of President Obama, Holder's Fast and Furious scandal was just one of the many stories the broadcast evening newscasts censored that year.

The background: In 2009, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) launched “Operation Fast and Furious,” which permitted thousands of guns to be illegally sold in the hope of tracking the weapons as they made their way up the ranks of Mexican drug cartels. In December 2010, one of those weapons was used to kill U.S. Border Patrol agent Brian Terry.

In early 2011, even as top administration officials were denying the existence of the gunwalking program, then-CBS News investigative correspondent Sharyl Attkisson talked to ATF whistleblowers who exposed the truth. It is “a scandal so large,” Attkisson relayed on the February 23, 2011 Evening News, “some insiders say it surpasses the shootout at Ruby Ridge and the deadly siege at Waco.”

Thanks to Attkisson’s work, the CBS Evening News ran a dozen full reports in 2011 exposing various elements of the scandal, including how Attorney General Holder eventually admitted in November 2011 that he had earlier in the year provided false information to congressional investigators.

In a Republican administration, such incompetence and stonewalling would likely have been a major story. Yet ABC’s World News and the NBC Nightly News acted as if the scandal did not exist, never once mentioning it on their evening news programs in 2011.

NBC finally arrived on the story on June 12, 2012, 546 days after Brian Terry’s murder, and then only after the House of Representatives was about to approve a contempt charge against the Attorney General for failing to produce crucial documents. ABC’s World News took another eight days, until June 20, 2012, to acknowledge the scandal, dallying until President Obama himself stepped in to claim Executive Privilege on behalf of Holder.

“We turn next to the political storm that erupted today over an undercover government operation gone very wrong,” ABC anchor Diane Sawyer intoned that night, as if the scandal hadn’t been festering for eighteen months, unreported by her. Over on NBC, instead of targeting the administration’s lack of transparency, anchor Brian Williams faulted both sides: “Washington has blown up into a caustic partisan fight....And for those not following the complexities of all of it, it just looks like more of our broken politics and vicious fights now out in the open.”

CBS, which in 2011 had distinguished itself as the lone broadcast network pursuing this story, also waited until the June 20 Evening News to file their first Fast and Furious evening news story of the year.

The House vote against Holder and the President’s use of Executive Privilege would ordinarily be the red flare that set the networks to digging deeper on a scandal, but not when it came to Obama’s Fast and Furious fiasco. Even with all of the unanswered questions and political drama, ABC’s World News barely touched the story  — just one full report (June 20) and two brief mentions before Election Day 2012. The CBS Evening News managed two full reports and two briefs during this same period, while the NBC Nightly News produced four reports and two briefs.

Those totals include the September 19 Inspector General’s blistering report on how the Justice Department and ATF handled Fast and Furious. As CBS’s Attkisson described, “the review revealed a series of misguided strategies, tactics, errors in judgment and management failures.” NBC correspondent Pete Williams echoed that “the report calls Operation Fast and Furious ‘seriously flawed and supervised irresponsibly.’”

Those reports, plus a quick news brief that night on ABC’s World News, totaled just 4 minutes, 7 seconds. After that, the networks stayed silent about Fast and Furious for the rest of the campaign. Just as ABC and NBC acted as if the scandal did not exist in 2011, none of the three broadcast networks burdened the Obama 2012 re-election effort by digging through the dirt of one of its most mishandled programs.

— Rich Noyes is Research Director at the Media Research Center. Follow Rich Noyes on Twitter.