Big Three on Fast & Furious: CBS Reports, ABC Downplays, NBC Spins

Tonight, the Big Three news networks--ABC, CBS, and NBC--covered today's explosive Fast & Furious developments with sharply contrasting approaches. CBS News put together an informative and satisfying report while ABC and NBC spun and downplayed the story to minimize harm to the Obama administration.

CBS

CBS has done an excellent job with Fast & Furious since February 2011. Sharyl Attkisson has been the only reporter in the mainstream press who has been on top of this story and kept it alive. Tonight, CBS led its program with a report on the economy, but the contempt vote was the second story and it was well balanced. No spin, no jabs.

After that, Scott Pelley spoke on camera Ms. Attkisson and she gave an in depth history of Fast & Furious and the great human cost of the ATF's gunwalking operation. She even mentioned Brian Terry and the hundreds of Mexican victims, including the brother of a Mexican official, and how some guns took down a military helicopter.

Kudos to CBS and Ms. Attkisson for doing a stellar job.

ABC

ABC World News started tonight with the absolute most important story of the day--a heat wave in the northeast! Then there was talk of a brand new flood zone.

The Fast & Furious scandal and President Obama's first-ever invocation of executive privilege received only third-highest priority during ABC's broadcast. Anchor Diane Sawyer spoke as if the 18-month old scandal was itself breaking news. In fairness, it would be breaking news to viewers of ABC World News. A quick search of the program's coverage yields zero results. 

Ms. Sawyer described today’s vote as “a political storm over an undercover operation called Fast & Furious.” She characterized the program as botched (it was not) and just mentions a border patrol agent was killed. She failed to say his name was Brian Terry.

As further damning proof of the previous lack of coverage, anchor Jake Tapper had to tell the entire story of Fast & Furious in a few seconds in order to get to today’s story. If Ms. Sawyer covered it regularly over the past 18 months, ABC wouldn’t need to waste precious airtime getting World News viewers up to speed.

Mr. Tapper has talked about Fast & Furious before. He shows a clip of a one-on-one interview he did with President Obama back in October which included a discussion of the scandal. Also, during an October press conference, Mr. Tapper was the only reporter to ask President Obama about Mr. Holder.

The anchors did mention Brian Terry, though briefly. They made no mention of the 300 Mexicans killed by F&F weapons or the fact that guns have been found at 12 crime scenes in America.

NBC

Brian Williams did not look happy at the beginning of NBC Nightly News tonight, and I don’t blame him. The House Oversight Committee voted Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt. This meant the controversy was, for the second time ever, too large for him to deny its newsworthiness.

Though Fast & Furious was the lead story for Nightly News, it was full of spin and jabs against Republicans. According to Mr. Williams, “Washington has blown up into a caustic partisan fight, and a showdown is coming over the power of the American president.” Mr. Holder was not found in contempt because of executive privilege. He was found in contempt for withholding documents. He could have avoided this if he just showed up to yesterday’s meeting with the 1,300 pages he promised. The president's interference was not the genesis of this conflict.

Then Mr. Williams called Fast & Furious a "badly botched sting operation." It was not botched. Fast & Furious happened exactly how it was supposed to happen.

He ironically mentions that for anyone “not following the complexities of all of it, it just looks like more of our broken politics & vicious fights out in the open.” It’s ironic, because his viewers aren’t following Fast & Furious. His program only recently mentioned the story at all and gave the 18-month investigation 30 seconds of air time.

Tonight's recap of Fast & Furious was very brief and didn’t go into much detail. Brian Terry was mentioned once. They did show Rep Desjarlais talk about him and the slain Mexicans. That was the only mention, though.

The coverage of today’s events did show some clips of House Republicans but gave most of the time to sound bites from those defending Mr. Holder. There was no discussion of how Chairman Issa has bent over backwards to compromise for these documents. NBC didn’t say anything about how the original request was for 70,000 pages, but the Congressman skimmed it down to just 1,300. 

In fact, anchor Kelly O'Donnell misleadingly states Holder has handed over "thousands of documents" without the context of how many tens of thousands he did not. Rep. Elijah Cummings is given time to claim Holder was "prohibited by law from producing" the documents. In contrast, Rep. Trey Gowdy, whose speech today succinctly summarized the Republican case for voting Holder in contempt, was given five words--"I can give them this"--before O'Donnell began speaking over him. Since no full thought of Gowdy's was given air time, it appears NBC merely had him on to depict Republicans as angry & unhinged.

As the Fast & Furious investigation now involves the White House itself, we can expect to see partisans like Brian Williams and Diane Sawyer continue to spin the story to protect Obama. Meanwhile, actual journalists like CBS's Atkisson will continue to follow the facts instead of contorting them to protect the powerful. As the House of Representatives votes on the measure to hold Eric Holder in contempt tomorrow, we will see which of the mainstream news networks displays the worst bias in their coverage.


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