ABC, NBC Skip Issa Probe Exposing ATF's 'Idiotic' Policy Blamed in Border Agent Slaying
Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) conducted hearings on Wednesday to investigate a highly controversial ATF operation that led to the death of a U.S. border agent, but neither NBC nor ABC covered the story on their nightly newscasts.
The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee chairman lambasted a Justice Department official who claimed to be cooperating with the investigation but offered not much more than severely redacted documents. "You should be ashamed of yourself," scolded Issa. "How dare you offer an opening statement of cooperation."
Despite a series of compelling hearings that for months have excoriated the ATF's practice of letting guns purchased in America slip across the Mexican border and hoping the trail would lead federal agents to drug kingpins, the investigation received no coverage yesterday on either the NBC "Nightly News" with Brian Williams or the ABC "World News" with Diane Sawyer.
Not only did Williams and Sawyer ignore the controversy last night, but NBC only mentioned the investigation once on the "Nightly News" since February and ABC has never covered it on "World News."
Out of the big three, only the CBS "Evening News" updated viewers on the progress of Issa's probe, turning to investigative correspondent Sharyl Attkisson, who broke the story for CBS in February.
According to Attkisson's reporting, the policy of "letting guns walk," known as operation "Fast and Furious," was fiercely debated within the Justice Department, which overseas the ATF, leading some agents to blow the whistle on what they called an "idiotic move."
"We weren't giving guns to people who were hunting bear," explained ATF Special Agent Peter Forcelli at the hearing yesterday. "We were giving guns to people who were killing other humans."
In December, U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry was killed in a shootout near the Mexican border. Attkisson said two of the guns found at the crime scene were part of thousands the ATF allegedly allowed gunrunners to purchase and smuggle into Mexico.
"Terry's family wants someone to accept responsibility," reported Attkisson, adding that the Justice Department's inspector general is investigating and the policy of "gun walking" has been halted.
A transcript of the June 15 CBS "Evening News" segment can be found below:
June 15, 2011
6:46 p.m. ET
SCOTT PELLEY: There's news tonight on a story that Sharyl Attkisson broke on this broadcast. It's about a program run by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms that intentionally let guns purchased in this country slip into Mexico, hoping that the guns would lead agents to the drug cartels. Earlier this year, two of those guns were found at the scene of the murder of a U.S. border agent. Today, Sharyl tells us Congress demanded answers.
SHARYL ATTKISSON: Six months ago today, Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry was gunned down. Today, three sitting senior agents sat beside terry's mom, cousin, and sister and said their agency may be to blame.
OLINDO CASA, ATF senior special agent: I'm truly sorry for your loss.
ATTKISSON: Two of the guns found at the scene of Terry's murder were part of thousands the ATF allegedly allowed gun traffickers to purchase. The ATF called it letting guns walk, a tactic they hoped would let them to drug kingpins. Agents who disagreed with the strategy blew the whistle.
PETER FORCELLI, ATF special agent: To walk a single gun, is in my opinion, an idiotic move. We weren't giving guns to people who were hunting bear. We were giving guns to people who were killing other humans.
ATTKISSON: After Terry's murder, ATF quickly rounded up gun trafficking suspects they'd watched for years and the first reports of gun walking surfaced. Asked if they were true, ATF Phoenix chief Bill Newell said hello no, surprising those who worked for him.
FORCELLI: I was appalled because it was a blatant lie.
ATTKISSON: Newell didn't respond to our interview requests. Also under attack, the Justice Department, which oversees the ATF. Assistant Attorney General Ronald Weich says the agency is cooperating with congress, but Representative Darrell Issa says information is being withheld.
Rep. DARRELL ISSA (R-Calif.): You should be ashamed of yourself. The pages go on like this forever. You've given us black paper instead of white paper. How dare you make an opening statement of cooperation. Who authorized this at Justice?
WEICH: Mr. Chairman, I do not know the answer to that question, and the inspector general is reviewing the matter.
ATTKISSON: Weich did say intentions were good.
WEICH: There was a serious, profound disagreement about strategy, but the common goal of the United States Attorney's Office and all agents is to interdict guns, to stop the gun trafficking to Mexico.
ATTKISSON: When Brian Terry was gunned down last December, he had already mailed Christmas gifts. Secret Service Agent Robert Heyer is Terry's cousin.
ROBERT HEYER, secret service agent: The gifts that Brian had picked out with such thought and care began to arrive in the mail in the same week. With each delivery, we felt the indescribable pain of Brian's death.
ATTKISSON: Terry's family wants someone to accept responsibility. The Department of Justice inspector general is investigating, and Scott, any gun walking that was taking playing has now been halted.
Pelley: Thank you, Sharyl.
--Alex Fitzsimmons is a News Analysis intern at the Media Research Center. Click here to follow him on Twitter.