CBS Highlights 'Fast & Furious'; ABC, NBC Place Heads in the Sand

"CBS Evening News" distinguished itself among the Big Three networks on Monday by devoting an entire segment to the ongoing controversy over the "Fast and Furious" program, where the federal government smuggled guns to Mexican drug cartels. NBC hasn't mentioned the story on its news programs since April 17, while the last time ABC covered it was a news brief on June 15.

Correspondent Sharyl Attkisson reported that "new documents obtained by CBS News show Attorney General Eric Holder was sent briefings on the controversial 'Fast and Furious' operation as far back as July 2010. That directly contradicts his [May 3, 2011] statement to Congress." After playing a sound bite from Holder's testimony, Attkisson continued that "at least ten months before that hearing, Holder began receiving frequent memos discussing 'Fast and Furious.' They came from...Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer."

Later in her report, the CBS journalist noted that the controversial program "remained secret to the public until Border Patrol Agent Bryan Terry was murdered last December. Two guns from 'Fast and Furious' were found at the scene, and ATF agent John Dodson blew the whistle on the operation. Ever since, the Justice Department has publicly tried to distance itself. But the new documents leave no doubt that high-level Justice officials knew guns were being walked."

Sharyl Attkisson, CBS News Correspondent | NewsBusters.orgAt the end of the segment, Attkisson stated that "the Justice Department told CBS News that the officials in those e-mails were talking about an entirely different case, started before Eric Holder became attorney general. And tonight, they tell CBS News Holder misunderstood that question from Congress, that he did know about 'Fast and Furious,' just not the details."

Within the past month or so, the correspondent has done two other reports on the "Fast and Furious" issue for "CBS Evening News" and "The Early Show" (one of the two was also re-aired). On the other hand, the other two Big Three networks have punted on the controversy. On the June 15, 2011 edition of "Good Morning America," ABC's Josh Elliot gave a news brief about it: "Meanwhile, a congressional report this morning is condemning a federal program that allowed military-style weapons to flow illegally into Mexico. The goal was to track the guns to gang leaders but few arrests were, in fact, made and two of those guns actually turned up at the murder scene of a border patrol agent in Arizona."

The last time NBC covered it was all the way back on "Dateline" on April 17:

CHRIS HANSEN: And there's one more thing. Here in Mexico, civilians can only own one gun at a time. Even so, the river of weapons keeps flowing. In fact, the US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, as part of an undercover operation, actually allowed hundreds of guns to be smuggled to the Mexican drug cartels.

MEXICAN FOREIGN MINISTER JORGE CASTANEDA: The US ATF let arms in deliberately in order to trace them, track them.

HANSEN: Which former Mexican foreign minister Jorge Castaneda thinks resulted in more Mexican deaths.

CASTANEDA: Makes people in Mexico very irritated to say, 'Jesus, the Americans not only don't do anything to stop the guns from entering, they push them.'

HANSEN: The ATF told us it's investigating.

Even with its comparatively more extensive coverage, CBS gave tougher treatment to Holder's predecessor, Alberto Gonzales, over the controversial firing of eight U.S. attorneys in 2007. During a March 2007 interview, then-anchor Harry Smith hinted that the firings were a political purge, stating that there was a "perception" that they were let go for not "carrying out the White House's agenda."

The full transcript of Sharyl Attkisson's report from Monday's "CBS Evening News":

BOB SCHIEFFER: When the government's so-called 'Fast and Furious' program was created, the idea was to allow illegal guns to be shipped into Mexico, so investigators could trace where they were going and get a better handle on where Mexico's criminal cartels were operating. But the program has been a disaster. The guns have been linked to killings of Mexican officials. And now, it appears that Attorney General Eric Holder knew a lot more about it than he recently told Congress. Here's Sharyl Attkisson.

SHARYL ATTKISSON (voice-over): New documents obtained by CBS News show Attorney General Eric Holder was sent briefings on the controversial 'Fast and Furious' operation as far back as July 2010. That directly contradicts his statement to Congress. Listen to what Holder told a Judiciary Committee hearing on May 3 this year.

ATTORNEY GENERAL ERIC HOLDER (from congressional hearing): I'm not sure of the exact date, but I probably heard about 'Fast and Furious' for the first time over the last few weeks.

ATTKISSON: Yet, internal Justice Department documents show that at least ten months before that hearing, Holder began receiving frequent memos discussing 'Fast and Furious.' They came from the head of the National Drug Intelligence Center and Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer.

In 'Fast and Furious,' ATF agents allegedly allowed thousands of weapons to cross the border and fall into the hands of Mexican drug cartels. It's called letting guns walk, and it remained secret to the public until Border Patrol Agent Bryan Terry was murdered last December. Two guns from 'Fast and Furious' were found at the scene, and ATF agent John Dodson blew the whistle on the operation.

Ever since, the Justice Department has publicly tried to distance itself. But the new documents leave no doubt that high-level Justice officials knew guns were being walked. Two Justice Department officials mulled it over in an e-mail exchange October 18, 2010. 'It's a tricky case given the number of guns that have walked but is a significant set of prosecutions,' says Jason Weinstein, deputy assistant attorney general of the criminal division.

Deputy chief of the national gang unit, James Trusty, replies, 'I'm not sure how much grief we get for guns walking. It may be more like, finally they're going after people who sent the guns down there.'


ATTKISSON (on-camera): Now, the Justice Department told CBS News that the officials in those e-mails were talking about an entirely different case, started before Eric Holder became attorney general. And tonight, they tell CBS News Holder misunderstood that question from Congress, that he did know about 'Fast and Furious,' just not the details. Bob?

SCHIEFFER: Okay. Thank you very much, Sharyl.

Matthew Balan
Matthew Balan
Matthew Balan is a news analyst at Media Research Center