ABC's Diane Sawyer Presses on Guns; Skips Story of Right-wing Violence

"Good Morning America" co-host Diane Sawyer interviewed Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano on Thursday and skipped any mention of a controversial report by the agency warning of right-wing extremist activity and disgruntled returning war veterans. In separate interviews, both the CBS "Early Show" and NBC's "Today" discussed the hot-topic issue with the top government official. Instead, Sawyer pressed Napolitano with incorrect numbers about gun violence and Mexico. "95 percent of the guns used were out of the United States. What is the U.S. going to do to stop the guns from getting there," she asked.

In fact, the number of guns traced to the U.S. is only about 17 percent. (MRC intern Mike Sargent wrote about this on April 2.) Even the Homeland Security secretary seemed to be uncomfortable with the statistic. Before answering the question, Napolitano prefaced, "And I won't quibble about numbers. That's not the point." On the issue of terrorism, the GMA host posed this not-exactly pressing question: "Do you see, in your reports that you're now reading in great detail, do you see an increase in the threat to the U.S. homeland? Or do you have them on the run?"

In fairness, Sawyer did cite conservative criticism by Dick Cheney and ex-House Speaker Newt Gingrich. She observed, "On the issue of terrorism, as you know, the former Vice President, Dick Cheney, has said that President Obama 'is making some choices that, in my mind, will, in fact, raise the risk to the American people of another attack.'" The journalist added, "Is the U.S. less safe now than it was under President Bush? Is it safer?"

A transcript of the April 16 segment, which aired at 7:07am, follows:

DIANE SAWYER: And when President Obama meets with Mexican officials today, the new person in charge of guaranteeing that the U.S. homeland is safe and secure, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, will be at his side. We had a chance to speak with her. And she's been in the line of fire recently, from former administration officials, including the former vice president. On the issue of terrorism, as you know, the former Vice President, Dick Cheney, has said that President Obama "is making some choices that, in my mind, will, in fact, raise the risk to the American people of another attack." And Newt Gingrich, former House speaker, said "the U.S. is running greater risks of getting attacked than we were under President Bush." Is the U.S. less safe now than it was under President Bush? Is it safer?

JANET NAPOLITANO (U.S. Homeland Security Secretary): You know, the former vice president is just wrong. And, you know, we don't need Guantanamo, which is really what he's talking about, to be safe as a country, or as safe as we can be, in a world where there's an ever-changing threat environment. Indeed, places like Guantanamo have been used by groups like al Qaeda to recruit other members. And so, the President, the vice president, the cabinet members, such as myself, we spend our waking hours, really working through what is needed to be done to protect the American people.

SAWYER: Do you see, in your reports that you're now reading in great detail, do you see an increase in the threat to the U.S. homeland? Or do you have them on the run?

NAPOLITANO: Terrorism- it's very easy to quantify in that sense. It's not as if you get up and today, you're on a scale of three on a scale of ten or eight out of ten. You have to constantly be preparing against the known, but also trying to conceive of the unknown, to try to get ahead of the terrorists, as it were. And terrorism can take many, many different forms. And so, that's what I meant when I said earlier in this interview, we're constantly thinking and working on what can be done to reduce risks to the American people. We can never eliminate it. Let me be very clear about that. We can never eliminate all risk to terrorism, but what can we do to reduce it and be prepared for it? Excuse me?

SAWYER: But do you see an increase- But do you see an increase in the threat?

NAPOLITANO: Again, that's an impossible question to answer. I think you have to assume it's at least a constant threat.

SAWYER: Want to turn to the visit today, and the news of the day and your trip to Mexico with the President. Two big issues as we know, the violence and also the immigration issue. On the violence issue, 6,500 people were killed in drug violence in 2008 alone. 95 percent of the guns used were out of the United States. What is the U.S. going to do to stop the guns from getting there?

NAPOLITANO: Well, we're doing a number of things. And I won't quibble about numbers. That's not the point. The point is that a number of the weapons going into Mexico are coming from the United States. So, we have moved agents, resources. We actually have dogs that are trained to sniff guns. We've moved them to do southbound checks, as well as continuing and enhancing the northbound work that we're doing. Northbound to protect against illegal drugs, illegal immigrants. Southbound, to check against cash and guns going to fuel this very violent drug war in Mexico.

Scott Whitlock
Scott Whitlock
Scott Whitlock is the senior news analyst for the Media Research Center and a contributing editor for NewsBusters.org