ABC’s Pierre Thomas Quizzes AG Holder on Race; Skips ‘Nation of Cowards’ Quote

UPDATED: 2009-07-31 10:30:18 -0400 ABC’s Pierre Thomas landed an exclusive interview with Eric Holder on Wednesday’s Nightline, quizzing the Attorney General on race relations in America. Somehow, however, the reporter managed to completely ignore Holder’s incendiary remark from February that America is a "nation of cowards" when dealing with race relations.

One would assume such a statement might be relevant to Thomas’ questions about the ongoing controversy involving the arrest of Harvard Professor Henry Gates by a police officer in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Instead, the correspondent ignored the context, even as he explained, "[Holder] said the controversy in Cambridge proves more needs to be done in race relations." Thomas queried, "Have we reached the point where law enforcement is color blind?"

He also vaguely asserted, "And Holder as attorney general often finds himself at the intersection of divisive issues beyond the beltway, issues like race and policing..." Wouldn’t it be logical, considering the controversy that the Attorney General's remark caused, to ask something along the lines of, "Mr. Holder, you said that America was a 'nation of cowards' in regard to discussing race. Is the incident in Massachusetts an example of that?"

Of course, Thomas didn't ask this question, or any at all, on the subject. (Holder's full quote, given at a speech to the Justice Department on February 18, 2009: "Though this nation has proudly thought of itself as an ethnic melting pot, in things racial we have always been and continue to be, in too many ways, essentially a nation of cowards.")

Thomas closed the segment by responding to Holder's recollection of celebrating the Fourth of July with the first African American president: "That is America. Progress amid conflict, as Holder knows better than most."

UPDATED: 2009-07-31 10:30:18 -0400

When asked on Twitter why Nightline failed to feature this question, I received a Tweet from the show saying that Thomas "did ask the question-referenced here." Nightline then provided a link to ABC’s online version of the article. On pages three and four of the piece, there is this:

Holder's remarks in a February speech that the United States was "a nation of cowards" when it comes to race relations, spurred controversy. Though he said he stands by his comments, the attorney general also said he believes the country has made progress along the lines of race

"Race is a tough issue. Wherever it has been found, whether in the United States or even in other countries, it's an issue that has divided us, I think, in the past. It's an issue that if unaddressed, I think, can divide us in the future. And what that speech was about," Holder said.

But, as reported by NewsBusters, that question wasn't in the Nightline story or in a shorter version that aired on Thursday's World News. Does ABC really think that putting a tiny mention at the end of an online piece is the same as featuring the same question on the network?

A transcript of the July 29 segment, which aired at 11:55pm, follows:

TERRY MORAN: He made history as the nation's first black attorney general and he took control of the Justice Department at a critical moment with ongoing legal controversies about Guantanamo Bay and how our country interrogates prisoners. And one thread tying all these challenges together, keeping Americans safe. Our Senior Justice Correspondent Pierre Thomas, now, with Attorney General Eric Holder in the Nightline Interview.

PIERRE THOMAS: Just before 8:00am, the attorney general is greeted by his armed FBI security detail. The pressure cooker starts early. As he heads to the capital, Eric Holder is well aware of the daily threat matrix, laying out all the ways terrorists are planning to kill us. So, that's hello of a way to start your day every day.

ERIC HOLDER (Attorney General): Yeah, you're typically not finding good news in the- in those reports or in that meeting. It is in some ways the most sobering part of the day.

THOMAS: Overnight, the FBI and Homeland Security has sent out a bulletin warning authorities about Americans training with terrorists overseas and returning home. Holder says it's a new, emerging threat.

HOLDER: I mean, that's one of the things that's particularly troubling. I mean this whole notion of the radicalization of Americans. Leaving this country and going to different parts of the world and then coming back. This whole notion of radicalization, it's something that, perhaps, wasn't - did not loom as large a few months ago as it does now. And that's - it's the shifting nature of threats that I think keeps you up at night.

THOMAS: Vice President Cheney has made some comments, you know, in recent months that he doesn't think the Obama administration is, is taking the threat as seriously as the Bush administration.

HOLDER: We understand that keeping that American people safe is the most important job that we have. It's the most important thing that the President does. It's the most important thing that I do. So this notion that we have somehow dropped the ball or that we're not as focused on it is simply not accurate. It's inconsistent with what I do on a daily basis.

THOMAS: Terrorism, espionage, corruption, the pressure of hardball politics, all on the plate for the nation's top cop. As a result, working with allies and foes on Capitol Hill, a job requirement.

SENATOR PATRICK LEAHY (D-VT): Our job is probably the toughest job there is, because it is the one part of the cabinet where certainly you have to reflect the President, but you've got to be independent.

THOMAS: Do you anticipate there will be moments in his tenure where he's gonna have to say no to the President or-

LEAHY: If there aren't moments then it would be very unusual.

THOMAS: This summer, Holder faces a series of critical decisions, whether to investigation the Bush administration detention and interrogation of terrorism suspects. Holder made clear that's a real possibility, regardless of the fallout.

HOLDER: I have said that waterboarding is torture. One looks at the history of that practice, I don't see how you can reach any other conclusion. I think the department - at least some of the people who worked here simply lost their way. We will not criminalize policy differences. We will follow the facts in the law wherever that takes us.

THOMAS: Do you think you have the independence to do that if you need to make that call?

HOLDER: Yes.

THOMAS: During lunch, Holder was blunt.

HOLDER: I'm not the secretary of Justice. I'm the Attorney General of the United States. And there's a fundamental difference between what I have to do and what any other cabinet officer has to do. I have the responsibility of enforcing the laws. And you have to be in a neutral and detached way for the or the very existence of this place is questioned, the motives of this place are questioned, and you can't have a Justice Department like that.

THOMAS: Holder acknowledges some of the security steps the Bush administration took made the country safer. But make no mistake, the Obama national security team is on a decidedly different course. Gitmo is going to be closed. Holder says many detainees will be prosecuted in military and federal courts and that a significant number will be imprisoned on U.S. soil.

HOLDER: I'm confident that we do have the ability to safely hold these people and not endanger the communities in which they might be held.

THOMAS: All these decisions could lead to a political firestorm. But as he took a television crew for the first time into his bulletproof secure office, Holder laid down a marker.

HOLDER: I an accept criticism. And you can say that I'm right, you can say that I'm wrong. But I drew lines. And when you start to say that I'm dishonest or that you question my integrity, then you're gonna have a fight on your hands.

THOMAS: And Holder as attorney general often finds himself at the intersection of divisive issues beyond the beltway, issues like race and policing, which exploded back into national headlines with the arrest of a black Harvard professor at his home by a white police officer. While he declined to take sides, Holder acknowledged he too has been racially profiled.

HOLDER: I was a young college student driving from New York to Washington, stopped on a highway and told to open the trunk of my car because the police officer told me he wanted to search it for weapons. And I remember as I got back in the car and continued on my journey how humiliated I felt, how angry I got.

THOMAS: He said the controversy in Cambridge proves more needs to be done in race relations.

HOLDER: I think that you have two individuals who I suspect wish that this thing had been resolved in a different way.

THOMAS: Have we reached the point where law enforcement is color blind?

HOLDER: No, not yet, but I think, you know, we're certainly in a much better place than we were.

THOMAS: He recalled being at the White House, standing near the President on July 4th when the fireworks went off.

HOLDER: There were times during the course of that evening on that quintessential American day and to look over and see this, this, you know, very bright young man, who's African American, who is the president of the United States.

THOMAS: That is America. Progress amid conflict, as Holder knows better than most. For Nightline, I'm Pierre Thomas in Washington.

MORAN: And there are certainly many challenges ahead for the attorney general. Our thanks to Pierre Thomas for that.

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