Last week's House vote to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt over documents related to the Operation Fast and Furious scandal has brought back the media myth that the National Rifle Association (NRA) is a hugely-powerful organization that swings elections with its money and endorsements. But there's no evidence -- aside from the organization's media-abetted campaign to inflate its own influence -- that the NRA is an electoral force.
All 17 Democrats who voted to hold Holder in contempt received donations from the NRA. Additionally, the NRA, in an attempt to scare up more support for the contempt vote, announced that it would be scoring the vote for its candidate rating system. And based on the vote, the tactics seem to have worked, to some extent. As a result, some media coverage has predictably inflated the NRA's supposed electoral influence. But the vote is merely evidence that the NRA's campaign to portray itself as the most important lobbying group in the country has been successful.
In a post pondering "Why Is the NRA So Powerful?," Slate's Brian Palmer reinforces many of the media's favorite myths about the NRA, writing that the group "is considered by many the most powerful lobbying group in the country, despite relatively modest financial resources and just 4 million members." According to Palmer, the NRA "can reliably deliver votes."
But in truth, the NRA can't "reliably deliver votes" -- far from it.
During today's edition of Fox & Friends, co-host Steve Doocy and guest Betsy McCaughey choose to ignore the significant role that the National Rifle Association played in yesterday's contempt proceedings against Attorney General Eric Holder.
Doocy twice highlighted the fact that 17 Democrats joined Republicans to cite Holder for contempt of Congress concerning Holder's failure to satisfy an inquiry led by the Republican-led House Oversight Committee investigation into the failed ATF Fast and Furious Operation. When Fox News contributor and Democratic strategist Joe Trippi suggested that the vote was about "politics," guest Betsy McCaughey, the former lieutenant governor of New York, disagreed, citing the decision of some Democrats to cross the aisle.
What was left unsaid is that every Democrat who voted to cite Holder in contempt has recently received money from the rabidly anti-Holder NRA.
DOOCY: As we've been telling you, the House of Representatives yesterday on a bipartisan basis voted to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt.
DOOCY: Joe [Trippi], it was a bipartisan vote, 16 Democrats went along with Republicans and said, You know, you really should give up those documents there is a dead guy we are talking about. A border patrol agent.
JOE TRIPPI: We don't do this like you know bullet vote [where] everyone has to vote the same way on the Democratic side of the aisle.
TRIPPI: I'm not talking about the credible facts [in Fast and Furious], whether they are there or not. It looks like its politics.
BETSY MCCAUGHEY: I don't think it does because Democrats voted for the contempt. And you know what, all of those Democrats walked out, the Congressional Black Caucus --
TRIPPI: 16 Democrats --
MCCAUGHEY: -- they didn't have the nerve to vote against the contempt motion. They posed this as a walk out. But you know what, that was cowardice. Either you vote for it or you vote against it. Walking out that's just stage show but with no convictions.
The NRA has, of course, been trying to effectuate Holder's ouster since the beginning. On April 30, 2011, in the earliest stages of the House Oversight Committee's investigation into Fast and Furious, NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre declared, "Holder's got to go!" In media appearances, LaPierre continues to promote his insane belief that Fast and Furious was an Obama administration plot to destroy the Second Amendment.
In a June 20 letter to lawmakers in support of citing Holder for contempt, the NRA's top lobbyist, Chris Cox, informed Members of Congress that the NRA would score the vote for its candidate rating system. Of the 17 Democrats who voted for contempt, 16 protected their A or A+ NRA rating. Rep. Kathleen Hochul (D-NY) possesses an NRA endorsement, but no rating.
UPDATE: During yesterday's broadcast of Fox News Radio's Kilmeade & Friends, Doocy predicted that Democrats who voted for contempt would be influenced by the NRA's decision to score the contempt vote. Even though his prediction appears to have come true, Doocy did not mention the NRA's influence during today's Fox & Friends and instead adopted the narrative that the bipartisan outcome suggested that partisanship was not a motivating factor.
DOOCY: Regarding how come there are going to be so many Democrats vote against Eric Holder is the fact that the NRA said, "Ok, you know what we're going to do? We're going to score that vote." And what happens in Washington is anytime there is something that involve gun control the NRA says, "We're going to score it." And if people want a good score with the NRA, and if you're in a district where the NRA is important, you vote with what the NRA wants, which is contempt of Congress for Mr. Holder.
From the June 28 edition of MSNBC's PoliticsNation:
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While discussing the walkout of House Democrats in protest of the contempt vote against Attorney General Eric Holder, Fox News' Eric Bolling claimed on The Five: "I don't think I've ever seen that before. I don't think I've ever seen people vacating the House like that before -- over a vote."
Obviously Bolling hasn't been paying attention. In February of 2008, House Republicans walked out during a vote that held two Bush aides (Josh Bolten and Harriet Miers) in contempt of Congress for refusing to testify about the politically motivated firings of U.S. attorneys.
Mike Vanderboegh, the ex-militia blogger who calls himself one of the "midwives" of the Operation Fast and Furious scandal, recently predicted that if the Supreme Court declared the health care reform bill to be constitutional, it would lead to violent insurrection against "government tyranny."
The blogger posted the statements, which come from a recent unpublished interview, the same day the House of Representatives voted to find Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt over his unwillingness to release documents related to Fast and Furious.
In the excerpts Vanderboegh posted on his blog "which deal with the decision today," he says of a then-potential decision upholding the health care law, "You may call tyranny a mandate or you may call it a tax, but it still is tyranny and invites the same response." He further predicts the response of his ilk: "If we refuse to obey, we will be fined. If we refuse to pay the fine, we will in time be jailed. If we refuse to report meekly to jail, we will be sent for by armed men. And if we refuse their violent invitation at the doorsteps of our own homes we will be killed -- unless we kill them first. ... I am on record as advocating the right of defensive violence against a tyrannical regime."
Vanderboegh gained fame in 2010 when he urged his readers to respond to the passage of health care reform by breaking the windows of Democratic offices, then took credit after vandals struck several such offices. The Alabama-based blogger has previously been part of the militia and Minuteman movements, and leads the Three Percenters, a group which claims to represent the three percent of gun owners who "who will not disarm, will not compromise and will no longer back up at the passage of the next gun control act" but will instead, "if forced by any would-be oppressor, ... kill in the defense of ourselves and the Constitution."
Vanderboegh was one of the first to break the story that ATF whistleblowers said that they had been ordered to knowingly allow gun trafficking suspects to take weapons across the border into Mexico. The operation was intended to allow law enforcement to identify other members of the trafficking network that for years has directed assault weapons into the hands of Mexican cartels, with the goal of bringing those cartels down. He has said that he and a fellow blogger were the "midwives of the scandal" who introduced the whistleblowers to congressional investigators. He has theorized that the operation was part of a secret plot against the Second Amendment directed from the highest levels of government.
Last year Fox repeatedly hosted Vanderboegh on their air to provide expert commentary on the story. Then in November, four Georgia men were arrested in connection with an alleged plot to kill federal employees and civilians using explosives and the biological agent ricin. According to the criminal complaint against him, one of the alleged domestic terrorists repeatedly cited Vanderboegh'snovel Absolved as the inspiration for their plot. Media subsequently noted that Vanderboegh had, in the words of the Associated Press, "appeared as a commentator on Fox News Channel." He has not done so since.
Today the United States House of Representatives will vote to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress. The push for a contempt citation followed a lengthy investigation by the House Oversight Committee into Holder's supposed role in the failed ATF Fast and Furious operation, in which, according to whistleblowers, the agency allowed guns to be trafficked across the border as part of an investigation intended to take down a Mexican drug cartel.
Throughout the investigation members of the right-wing media have engaged in numerous distortions about Fast and Furious while sycophantically parroting allegations made by the Republican-led House Oversight Committee. Below some of these narratives are examined and debunked.
The National Rifle Association is one of the primary promoters of the conspiracy theory that Operation Fast and Furious was designed to create violence in Mexico, which in turn would be pointed to by the Obama administration as the justification for more restrictive gun laws, a bizarre claim that has gained a solid foothold in the right-wing media's Fast and Furious narrative. Conservative commentator Rush Limbaugh has frequently told his listeners that the failed ATF operation was a premeditated "attack on the Second Amendment," citing this theory.
But none of the people promoting this theory have ever provided any hard evidence to prove its existence. Townhall News Editor Katie Pavlich breathlessly hashed out the conspiracy theory in her book, Fast and Furious: Barack Obama's Bloodiest Scandal and its Shameless Cover-up, on the shaky premise that the fact that some members of the Obama administration have supported gun violence prevention measures was evidence enough of an anti-Second Amendment plot. But even Fox News host Bill O'Reilly dismissed such claims as a "conspiracy thing." And for good reason; the "evidence" offered by Pavlich and other promoters is circumstantial and the theory's logic entirely speculative. In fact, Obama has expanded, rather than restricted, the right to carry a gun during his first term.
When Obama asserted executive privilege over a set of internal Department of Justice (DOJ) documents on June 20, Fox News was quick to push the narrative -- straight from the GOP spin room -- that the president's use of privilege implied something sinister was afoot at the White House. As Happening Now guest host Gregg Jarrett put it, "If the president was not involved then executive privilege does not apply. If the president was involved, then three things, either Holder was not telling the truth in front of Congress, and or the White House was not telling the truth when it denied the White House and the president were involved, and the president himself may have not been telling the truth when he made statements."
There are two problems with this argument. First, Obama only asserted executive privilege over documents generated after February 4, 2011. Fast and Furious was terminated in January 2011. According to the letter that DOJ sent to Obama asking the president to assert his privilege, the documents in question "were created after the investigative tactic at issue in that operation had terminated and in the course of the Department's deliberative process concerning how to respond to congressional and related media inquiries into that operation."
Secondly, presidents have traditionally asserted executive privilege over matters in which they are not personally involved. When President George W. Bush first used executive privilege in December 2001, he acted to shield internal DOJ documents. In a separate instance in 2008, his Attorney General, Michael Mukasey, advised the president that he could shield Environmental Protection Agency documents because "[t]he doctrine of executive privilege also encompasses Executive Branch deliberative communications that do not implicate presidential decisionmaking."
As right-wing media cheer on a partisan Republican effort to find Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt with regard to Congress' inquiry into the ATF's Operation Fast and Furious, Fortune magazine has released a stunning investigation which concludes that ATF "never intentionally allowed guns to fall into the hands of Mexican drug cartels" in that case.
The Fortune piece is based on a six-month investigation that included the review of "more than 2,000 pages of confidential ATF documents" and interviews with "39 people, including seven law-enforcement agents with direct knowledge of the case." Its author, Katherine Eban, is an award-winning investigative reporter who writes for major national magazines and whose work has been featured on national broadcast news programs.
Operation Fast and Furious has long been presented by the politicians of both parties and by right-wing, traditional, and progressive media - including here at Media Matters - as a failed ATF operation in which agents were instructed to allow guns to be trafficked in order to build a complex case against a Mexican drug cartel. In that scenario, the guns were allowed to cross the border and were later recovered at crime scenes, including at the site of the murder of border patrol agent Brian Terry. Several members of Congress, including Oversight Committee chair Darrell Issa (R-CA), have followed the National Rifle Association and right-wing media in promoting a more sinister conspiracy theory: that the operation was conceived from the beginning to deliberately arm the cartels in order to promote a gun control agenda.
In contrast to both the conventional and conspiratorial narratives, Eban writes:
Quite simply, there's a fundamental misconception at the heart of the Fast and Furious scandal. Nobody disputes that suspected straw purchasers under surveillance by the ATF repeatedly bought guns that eventually fell into criminal hands. Issa and others charge that the ATF intentionally allowed guns to walk as an operational tactic. But five law-enforcement agents directly involved in Fast and Furious tell Fortune that the ATF had no such tactic. They insist they never purposefully allowed guns to be illegally trafficked. Just the opposite: They say they seized weapons whenever they could but were hamstrung by prosecutors and weak laws, which stymied them at every turn.
Eban's report raises important questions about the media's conventional wisdom on the case. As of publication, Fox News -- which has provided a constant flood of reports and commentary on every minor occurrence in Fast and Furious -- has not mentioned the story, which was published at 5 a.m. this morning.
From the June 26 edition of Fox News' Hannity:
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Since President Obama's assertion of executive privilege over a set of internal Department of Justice (DOJ) documents, Fox News "straight news" anchors have repeatedly suggested that the president is attempting to "have it both ways" by invoking the privilege while also maintaining his longstanding position that he was not involved in the authorization or management of the failed ATF Fast and Furious operation. At times they have continued to do so even after their colleagues have informed them that these positions are not inconsistent.
Both Gregg Jarrett and Jamie Colby, the guest hosts of Happening Now and America's Newsroom, respectively, have pushed this baseless idea - echoing GOP talking points - during this week's broadcasts. Although Colby and Jarrett have been corrected by their colleagues on-air for their mistaken claims, Jarrett's revival of the specious claim during yesterday's show demonstrates that the idea that Obama's routine use of executive privilege evidences something sinister is alive and well at Fox News.
From the June 25 edition of Fox News' Happening Now:
JARRETT: The president is on record as having said all along knew nothing about it, didn't deal with it, wasn't involved. And all of a sudden the president invokes executive privilege which suggests that there was some White House involvement. You can't have it both ways, can you?
From the June 26 edition of America's Newsroom:
COLBY: Can the president have it both ways, say that the White House had nothing to do with the Fast and Furious program, and at the same time exert executive privilege over documents that dealt with, as [White House press secretary] Jay Carney had said, the operation?
Jarrett aired out his idea about Obama even after he had been corrected by Fox News White House correspondent Ed Henry for making similar claims during the June 20 edition of Happening Now. During that show, Henry told Jarrett in plain terms that Obama's use of executive privilege "does not prove any sort of cover-up and it does not prove that the president was involved in Fast and Furious."
Colby was corrected in a more immediate fashion by conservative The Five co-host Andrea Tantaros who stated, "I will say this though, in fairness, the president does have a right to exert executive privilege in a deliberate process. In the [U.S. v.] Nixon ruling it said that it doesn't have to include the president or his advisors. It could include a decision that eventually will affect the president. Recommendations, deliberations, that kind of thing."
Today on Fox News' America Live, Megyn Kelly offered repeated tension-filled teases for an interview with a "former DOJ official" who she promised would explain how the White House "had to know" about the controversial tactics used in the ATF's failed Operation Fast and Furious and would provide "his take on what Mr. [Attorney General Eric] Holder likely knew and when he knew it." But Kelly's big get wasn't someone with any actual knowledge of the operation or its aftermath, but rather Andrew C. McCarthy, the resident anti-Obama conspiracy theorist at the right-wing National Review.
McCarthy's credentials to make broad claims about what the White House and senior DOJ officials would be limited even if his credibility was not; he served as an Assistant U.S. Attorney in New York, not at DOJ headquarters in Washington, DC, and left public service in 2003.
But McCarthy's credibility certainly is in question. While McCarthy first gained fame for prosecuting the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, in recent years he has become known for his viciously anti-Muslim rhetoric and adoption of conspiracy theories.
Obama's radicalism, beginning with his Alinski/ACORN/community organizer period, is a bottom-up socialism. This, I'd suggest, is why he fits comfortably with Ayers, who (especially now) is more Maoist than Stalinist. What Obama is about is infiltrating (and training others to infiltrate) bourgeois institutions in order to change them from within -- in essence, using the system to supplant the system. A key requirement of this stealthy approach (very consistent with talking vaporously about "change" but never getting more specific than absolutely necessary) is electability.
McCarthy has also:
Since President Obama asserted executive privilege earlier this week over a set of Department of Justice internal documents, the National Rifle Association has been quick to claim that the president's action is proof at last for the organization's insane conspiracy theory that Operation Fast and Furious was actually designed as a nefarious plot against the Second Amendment.
But the NRA's "evidence" could not be more lacking, as the documents over which Obama asserted executive privilege were generated after the conclusion of the failed Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) operation. A June 19 letter sent from the Justice Department to Obama which asked the president assert his privilege clearly states that the request only covers documents "from after February 4, 2011 related to the Department's response to Congress." Fast and Furious was terminated in January 2011. The documents deal with how DOJ handled congressional inquiries into the program, not its authorization.
That NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre has not actually seen the documents in question did little to temper his belief, expressed on NRA News, that the contents of the privileged documents prove that he was right about the Obama administration all along.
LAPIERRE: There must be something in those papers that just really stinks that they would be willing to walk into this briar patch and bust this whole issue out in the open.
GINNY SIMONE, NRA NEWS HOST: Do you think just maybe it has to do with what the NRA, and many others, have been talking about from the start? That this was planned, that this was about advancing an anti-gun agenda that this president had? Your thoughts?
LAPIERRE: Well my thoughts are that this was an attack on the Second Amendment of the United States Constitution. That that's what Fast and Furious really was about. The fact is that's what they are trying to hide. That's what I believe is in these papers that they don't want out, is proof of that.
The president is trying to fog the issue. He's trying to say "I'm not attacking the Second Amendment." I believe what's in these papers is proof that this administration was attacking the Second Amendment. They knew exactly what they were doing. This was about putting these guns down there in Mexico and then why they found them at crime scenes going, "Aha, we need more gun laws in the United States." And that's what I believe is in these papers. And that's why I believe the president has joined with the attorney general to cover this whole thing up.
In an appearance today on America's Newsroom, Fox News contributor Karl Rove expressed concern that President Obama's assertion of executive privilege over a set of Department of Justice internal documents was a novel expansion of the doctrine. The former senior advisor to President George W. Bush was ill-equipped to make this claim, as Bush invoked the privilege under similar circumstances while Rove was his top political advisor.
KARL ROVE, FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: It's one thing to exert executive privilege over the actions of the President, and his aides, and the White House. It's another thing to exercise executive privilege with regard to aCabinet official, seemingly in a matter that according to the President up until now, had no connections with, no contact with, no communications with the White House. So I'm a little bit concerned about it. I think it's an overreach.
ROVE: This is a very long reach. I mean basically if the President is allowed to take the privilege that goes to the Executive Office of the President and extend it to a Cabinet department, then he can extend it to any branch of the government for any matter, even if there was no presidential or White House involvement. And I'm not certain that that's what the Founders thought about when they talked about executive privilege.
Rove either forgot that the first time Bush invoked executive privilege it was in regards to Justice Department internal documents, or was being deliberately deceptive. In December 2001 the New York Times reported:
President Bush invoked executive privilege today for the first time in his administration to block a Congressional committee trying to review documents about a decades-long scandal involving F.B.I. misuse of mob informants in Boston. His order also denied the committee access to internal Justice Department deliberations about President Bill Clinton's fund-raising tactics.
Executive privilege is really an umbrella concept that encompasses a variety of privileges. History's most famous claim of executive privilege -- President Richard Nixon's unsuccessful attempt to withhold the "Watergate tapes" -- was an example of "presidential privacy" privilege. That privilege covers executive communications when the president is involved.
The executive branch, however, historically claims a much broader privilege, the so-called "deliberative privilege."
Deliberative privilege aims to protect documents generated anywhere in the executive branch that embody only the executive's internal deliberations, not final policy decisions. The current dispute involves "deliberative privilege."
During his appearance, Rove also ran with the latest right-wing conspiracy, suggesting that Obama's assertion of executive privilege indicates that he was involved in Fast and Furious while the operation was ongoing. Media Matters has previously noted that these claims are false. The president asserted executive privilege only over documents created after the failed operation was ended.
In his latest column, WND editor Joseph Farah takes the right-wing media's misreading of President Obama's declaration of executive privilege with regard to some documents concerning the ATF's failed Operation Fast and Furious sought by congressional Republicans to its "logical" conclusion: President Obama has declared himself, "quite possibly, an accessory to murder." From the piece:
Now understand what this means. Obama cannot claim executive privilege for any member of his administration. He can only do so for himself and his inner circle of advisers, and should never do so unless it's a matter of national security.
What Obama did, in apparent desperation, was to expose his own personal complicity in this scandal, making him, quite possibly, an accessory to murder.
Can you imagine how big this scandal is and how far it reaches for the administration to take such a gamble?
Farah's point appears to be that by claiming executive privilege for these documents, Obama has acknowledged personal involvement in the authorization of Fast and Furious, and thus, since guns trafficked to Mexico through that program were used to kill people, he could be an "accessory" to those murders.
This doesn't make any sense.
First of all, the documents in question don't deal with the authorization of Operation Fast and Furious, but rather the administration's response to congressional inquiries in response to that operation. Even if Obama was directly involved in that response, it would in no way indicate his "personal complicity in" the operation.
But the administration has not claimed executive privilege on the basis of the president's personal involvement. Which brings us to another problem with Farah's column: his statement that "Obama cannot claim executive privilege for any member of his administration" is simply not true.
As Ohio State University law professor Peter Shane wrote at CNN.com this morning, the Obama administration has claimed deliberative privilege with regard to the documents in question, which "aims to protect documents generated anywhere in the executive branch that embody only the executive's internal deliberations, not final policy decisions."
From the June 20 edition of MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show:
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From the June 20 edition of MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show:
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