From The Editor: Death By Media Narrative

posted on March 20, 2024
Frank Miniter

In June 2012, I was invited to interview Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), as I was writing stories on congressional hearings about the then-Obama administration’s gun-running scandal, known as “Operation Fast and Furious.”

The invitation surprised me, as the Obama administration was denying any involvement (and would soon use executive privilege to hide emails and more) and Democrats on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, of which Cummings was then the ranking Democrat, were doing all they could to make the hearings—starring whistleblowers from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF)—seem like much ado about nothing.

When I arrived at the appointed time to Cumming’s congressional office, two staffers walked me into a room. They apologized that I would not be able to see the congressman. But then they pulled out documents they said they couldn’t give me. They placed print-outs of the documents on the table and said they needed to leave the room for a moment.

I glanced over the documents. They covered a previous gun-running operation by the ATF named “Operation Wide Receiver.” One of the documents was about an alleged gun runner who, evidently, had converted AR-type rifles into fully automatic firearms. If true, that was a felony (or a bunch of felonies). But it had nothing to do with the ongoing ATF scandal.

The congressional aides came back and seemed surprised that I had not photographed or taken copious notes on the documents. They then made a big deal about leaving again.

I was shaking my head. They were clearly looking to plant a story to divert attention from Operation Fast and Furious. At the time, I was writing a column for Forbes and quite a few opinion articles for FOX News. So, if I would play ball, I could have been quite useful to them; after all, the previous ATF operation had taken place during the prior Bush administration.

When they came back, I told them I would write about this previous ATF operation if they, or better yet, the congressman, would go on the record. I knew I could have also gotten quotes from the congressmen who were investigating the ATF. In context, that would be interesting.

These congressional aides, however, said they could not do that. So, I asked them questions about Operation Fast and Furious and watched them rhetorically dodge. I then left disappointed. Sure, they tried to use me, but that’s common enough in Washington, D.C. I was disappointed because they would not go on the record. I wasn’t going to put my reputation on the line by citing unnamed sources and documents they were “not allowed” to give me.

The thing is, writing stories like this tempts many, because members of the press who will play ball tend to get more “leaks” tossed their way. Many officials in government agencies play this game with willing members of the media.

I am not writing about this to make the argument that this is something that can be stopped; Machiavelli, after all, wasn’t wrong about the self-serving parts of human nature. I am writing about this to make the point that the members of the media are supposed to be inquisitive and cynical as they try to find the truth behind gambits like this.

Instead, today many prefer to play the game—and, in the process, they kill the truth with spin, half-truths and completely false narratives. This matters to those who cherish our Second Amendment-protected rights, because public policy is affected by how the public perceives the issues related to our freedom.



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