The Truth About the Fast and Furious Scandal

Number 25850
Subject Politics
Source Fortune
State
Year 2012
Publication Date June 27, 2012
Summary When Republicans, Democrats, and the media agree that a series of events occurred, it must be true, right? That was the situation Katherine Eban faced when she began investigating the Fast and Furious scandal. As portrayed by congressional Republicans and conceded by a Democratic U.S. attorney general, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives had allegedly adopted a disastrous policy of intentionally allowing weapons to be illegally trafficked to Mexican drug lords. Those allegations were the basis for a major congressional investigation and a national scandal. They ultimately led to the first instance in U.S. history in which a cabinet member, Attorney General Eric Holder, was deemed in contempt of Congress (because he refused to turn over documents relating to Fast and Furious). But Eban’s reporting in “The Truth About the Fast and Furious Scandal” showed that, in fact, the ATF never had a policy to permit gun trafficking. Yes, weapons made their way to Mexico, but it occurred because of lax laws and prosecutors who interpreted those laws so strictly as to make gun seizures almost impossible. To uncover the truth, Eban combed through 2,000 pages of confidential ATF documents and interviewed 39 people, including seven agents involved in the case. In six months of exhaustive investigation, Eban persuaded the ATF agents at the heart of the case—including the leader of the team at issue, who had never spoken to the press before—to give their accounts. She then crafted a riveting narrative that exposed the hypocrisy of the political maneuverings around the business of selling and using guns. Most important, the article explained exactly why our system fails to stop weapons from being trafficked. Befitting the charged subject, Fortune’s article provoked an unprecedented wave of response on its website, national media attention, considerable fury from gun advocates—the FBI investigated threats made to Eban after the article appeared—and angry objections from figures who came in for criticism in the story. Rep. Darrell Issa and Sen. Charles Grassley, both leading figures in the congressional investigation, devoted a 49-page appendix to a congressional report, with an additional 140 pages of allegedly supporting documents, to try to rebut the story. And an ostensible ATF whistleblower whose allegations were challenged by Eban’s reporting filed suit against Fortune’s publisher. In the end, the best stories—and the ones that contradict a universally held view—often stir up the most anger.
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