Leading off Wednesday's NBC Nightly News, anchor Brian Williams could barely conceal his contempt for Attorney General Eric Holder being held in contempt by the House Government Oversight Committee: "Washington has blown up into a caustic partisan fight....And for those not following the complexities of all of it, it just looks like more of our broken politics and vicious fights now out in the open."
NBC News should be included in the category of "those not following the complexities of all of it" when it comes to covering the Fast and Furious gun running scandal at the heart of the contempt charge. Wednesday night marked the first full story the network offered on the subject, having completely ignored the controversy until June 12, with a 30-second mention of the failed operation at the end of a report.
Despite Williams's dismissive introduction on Wednesday, the report that followed by correspondent Kelly O'Donnell was fairly straightforward, explaining: "House Republicans say they have been waiting for eight months to get documents from the Attorney General and only today the White House stepped in. A key committee took an important step toward sending a message to the Department of Justice."
The ABC and CBS evening newscasts covered the contempt vote as well, however, neither saw fit to make it the lead story. It was particularly stunning that ABC's World News decided to lead with two reports on the weather before getting to the growing Obama administration scandal.
For ABC, it was the first time the network devoted any air time to Fast and Furious, a fact made obvious by the amount of catch-up reporting done by correspondent Jake Tapper. In his report, a clip played of Tapper interviewing President Obama on October 8, 2011 and describing the botched gun running as a "big scandal." Despite such an assertion, that question and Obama's response had never been aired on the network before Wednesday night.
The CBS Evening News led with news about the economy, but then devoted two full reports to the Holder contempt vote and a background on Fast and Furious. CBS has stood out in being the only one of the Big Three networks to actually provide detailed coverage of the scandal. In fact, it took 482 days for NBC and ABC to catch up to CBS and provide their first full reports on Fast and Furious.
Here is a full transcript of the June 20 NBC Nightly News coverage:
7:00PM ET TEASE:
BRIAN WILLIAMS: On our broadcast tonight, In contempt. The U.S. Attorney General in a huge fight with Congress over a gun case gone wrong. Now it's a showdown with the White House over executive privilege. And it's a story still developing.
7:01PM ET SEGMENT:
WILLIAMS: Good evening, while the rest of the nation watches, Washington has blown up into a caustic partisan fight and a showdown is coming over the power of the American president. Just tonight, a House committee voted to hold President Obama's attorney general, Eric Holder, in contempt of Congress for refusing to turn over documents related to a badly botched sting operation involving guns and drugs in Mexico, called Fast and Furious.
This contempt vote comes after the Obama White House, for the first time, invoked executive privilege. Charges of stonewalling and coverups are flying, the kind of stuff we first learned during the Watergate era. And for those not following the complexities of all of it, it just looks like more of our broken politics and vicious fights now out in the open. We begin tonight with our Capitol Hill correspondent Kelly O'Donnell, who was there to see all of it today. Kelly, good evening.
KELLY O'DONNELL: Good evening, Brian. There were emotions and allegations of political motives flying today. House Republicans say they have been waiting for eight months to get documents from the Attorney General and only today the White House stepped in. A key committee took an important step toward sending a message to the Department of Justice. A rare and serious reprimand.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN [HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES]: 23 Ayes, 17 nos.
DARRELL ISSA [REP. R-CA]: The ayes have it.
O'DONNELL: Eric Holder could become the first attorney general ever held in contempt of Congress.
ISSA: The Attorney General has refused to cooperate.
O'DONNELL: Five months before the election, a power struggle between the Obama administration and Congress.
JASON CHAFFETZ [REP. R-UT]: It shouldn't have come to this. Nobody likes doing this.
CAROLYN MALONEY [REP. D-NY]: It shouldn't be a political witch hunt against the attorney general of our country and our president in an election year.
O'DONNELL: Today the White House asserted executive privilege to shield documents from Congress. For more than a year, the House Oversight Committee has been investigating an operation known as Fast and Furious. Federal agents had allowed guns to cross into Mexico, intending to track them to cartels. But some of those U.S. weapons were found at the scene where Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry was killed in 2010.
SCOTT DESJARLAIS [REP. R-TN]: I don't think Agent Terry's family cares that it's an election year. I don't think the families of over 200 slain Mexican citizens care that this is an election year.
O'DONNELL: Operation Fast and Furious was ended by Attorney General Holder, who has testified and already provided thousands of documents. The conflict with Congress began because the Justice Department initially denied those gun-walking tactics had been used.
TREY GOWDY [REP. R-SC]: I can give them this.
O'DONNELL: That denial raised many questions about who had authorized the operation.
DAN BURTON [REP. R-IN]: Who knew about Fast and Furious? When did they know about it? And how high up did it go?
O'DONNELL: The White House insists Holder has made extraordinary efforts to cooperate. The Attorney General called the contempt citation a "divisive" "election-year tactic." Democrats defended Holder.
ELIJAH CUMMINGS [REP. D-MD]: For the past year, you've been holding the Attorney General to an impossible standard. You accused him of a cover-up for protecting documents that he was prohibited by law from producing.
O'DONNELL: The White House noted today that presidents of both parties have used executive privilege to protect some of their internal conversations. House Republicans say there's still time to avoid this and negotiate a deal, but they still want what they call a narrow list of documents. Brian, if there is no breakthrough, Speaker Boehner says the full House of Representatives will vote next week to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress. Brian.
WILLIAMS: Kelly O'Donnell starting us off from Capitol Hill tonight. Kelly, thanks.