Probing Bachmann, Palin, and Gingrich, NBC's Investigative Unit Ignores Obama's ATF Debacle

July 18th, 2011 4:46 PM

The NBC News Investigative Unit has devoted considerable resources to uncovering "scandals" ranging from Marcus Bachmann's health clinic to Newt Gingrich's credit line at Tiffany to the Sarah Palin document dump, but continues to ignore a botched Justice Department operation that contributed to the death of a U.S. border agent.

Examining the trove of reports filed by NBC News national investigative correspondent Michael Isikoff over the last few months reveals a fixation on investigations involving Republican politicians and an aversion to probes concerning the Obama administration, even as other media outlets expose the controversial ATF practice of letting guns purchased in America slip across the U.S.-Mexico border in hopes the trail would lead federal agents to drug kingpins.

Just days before Rep. Darrell Issa's (R-Calif.) investigation into operation "Fast and Furious" went unreported on the NBC "Nightly News," Isikoff flew to Juneau, Alaska to aimlessly scour newly-released emails during Sarah Palin's time as governor. Even MSNBC anchor Chris Matthews described Isikoff as "feverishly pouring over those documents."

As it turned out, the documents produced no scandals, forcing Isikoff to admit his Al Capone's vault moment: "So far, I don't think anybody's found any bombshells here." So uninteresting, the Palin investigation never even made it into the correspondent's online archive, dubbed the "Isikoff Files."

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Something else that won't be found in Isikoff's tome of probes is a thorough investigation into the role the ATF's gun-walking practices played in the slaying of U.S. Border Agent Brian Terry, who was killed in a firefight with Mexican drug cartel members in December. As CBS reported, two of the guns found at the crime scene were part of thousands the ATF allegedly allowed gunrunners to purchase and smuggle into Mexico.

While a flawed Obama administration operation that reportedly contributed to the death of a U.S. border agent failed to interest NBC's Investigative Unit, the $137,000 in Medicaid funds paid to Michele Bachmann's husband's health clinic deserved coverage simply because Bachmann "has forcefully denounced the Medicaid program for swelling the 'welfare rolls'." Apparently Isikoff thinks it's scandalous that instead of depriving poor people of health care, Marcus Bachmann accepted government funds.

When news broke that Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich's credit line at Tiffany and Co. was actually $1 million, not the initially reported $500,000, Isikoff drilled down on the former House Speaker's spending habits. "For Newt Gingrich, there is no end to the bad news," read Isikoff's lede in a June 22 story that was clearly more deserving of the intrepid correspondent's time than the ATF's perilous gun-smuggling operation that is the subject of a congressional investigation.

The latest development that NBC's Investigative Unit has failed to follow up on is that the Justice Department, in response to the backlash over operation "Fast and Furious," announced on July 11 that gun shop owners in four southwestern states were now required to report frequent purchasers of automatic weapons to federal authorities.

In April, NBC's Chris Hansen mentioned the ATF operation in passing and toward the end of an undercover investigation, during which the "Dateline" correspondent spoke with people caught up in the Mexican drug war. "The ATF told us it's investigating," Hansen reported tersely.

To rummage through the "Isikoff Files" for yourself, click here. To comb over all of the NBC Investigative Unit's reports, click here.

--Alex Fitzsimmons is a News Analysis intern at the Media Research Center. Click here to follow him on Twitter.