When Fox Didn't Care About Contempt Citations

Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

This morning, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee announced that Chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA) "has distributed a staff briefing paper and draft of the contempt of Congress resolution against Attorney General Eric Holder to Members of the Oversight Committee" due to the Justice Department's refusal to provide documents the Committee subpoenaed concerning the ATF's botched Operation Fast and Furious. Fox News has since run several segments on the potential contempt citation, in one case issuing a "Fox News Alert" about the "bombshell developments" in the "big story" before conducting an extensive interview with Issa himself:

Given that Fox's The O'Reilly Factor and On The Record each ran segments on reports that such a citation had been drafted on Friday, this coverage is likely to continue. By contrast, the network's primetime lineup provided minimal coverage in 2007, when then-House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers (D-MI) sought and received contempt citations against two senior aides to President Bush. The network devoted less than nine minutes of time to the story during its evening lineup.*

The eight minutes and fifty-six seconds of coverage the network provided regarding the House Judiciary Committee's citation of then-White House Chief of Staff Joshua Bolten and former White House Counsel Harriet Miers for contempt of Congress consisted of one news segment, two news briefs, and one panel discussion -- all on Special Report. Right-wing Fox hosts like John Gibson, Sean Hannity, and Bill O'Reilly did not weigh in on the story.

These instances are not perfectly analogous, but each involves contempt charges against senior administration officials whom a powerful committee chair of the other party alleged had failed to provide information to Congress that the chair believed Congress was entitled.

On June 13, 2007, the House Judiciary Committee issued subpoenas demanding documents from the White House and testimony from Miers with regard to the U.S. Attorneys scandal. On June 28, 2007, White House counsel Fred Fielding told the committee that the White House would not provide the documents, citing executive privilege, and stated that the president objected to Miers testifying for the same reason. In a second letter sent July 10, 2007, Fielding reiterated that President Bush would assert executive privilege in denying Congress the documents and said that the president had instructed Miers not to testify. Miers did not appear before the committee for its scheduled July 12, 2007, hearing.

On July 25, 2007, the House Judiciary Committee voted along party lines to cite Bolten and Miers for contempt of Congress (Bolten was cited due to the White House's refusal to provide subpoenaed documents). Conyers explained: "If we countenance a process where our subpoenas can be readily ignored, where a witness under a duly authorized subpoena doesn't even have to bother to show up, where privilege can be asserted on the thinnest basis and in the broadest possible manner, then we've already lost... We won't be able to get anybody in front of this committee or any other."

The resolution distributed today by Issa to the Oversight Committee's members finds Holder in contempt of Congress due to his "refusal... to produce documents" to the committee "as directed by subpoena." In response, a Justice Department official told CBS News, "We've done twice-a-month (document) productions since last year, and the Attorney General has testified about this matter no less than seven times." The Justice Department has refused to provide some documents subpoenaed by the committee, stating that they relate to ongoing criminal investigations or are deliberative materialsrelated to the Department's response to the Committee's investigation.

Media Matters previously documented that after Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, called for a special counsel to investigate whether Attorney General Eric Holder perjured himself during testimony, Fox's primetime shows devoted 43 minutes of coverage to the story in the three days. By contrast, Fox devoted less then 12 minutes of coverage in their first three broadcasts after Senate Democrats called for a special counsel to review then-Attorney General AlbertoGonzales' testimony about President Bush's domestic surveillance program in 2007.

Posted In
Justice & Civil Liberties, Guns
Network/Outlet
Fox News Channel
Stories/Interests
Guns, Operation Fast and Furious
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