Fox's “Straight News” Division Decides: Gibson Guitars Appears Not To Have Done “Any Illegal Logging”

Following up on a series of one-sided reports suggesting that the Department of Justice's investigation of Gibson Guitar over charges of illegal logging was unwarranted, Fox News senior national correspondent John Roberts has now explicitly declared: "[T]here doesn't appear to be any illegal logging here."

HEMMER: What do they say is behind all this John?

ROBERTS: It is an amendment to the 1900 Lacey Act that was passed in 2008 to help protect against any illegal logging. But there doesn't appear to be any illegal logging here. The Indian government says that they wood that it exported to Gibson and other luthiers across the country is legal. But the U.S. government says “No it's not legal to import into the United States.” This of course has created a massive amount of confusion. So much so that the National Association of Music Merchants wrote a letter to the president and to members of Congress complaining about the “unintended consequences of the Lacey Act that we feel are damaging to our industry and the economy.” I asked Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee about that. He was a cosponsor of the 2008 amendment. He told me that “some changes may be needed here.”

Fox's coverage on the Gibson Guitar's case has been skewed from the very beginning and Roberts' report is the logical culmination of its coverage so far.

An affidavit filed by career Fish and Wildlife Service official John Rayfield spells out the government's case for searching Gibson property, as Reuters reported on August 25. The affidavit details a recent shipment of Indian ebony wood that was intercepted by Customs officials for possible Lacey Act violations and referred to the Fish and Wildlife Service. The Customs entry form listed California importer Luthier Mercantile International as the final destination for the shipment, when in fact, it was bound for Nashville for Gibson Guitars, according to the affidavit.

But that wasn't the only problem. The affidavit states that the Customs form falsely labeled the wood as veneer sheets and listed a false tariff code “to match the false description.” The Indian export declaration also allegedly misrepresented the shipment, classifying it under the tariff code for finished parts of musical instruments. The reason this matters is that, according to the affidavit, veneer sheets (less than 6mm) and finished parts are legal to export under Indian law, but unfinished wood larger than 6mm is not. Juszkiewicz contends that the U.S. government has misinterpreted Indian law.

But rather than ascertain the facts, Fox has portrayed the case as an attack against Gibson Guitar's CEO Henry Juszkiewicz for his political leanings. In fact, Bret Baier, host of Fox News' Special Report has stated, “There is an element of politics here. The CEO of Gibson Guitars is a Republican who has donated to the Republican campaigns.”

However, Juszkiewicz's political donations do not indicate that he is a major Republican donor. The case has also been used as a platform to push GOP talking points on government regulations.

And now Roberts has determined that Gibson apparently did not violate the law. One wonders how he came to that reasoned opinion: Long hours of research into U.S. law? A trip to India to research Indian law on the subject? A close examination of the Fish and Wildlife Service affidavit?

Or is it just Fox's default position the Obama administration must be wrong, a position that is held by both its opinion and its supposedly “straight news” divisions?