In August 2011, when I first read The Washington Times article, “Was CIA behind Operation Fast & Furious?,” by Robert Farago and Ralph Dixon, I was waiting on the edge of my seat for the scandal to ignite in the media, at least on the right. From arming the Sinaloa drug cartel, to laundering money for them and allowing their drugs in the country, to attempting a cover-up, the Obama administration was overseeing nefarious activity with all the makings of an Iran-Contra and Watergate combined. When the scandal failed to explode, I started to smell a rat. At first I figured the Republicans were neutered because the roots of the overarching Project Gunrunner reached back into the Bush Administration, but when the media, particularly The Wall Street Journal and FOX News, failed adequately to elucidate the clear distinctions between Bush’s operations and Obama’s and failed to expose Operation Fast & Furious for all that it was, I started to believe the fix was in.
As I saw Obama’s Attorney General Eric Holder lie to the Senate then lie about lying then get caught in both lies, I waited avidly for The Journal to show up at my doorstep so I could see the in-your-face lambasting Holder so richly deserved. I would rip open the paper and turn page after page looking for The Big Story only to find a single paragraph buried deep or, more often, nothing at all. Likewise my daily searches of FOX.com resulted in nothing, or very little, on Operation Fast & Furious.
I would have given these outlets the benefit of the doubt and generously chalked up the scant coverage to journalistic circumspection with respect to accusations of gun-running, cash-laundering and drug-trafficking, but Eric Holder lied to the Senate in person and in writing and was caught dead to rights. There was no doubt as to the facts at issue yet the story was handled with kid gloves throughout News Corp media. Holder was ultimately held in contempt of Congress for stonewalling the investigation–another item that, curiously, was not used to political advantage by the Republican establishment.
The soft-pedaling of Operation Fast & Furious was so obvious to me I started to wonder if President Obama had something on Rupert Murdoch, the founder and CEO of News Corp, the parent company of both FOX and The Journal. At that time, Murdoch was in deep trouble in London because of a phone hacking scandal in which a News Corp paper tapped into the voice mail of a teen murder victim, and I wondered if perhaps a News Corp entity had engaged in the same practice on this side of the pond. Digging in a little yielded pay dirt: Murdoch’s paper was suspected of hacking voice mails here too–and of 9/11 victims no less.
Numerous senators and congressmen wanted blood and 9/11 families wanted justice. All demanded Murdoch be held accountable for the crimes. Attorney General Holder obligingly and publicly opened an investigation of Rupert Murdoch for suspected 9/11 phone hacking in July 2011. News reports abound from July and August 2011 of Holder’s pursuit of Murdoch, and then…silence. The investigation vanished. And it’s not as if the scandal had no legs. It was pretty clear Murdoch’s paper was as guilty here as it was in the UK, and the investigation in the UK cost Murdoch, his company and his family dearly. As a matter of fact, the scandal resulted in, among other things, the closure of News Corp’s 160+ year old newspaper, News of the World, and resignations or arrests of high-ranking executives of News Corp companies Dow Jones and News International, as well as editors of News of the World.
When I saw that the timing of Holder’s investigation and its total lack of follow-up coincided exactly with the non-coverage of Operation Fast & Furious by News Corp, I was convinced that Holder and Murdoch engaged in a little quid pro quo the likes of which Murdoch was well-known for in the UK. I figured Murdoch had his companies back off Obama and Holder and, in return, Holder backed off Murdoch and his companies.
This week my suspicions were bolstered afresh when I stumbled upon an article* by Zev Chafets introducing his new book, Off Camera, about Roger Ailes, president of FOX News. Chafets reports:
In the fall of 2011, Roger Ailes told journalist Howard Kurtz that he was turning down the partisan heat at the network. Ailes didn’t say so, but he had already decided that, in the interest of a more moderate tone, he would have to get rid of Glenn Beck.
I ask you, did CNN adopt a “more moderate tone” in the fall of 2003 when the highly polarizing President Bush launched his re-election campaign? Of course not, they doubled down. This left turn in the fall of 2011 didn’t make sense for Ailes’ purported ideology and it didn’t make sense for his business. Glenn Beck’s popularity at the time was approaching Oprah Winfrey’s and since then Beck has broken the bank in terms of revenue generation.
The fact that Ailes’ decision to go easy on the Democrats coincided exactly with the threat (and its dissipation) of a potentially staggering case against Murdoch by Obama’s Justice Department suggests a deeper purpose and a broader strategy. A strategy that appears to have worked. You may recall that Obama repeatedly dressed down FOX News earlier in his first term and even tried to ban them from the White House Press Pool, but Obama no longer attacks FOX and Holder is not prosecuting Murdoch.
In the immortal worlds of Vladimir Lenin: “The best way to control the opposition is to lead it ourselves,” or, I would add, simply bring it to heel.
Works like a charm. . . . just ask Mitt Romney.
*February 24, 2016: I had reason to find this quote and when I googled and found the article, I noticed that it seemed different–then I recalled having written this article and double-checked. I cut and pasted this quote when the article first came out but it’s gone from the article now. Just FYI.