ATF Special Agent John Dodson sent a letter via his attorney Robert Driscoll to Fortune Magazine on Friday asking them to retract their June 2012 story “The Truth About Fast and Furious” by Katherine Eban. Dodson was one of the agents that blew the whistle on Operation Fast and Furious. The letter was sent after the Inspector General Michael Horowitz’s report came out last week and cleared him of any wrongdoing.
As you are likely aware, the Justice Department Inspector General has now issued his exhaustive report about Operation Fast and Furious (the “IG Report”). Given its findings, it is clear that Ms. Eban’s purported finding of “the truth” was far from it, and in fact is demonstrably false in many respects. A retraction is in order to correct the record.
Though the story remains posted at CNNMoney.com, it has also been called to be retracted by the House Oversight Committee:
“The Fortune story was irresponsible journalism. It presented highly biased accounts as undisputed and selectively omitted key known facts that undermined the author’s conclusions,” Frederick R. Hill, a spokesman for the House Oversight Committee, wrote in an email. “Eban’s story wrongly smeared agency whistleblowers and foolishly accepted as fact contentions from a tainted source that guns were never walked.”
The main thrust of Ms. Eban’s article is set forth in its sub-headline: “A Fortune investigation reveals that the ATF never intentionally allowed guns to fall into the hands of Mexican drug cartels.” At a minimum, Fortune was on notice that this conclusion was dubious at the time the article was published, as this conclusion had already been publicly contradicted not only by the whistleblowers who had first-hand knowledge of Fast and Furious, but also by the White House, Attorney General Eric Holder, ATF Director Kenneth Melson, and the majority and minority staff reports of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.
However, for reasons known only to Fortune and Ms. Eban, Ms. Eban’s article simply parroted the very position the Justice Department took at the outset of the Fast and Furious scandal – that ATF had attempted to interdict weapons when it had legal authority to do so and had not intentionally allowed the purchase and transfer of guns to Mexico by suspected straw purchasers. Of course, the Justice Department, after almost a year but well before this article was published, retracted its own statement to that effect after acknowledging it was false.
The irony of the next sentence of Ms. Eban’s sub-headline in support of her conclusion that guns were never walked was apparently lost on her: “How the world came to believe just the opposite is a tale of rivalry, murder, and political bloodlust.” By the time of publication, those who had come “to believe just the opposite” included the White House, Justice Department, ATF and both houses of Congress. Regardless, Ms. Eban pressed on with her “tale” based largely on one source.
Fortune, for its part, chose to become involved in the investigation of Fast and Furious, and through this article became involved in the Justice Department’s and ATF’s efforts to conceal the truth about the Fast and Furious scandal from the public. In early 2011, the Justice Department and ATF publicly denied any wrongdoing. Agent Dodson then came forward and publicly affirmed the deliberate recklessness of Fast and Furious. For that brave act, he paid a significant price. Within days, certain officials within the Justice Department and ATF began a protracted campaign of harassment and intimidation against Agent Dodson to prevent the full disclosure of this operation.
Ms. Eban sourced her investigation to at least one of those officials, and made some of the same allegations he and other officials made against Agent Dodson after he blew the whistle on Fast and Furious. As her sub-headline clearly provides, Ms. Eban concluded that Agent Dodson’s whistleblowing was replete with false statements. Significantly, well over a year ago, Agent Dodson became aware of threats to criminally charge him for making false statements shortly after he blew the whistle.
Ms. Eban also concluded that the schism amongst the group was due to Agent Dodson’s and other whistleblowers’ petty grievances, and further concluded that Agent Dodson actually supported gun walking. Agent Dodson became aware of those allegations after the Justice Department and ATF disclosed confidential documents in an attempt to discredit him.
Operation Fast and Furious is a high profile story that has been covered by numerous reporters, and reporters regularly reach conclusions with which people disagree. However, no reputable media outlet asserted such opinions as undisputed “facts” in support of conclusions as patently false as Fortune’s “The truth about the Fast and Furious scandal.” An independent review of the story might determine why, but it is exceedingly clear at this point that the story can no longer stand.
Fortune is a respected publication and has in large part earned that respect. I therefore ask you, as the editor of Fortune, to retract this story in its entirety. Please let me know when you have done so or, if you choose not to, please explain why.
Let’s see if Fortune or CNNMoney.com have any integrity at all and remove the story. I’m doubting they will.