George Graham

You Can’t Believe Anything You Hear These Days

I have to confess: I lied to my wife. I didn’t mean to, but a lie is a lie. All I can say in my defense is: it wasn’t my fault. But that’s what all of us men say, isn’t it?

Here’s what happened.

Sandra asked me what the fuss over “Fast and Furious” was about, and I glibly repeated what the media have been reporting all these months. I told her the government was deliberately selling guns to Mexican drug dealers in order to catch the criminals by tracking the ID numbers on the guns. At least that’s what I understood the media to be saying.

I should have known something was wrong with that story.

“That doesn’t make sense,” Sandra said right away. “I don’t believe it.”

She was right, of course.

As I found out a few hours later when a journalist named Katherine Eban showed up on TV to explain what really happened.

The story I heard was just another lie ballyhooed by the Republicans in Congress to discredit the president and his administration. There was no government operation that called for selling guns to Mexican drug dealers. “Fast and Furious” was actually a program designed to track “straw” buyers suspected of buying guns for resale to criminals.

Ms. Eban  had written a Fortune Magazine article, revealing that “the ATF never intentionally allowed guns to fall into the hands of Mexican drug cartels.” The introduction to her article declared:

A Fortune investigation reveals that the ATF never intentionally allowed guns to fall into the hands of Mexican drug cartels. How the world came to believe just the opposite is a tale of rivalry, murder, and political bloodlust.

Here’s what happened, as Ms. Eban tells it:

In 2009 the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives promoted Dave Voth  to lead Phoenix Group VII, one of seven new ATF groups along the Southwest border tasked with stopping guns from being trafficked into Mexico’s vicious drug war….

The Sinaloa drug cartel had made Phoenix its gun supermarket and recruited young Americans as its designated shoppers or straw purchasers. Voth and his agents began investigating a group of buyers, some not even old enough to buy beer, whose members were plunking down as much as $20,000 in cash to purchase up to 20 semiautomatics at a time, and then delivering the weapons to others.

On Dec. 14, 2010, a tragic event rewrote the narrative of the investigation. In a remote stretch of Peck Canyon, Ariz., Mexican bandits attacked an elite U.S. Border Patrol unit and killed an agent named Brian Terry. The attackers fled, leaving behind two semiautomatic rifles. A trace of the guns’ serial numbers revealed that the weapons had been purchased 11 months earlier at a Phoenix-area gun store by a Fast and Furious suspect.

Ten weeks later, an ATF agent named John Dodson, whom Voth had supervised, made startling allegations on the CBS Evening News. He charged that his supervisors had intentionally allowed American firearms to be trafficked—a tactic known as “walking guns”—to Mexican drug cartels. Dodson claimed that supervisors repeatedly ordered him not to seize weapons because they wanted to track the guns into the hands of criminal ringleaders. The program showed internal e-mails from Voth, which purportedly revealed agents locked in a dispute over the deadly strategy. The guns permitted to flow to criminals, the program charged, played a role in Terry’s death.

After the CBS broadcast, Fast and Furious erupted as a major scandal for the Obama administration. The story has become a fixture on Fox News and the subject of numerous reports in media outlets from CNN to the New York Times. The furor has prompted repeated congressional hearings—with U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder testifying multiple times—dueling reports from congressional committees, and an ongoing investigation by the Justice Department’s inspector general. It has led to the resignations of the acting ATF chief, the U.S. Attorney in Arizona, and his chief criminal prosecutor.

As you probably know by now, it also led to the House of Representatives voting to hold Attorney General Eric Holder (above, left) in contempt of Congress because he failed to turn over a torrent of documents fast enough to suit Rep. Darrell Issa’s Committee on Oversight and Government Reform (above, right).

So how did I get the idea that the Obama administration was deliberately supplying drug lords with guns? Here’s how Ms. Eban explains it:

Quite simply, there’s a fundamental misconception at the heart of the Fast and Furious scandal. Nobody disputes that suspected straw purchasers under surveillance by the ATF repeatedly bought guns that eventually fell into criminal hands. Issa and others charge that the ATF intentionally allowed guns to walk as an operational tactic. But five law-enforcement agents directly involved in Fast and Furious tell Fortune that the ATF had no such tactic. They insist they never purposefully allowed guns to be illegally trafficked. Just the opposite: They say they seized weapons whenever they could but were hamstrung by prosecutors and weak laws, which stymied them at every turn.

Indeed, a six-month Fortune investigation reveals that the public case alleging that Voth and his colleagues walked guns is replete with distortions, errors, partial truths, and even some outright lies. Fortune reviewed more than 2,000 pages of confidential ATF documents and interviewed 39 people, including seven law-enforcement agents with direct knowledge of the case. Several, including Voth, are speaking out for the first time.

How Fast and Furious reached the headlines is a strange and unsettling saga, one that reveals a lot about politics and media today. It’s a story that starts with a grudge, specifically Dodson’s anger at Voth. After the terrible murder of agent Terry, Dodson made complaints that were then amplified, first by right-wing bloggers, then by CBS. Rep. Issa and other politicians then seized those elements to score points against the Obama administration…

So some disgruntled agent lies to get back at his boss, CBS picks up the story without checking it out, and the Obama haters pounce on it as ammunition.

Rubbing its hands with glee, Fortune Magazine declares:

‘Fast And Furious’ Just Might Be President Obama’s Watergate.

Meanwhile, the rest of the media blindly repeat the calumny without bothering to find out the facts. I don’t think that would have happened in my days in the newsroom. If a story didn’t make sense, we gave it a skeptical second look before running it.

But not today.

Today it’s the lies that come fast and furious. And they get repeated over and over – often embellished to advance the agenda of the TV station or whatever repeating it.

The days of credible news reporting seem to be gone for good.

I should have taken this into account before repeating nonsense to my wife.

Click here to read the Fortune Magazine article.

About the author


I am a Jamaican-born writer who has lived and worked in Canada and the United States. I live in Lakeland, Florida with my wife, Sandra, our three cats and two dogs. I like to play golf and enjoy our garden, even though it's a lot of work. Since retiring from newspaper reporting I've written a few books. I also write a monthly column for