In his weekly “Stories I’d like to see” column, journalist and entrepreneur Steven Brill spotlights topics that, in his opinion, have received insufficient media attention. This article was originally published on Reuters.com.
1. Fast and Furious - zeroing in on Fortune’s different take:
Last week Fortune magazine published this surprising story that convincingly debunks the premise of the so-called Fast and Furious “gun walking” scandal that has enveloped the Justice Department’s Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) and Attorney General Eric Holder. Last week the controversy resulted in a contempt of Congress citation against Holder for not turning over documents about the case to a congressional committee chaired by Darrell Issa, the California Republican.
According to a ton of reporting done by Fortune’s Katherine Eban, including on-the-record interviews with many of the ATF agents involved and what Fortune says were more than 2,000 pages of explosive internal government emails and other documents, ATF agents did not deliberately allow American gun buyers working for Mexican drug cartels to “walk” assault rifles across the border to the drug gangs. Rather, the agents were carefully tracking the gun buyers and wanted to intercept and arrest them. They were stopped because prosecutors said that loopholes in gun record-keeping laws—loopholes that have long been protected by the gun rights advocates who are now leading the attack against ATF and Holder—and other constraints on ATF pushed by the gun lobby were such that prosecutors said the agents did not have enough probable cause to make the arrests.
In fact, according to Eban’s reporting, the one ATF agent who has been the key whistleblower and protagonist for Representative Issa’s charges that ATF deliberately let the drug cartels get the guns turns out to be the only agent who actually suggested that ATF do so in a separate case.
Of course, last week was buried in coverage of the Supreme Court’s Obamacare decision, but it’s still surprising that the Fortune story has not received the broad follow-up it deserves.
First, if true, it makes Issa’s attack on ATF and Holder one big “never mind.”
Second, if true, it makes Holder’s concession months ago that ATF did, in fact, intentionally allow Fast and Furious guns into the hands of the cartels either amazingly uninformed or an equally amazing knee buckling and sell-out of his agency in a fruitless effort to avoid a fight with Issa and his Republican allies. Fortune’s Eban explains it this way: The Obama administration “capitulated in an apparent effort to avoid a rhetorical battle over gun control in the run-up to the presidential election.” Her article also raises questions about why Democrats on Issa’s committee, who have opposed his tactics and his contempt motion, didn’t fight back using the same emails that Eban uncovered. (Despite the contempt citation against Holder for withholding some documents, the committee has already received thousands of other documents.)
The Fortune article is also a strong indictment of CBS’s 60 Minutes, which made a hero out of the ATF agent whom Fortune portrays as a rogue while making villains out of Fortune’s good-guy agents.
Someone needs to wade through all of this. And until that happens, for my money the Fortune piece is credible enough that the rest of the press needs, despite Holder’s own hapless admission, to stop referring to the charge of Fast and Furious gun walking and the deliberate planting of guns with Mexican drug gangsters as a fact.
2. ICANN’s $350 million bonanza:
Since its formation in 1998, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, or ICANN, has been the U.S. government’s way of outsourcing to the private sector basic Internet housekeeping questions, such as who gets what domain names and addresses. With a multinational board made up of Internet visionaries (or busybodies, depending on your point of view), ICANN has suffered its share of controversy but has generally been regarded in the press as better than the alternative of having a government bureaucracy—either ours or one set up by the United Nations—play Internet hall monitor.
Well, that may be changing. Earlier this year, ICANN announced that it would accept applications for thousands of new top-level domain names to add to the few, like “.com” or “.org,” that we’re all familiar with. Last month, ICANN released the list of applicants for names such as “.apps,” “.blog,” “.music,” and “.books.” As this report from NPR explains, the organization received 1,930 such applications for which it charged $185,000 each. Thus, it’s no surprise that big corporations like Google, with 101 applications, and Amazon, with 76, dominated the process.
At $185,000 each, 1,930 applications adds up to $357 million. That’s a lot of money for a non-profit to be raking in. In fact, this bonanza looks more like a Pentagon earmark than a can-do, high-tech, do-good venture.