As CBS News investigates "gun walking" allegations -- that ATF let thousands assault rifles and other weapons get into the hands of criminal suspects -- ATF bosses have remained largely silent.
We've had ongoing requests for information and on camera interviews with both ATF and the Department of Justice since prior to our first report which aired Feb. 22.
A similar lack of response has been reported by Senator Charles Grassley, who has asked for documents and briefings from ATF.
Now, we learn that after our Feb. 22 report, ATF's Chief Public Affairs officer sent an all-call internal memo to ATF Public Information Officers in an effort to "lessen the coverage of such stories in the news cycle by replacing them with good stories about ATF."
The memo asks ATF PIO's to "Please make every effort in the next two weeks to maximize coverage of ATF operations/enforcement actions/arrests at the local and regional level" in hopes it would drown out the "negative coverage by CBS News."
At the time, the memo noted "Fortunately, the CBS story has not sparked any follow up coverage by mainstream media and seems to have fizzled."
However, last night, CBS News continued reporting on this issue and will be staying on the story.
Read the full ATF internal memo below:
Public Information Officers:
Please make every effort for the next two weeks to maximize coverage of ATF operations/enforcement actions/arrests at the local and regional level. Given the negative coverage by CBS Evening News last week and upcoming events this week, the bureau should look for every opportunity to push coverage of good stories. Fortunately, the CBS story has not sparked any follow up coverage by mainstream media and seems to have fizzled.
It was shoddy reporting , as CBS failed to air on-the-record interviews by former ATF officials and HQ statements for attribution that expressed opposing views and explained the law and difficulties of firearm trafficking investigations. The CBS producer for the story made only a feigned effort at the 11th hour to reach ATF HQ for comment.
This week (To 3/1/2011), Attorney General Holder testifies on the Hill and likely will get questions about the allegations in the story. Also (The 3/3/2011), Mexico President Calderon will visit the White House and likely will testify on the Hill. He will probably draw attention to the lack of political support for demand letter 3 and Project Gunrunner.
ATF needs to proactively push positive stories this week, in an effort to preempt some negative reporting, or at minimum, lessen the coverage of such stories in the news cycle by replacing them with good stories about ATF. The more time we spend highlighting the great work of the agents through press releases and various media outreaches in the coming days and weeks, the better off we will be.
Thanks for your cooperation in this matter. If you have any significant operations that should get national media coverage, please reach out to the Public Affairs Division for support, coordination and clearance.
Scot L. Thomasson
Chief ATF Public Affairs Division