(Updates below - Update I: NYT matches AP's obliviousness; Update II: In latest article by Star-Telegram, "former head of the FBI in Dallas who was in charge of the agency's investigation of the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing" slams Service Service's actions at rally.)
On Thursday, I wrote about a frightening lapse in security at Wednesday's Obama rally in Dallas. Reporter Jack Douglas Jr. of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram broke the story and has since written a follow-up, to which he updated yesterday. I noted on Thursday that the mainstream media (with the exception of UPI) had completely ignored this story, which has largely continued, with the Associated Press going so far as to publish an article Friday titled "Many Blacks Worry About Obama's Safety" yet without referencing in the piece what had occurred at Wednesday's Dallas rally. Friday's broadcast of NBC Nightly News did mention an alleged breach of security, but the report - a shoddy piece of journalism driven solely by the Secret Service's official denial - was summarily tacked on to the end of a separate report on the Obama campaign. Additionally, in comments left on Douglas' articles on the Star-Telegram's website (one of which he published in his follow-up) and other sites around the web (including this one), people have provided firsthand accounts of the same type of lax security at Obama rallies throughout the country (yes, they need to be corroborated, but they reveal a pattern of lax security that also demands further investigation into this matter).
First, an exploration of the insufficient Secret Service response to these charges, followed by the deplorable NBC Nightly News segment and then a brief reminder of who controls the Secret Service.
Secret Service Denies Security Lapse
Jack Douglas' follow-up includes the Secret Service's denial of any security breach:
"There were no security lapses at that venue," said Eric Zahren, a spokesman for the Secret Service in Washington. He added there was "no deviation" from the "comprehensive and layered" security plan, implemented in "very close cooperation with our law enforcement partners."
Zahren rebutted suggestions by several Dallas police officers at the rally who thought the Secret Service ordered a halt to the time-consuming weapons check because long lines were moving slowly, and many seats remained empty as time neared for Obama to appear.
"It was never a part of the plan at this particular venue to have each and every person in the crowd pass through the Magnetometer," said Zahren, referring to the device used to detect metal in clothing and bags.
So basic checks, the kind performed at any major sporting or music event, were never "part of the plan"? If such checks can be carried out for, say, 20,000 people at a Springsteen concert or 50,000 at a Yankee game, why is it too much to expect the same for our nation's leading Democratic presidential candidate?
Douglas goes to report that Zahren "declined to give the reason for checking people for weapons at the front of the lines and letting those farther back go in without inspection."
"We would not want, by providing those details, to have people trying to derive ways in which they could defeat the security at any particular venue," Zahren said.
Sure, he wouldn't want to tip off those would-be criminal masterminds to what thousands of people across the country already know: that (at least up until now) arriving late and hanging in the back of the line is the surest way to enter without being checked for a weapon.
The article ends with unique spin from the Dallas police brass:
Lt. V.L. Hale III, a spokesman for the Dallas Police Department, said in a statement Friday that he would not comment on security measures at the Obama rally except to say there was no arrest or incident and that it was a "success from a police standpoint."
So according to Dallas Police Department officials (as opposed to the officers who were shocked and alarmed by the lapse in security), no one actually getting shot or blown up is a "success." Of course, that's not success, but luck.
In Douglas' updated article, he reports on an additional bit of PR spin, provided by a "lawyer and consultant for security concerns," who, unwittingly, seems to confirm a security lapse did indeed occur.
The Secret Service may have been doing all it could at the rally, said Keith Howse, a lawyer and consultant for security concerns and a former assistant police chief for the sprawling Baylor Health Care System.
Howse, who was not at the rally, said the Secret Service may have been screening the people closest to the candidate while letting others go in unchecked who were seated far away in the spacious, 17,000-seat arena.
"It may have ended up not being the best of all worlds, but it might not have been a flat-out security breach," he said, adding: "I think it's important to understand that the Secret Service would not sink below minimum protection" for a presidential candidate.
Settling for making the possible future President of the United States merely a slightly harder target is an acceptable level of security? Doesn't Obama, as well as Hillary Clinton and John McCain, deserve "the best of all worlds" when it comes to federal protection? (Incidentally, I'd be interested to know if Douglas contacted Howse, or if Howse contacted him unsolicited - and if so, if Howse is working in the capacity of security consultant and council for the Dallas Police Department in this matter, or, possibly, even in that role for the Secret Service in this particular case.)
NBC Nightly News Coverage of the "Alleged" Security Breach
Brian Williams spared 75 seconds for this story on Friday night. He sounded annoyed while framing it for his viewers, his voice betraying an utter lack of curiosity. Williams' handling of this segment displayed the worst of network news: a failure to frame a story with intellectual honesty or to ask and follow up on the most glaringly obvious questions. NBC may have been better off taking its competitors' lead and ignoring this news altogether. Instead, this lame effort turned out to be even more insulting - to its viewers, to the safety of a potential future president, and to journalism in general.