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CBS Deceptively Edits Barr Interview, Leaving Out Key Details On Violent Riots, Police Oversight


Key details on violent riots near the White House were removed from the broadcast of an interview of Attorney General William Barr on CBS News’ “Face The Nation” Sunday. Anchor Margaret Brennan repeatedly described protests as “peaceful” and the clearing of protesters to set up a stronger perimeter as unnecessarily rushed, contentions Barr strongly denied.

Left out of the interview that aired on CBS on Sunday morning was Barr’s detailed accounting of much of the violent context of that perimeter expansion, including that “bricks and inflammable liquid” were being thrown at police in Lafayette Square near the White House as rioters “were trying to get entry” over the fences, the five dozen officers guarding Lafayette Square who were “lost” the night prior in the violence, and the individuals who at the time of their forced dispersal “wrestled with the police officers trying to tear their shields from them, in one case, struggling to get one of the police officer’s guns.”

Some of the most colorful descriptions of the violence facing police officers at Lafayette Square were clumsily spliced out of the middle of Barr’s answers to questions. The rather important detail about a protester trying to get a police officer’s guns was simply removed from the end of the interview. These remarks were edited out of an interview in which Barr said media mantras about Park Police facing peaceful protesters were lies.

“They were not peaceful protesters. And that’s one of the big lies that the- the media is- seems to be perpetuating at this point,” Barr said.

Also left out of the broadcast interview were Barr’s detailed comments on how to improve policing, ostensibly the biggest news issue in the country. Barr said that experience and research showed that “you can actually get more focused change and more real change by working in more collaboration with the police,” and that approaches taken in previous years “make the police pull back and actually lead to more death, more murders, more crime.”

“What’s happened in the past is that politicians can check the box by slapping a consent decree on the department. We’re not interested in gestures. We’re interested in getting real results and working with police chiefs and- and- and public safety directors and mayors who really do want to change the system,” Barr said.

Off To A Rough Start

The interview began with Brennan asking Barr about CBS’ claim that President Donald Trump ordered 10,000 active-duty military troops into the streets, based on a single, anonymous source.

“No, that’s completely false. That’s completely false,” Barr noted, repeatedly and explicitly. White House Director of Strategic Communications Alyssa Farah took to Twitter to further deny the report. “This is FALSE. I was in the mtg. @realDonaldTrump very clearly directed DOD to surge the National Guard – not active duty- after nights of vandalism & arson in DC,” she wrote.

Strong majorities of Americans support using the National Guard and the military to quell violent riots, but the media are strongly opposed to the use of the military in such circumstances or even the discussion of their use.

More Faulty Reporting

Brennan reported that Defense Secretary Mark Esper “publicly said that he opposed using the Insurrection Act.” Barr said, “I don’t think the Secretary of Defense said he opposed it. I think he said that it was a last resort and he didn’t think it was necessary. I think we all agree that it’s a last resort, but it’s ultimately the president’s decision. The- the reporting is completely false on this.”

Brennan taped the interview earlier on Sunday morning before it aired. When it aired, she went to the commercial break with a brief announcement that contained still more false reporting:

BRENNAN: I want to make sure to note that CBS News stands by our David Martin’s reporting. And we want to clarify here that the Secretary of Defense Esper does oppose the Insurrection Act. You can hear for yourself.

MARK ESPER: I do not support invoking the Insurrection Act.

First off, CBS did not explain why it stood by reporting from a single anonymous source that was rebutted by at least two eyewitness accounts on the record.

Secondly, Brennan’s characterization of the Insurrection Act debate is completely muddled and left out Esper’s actual words. The debate wasn’t over whether the senior advisors support or oppose the law of the land but whether they thought it should be invoked at the particular moment. Barr carefully noted that he and Esper didn’t think it should be used except “as a last resort.”

The full quote from Esper said just that: “The option to use active duty forces in a law enforcement role should only be used as a matter of last resort…”

Esper’s unedited quote didn’t rebut Barr’s characterization of the debate, but confirmed it.

History Of Military Use In States

About one quarter of Brennan’s full interview of Barr hit the cutting room floor. Editing for length is a routine practice in journalism. Later, CBS posted the full interview, revealing the editorial choices made by the media outlet. They are significant, particularly since so much of what aired was repetitious and built around anonymous reporting.

Edited out of the broadcast was Barr’s explanation of what constitutes a “last resort” and the history of using the military in the states, beginning with the country’s first president George Washington who “led the army into the field to suppress rebellion and insurrection in Pennsylvania in the very first term of his administration.” He noted he brought the military in last time he was Attorney General, during the George H. W. Bush administration, once in the Virgin Islands.  “The governor opposed us at that point, but there was a complete breakdown of law and order. Lives were in danger, and we sent in 82nd Airborne military police, along with U.S. marshals and FBI agents.” The military was used to quell riots in Los Angeles as well.

“I would also point out it was done during the civil rights era in places like Selma, Alabama, and other places to integrate schools. The governors stood in the doorway. The governors did not approve the use of federal troops to enforce civil rights in the South,” Barr noted in the unaired portion of the interview.

Removal Of Important Updates On Policing

The most significant portion of the interview wasn’t about disputing anonymous sources or talking yet again about the expansion of the White House perimeter but instead the discussion of whether law enforcement is systemically racist. Much of that was left out of what aired.

Asked if he thought reforms were working, Barr said it’s difficult but improvements are being made.

BARR: And while it’s a difficult process and while law enforcement is not monolithic in this country, we have 50 states on a lot of local jurisdictions. There’s undeniable that progress is being made. We have a generation of police- police leaders in this country, many of whom are now African-American in our major cities, who are firmly committed to equal justice and to fair policing. And we’ve been working hard on this. And I would say, you know, the president, before any of this happened, was out in front on this issue. Not only did he enact the First Step Act to bring greater justice to the African-American community within the criminal justice system, but he set up the first commission on policing and the administration of the Justice since Lyndon Johnson to look at precisely these issues. And they have been working on these issues. And in the days and weeks ahead, we’re going to be expanding those efforts and coming forward with concrete proposals.

It is unclear why detailed reports of violent riots and police reforms were deliberately edited out of the interview that was broadcast while so much time was spent on CBS’ single anonymous source and his disputed report.