Media May Have Distorted the Secret Service’s Latest Drinking Scandal
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The Secret Service is mired in yet another scandal, with reports last week claiming high-ranking agents may have been drunk and disruptive at the scene of an investigation outside the White House, destroying potential evidence and plowing through multiple police barricades.
But surveillance video of the March 4 incident paints a different picture, according to a source who has seen the footage, and suggests that reports of agents’ drunk behavior may have been overblown by the media.
The source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told the Huffington Post that the footage actually shows the agents driving “very slowly” after arriving at the scene, and “nudging” a traffic barrel in what seemed to be an intentional move to get it out of the way.
Reports from both CNN and Fox News apparently confirm this far less dramatic sequence of events, suggesting that reporting on the original incident played in to an ongoing narrative of the Secret Service as rowdy and “out of control.”
On March 11, Carol Leonnig of the Washington Post reported that Secret Service officials were being investigated for allegedly driving "a government car into White House security barricades after drinking at a late-night party last week." The next day, the paper reported that the agents were "suspected of driving under the influence" and "may have driven over the suspicious package."
According to HuffPo, Leonnig has come under scrutiny several times in the past year for false reporting on the Secret Service.
The Post later tweaked the language of the original article, downplaying the severity of the incident. But at this point, the report had already been widely disseminated on social media and picked up by other news sources, like CNN and the New York Times. Various other news organizations supported the initial interpretation of events, citing anonymous sources who described a “chaotic scene.”
On Monday night, Daily Show host Jon Stewart slammed the media for dramatizing the incident and distorting the facts, asking, “What are you, fucking drunk?! I wish you were drunk, it would explain all of this.”
The Department of Homeland Security Inspector General has been investigating the conduct of the agents, Mark Connolly and George Ogilvie, who allegedly had taken a government vehicle to a colleague’s going-away party on the night of the incident.
Secret Service Director Joseph Clancy told members of Congress this week that the surveillance footage showed the two agents “nudging” an orange construction barrel in order to get around it, but not knocking it over. He added that the agents' car was moving at "a very slow rate of speed.”
Allegations of drinking and illicit behavior by the Secret Service date back as far as the Kennedy assassination. The agency faced its last major scandal in 2012, when a list of boozy activity among service members was released to the public.