New York Times legal reporter Charlie Savage played softball with Attorney General Eric Holder on Sunday's front page: 'A Lightning Rod Undeterred by G.O.P. Thunder.' The online headline even more strongly suggested that Holder was standing brave and firm against a torrent of politically motivated Republican criticism: 'Under Partisan Fire, Holder Soldiers On.'
Savage has previously downplayed the Fast and Furious 'gun-walking' scandal, when the Justice Department signed off on a plan that allowed guns to flow untracked into the U.S. and Mexico, putting thousands of illegally purchased firearms on the street, one of which led to the death of Border Patrol agent Brian Terry. Savage's November 8 coverage of Holder's testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee omitted Holder's admission that his initial statements to Congress about his knowledge of the gun-walking were "inaccurate,' while the Washington Post recognized its importance with Page 2 placement and a headline mention.
Savage's Sunday piece similarly downplayed the scandal, while allowing Holder to play the race card against some of his conservative critics.
For nearly three years, Republicans have attacked Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. on national security and civil rights issues. For months, they have criticized him over a gun-trafficking investigation gone awry, with dozens of leaders calling for his resignation. Last week, more than 75 members of Congress co-sponsored a House resolution expressing 'no confidence' in his leadership.
With F.B.I. agents standing guard outside his hotel room on Tuesday, Mr. Holder spoke hours before delivering a speech at the Lyndon B. Johnson presidential library here that criticized the largely Republican-led efforts to put new restrictions on voting in the name of fighting fraud.
At that moment, protesters were rallying outside the library, some in support of stricter voter identification laws and others holding signs urging Mr. Holder to resign over the disputed gun-trafficking investigation, known as Operation Fast and Furious. Several dozen jeered when his motorcade arrived.
After graciously admitting that some conservatives were honest in their criticism, Holder cried racism.
But Mr. Holder contended that many of his other critics - not only elected Republicans but also a broader universe of conservative commentators and bloggers - were instead playing 'Washington gotcha' games, portraying them as frequently 'conflating things, conveniently leaving some stuff out, construing things to make it seem not quite what it was' to paint him and other department figures in the worst possible light.
Of that group of critics, Mr. Holder said he believed that a few - the 'more extreme segment' - were motivated by animus against Mr. Obama and that he served as a stand-in for him. 'This is a way to get at the president because of the way I can be identified with him,' he said, 'both due to the nature of our relationship and, you know, the fact that we're both African-American.'
Savage spent two paragraphs on the Holder confession he had skipped in his initial reporting, then portrayed Holder as perhaps too passive a personality, allowing partisan Republicans to run roughshod over him (ignoring his partisan play of the race card earlier in the interview).
Despite his fraught political image, Mr. Holder has a low-key demeanor, allowing lawmakers to talk over him during hearings. Some colleagues, who say he can be similarly mild in internal administration debates, privately question whether he is tough enough to protect his and the department's interests in rough-and-tumble bureaucratic or political fights. Others say the approach has helped him survive in his post despite relentless turbulence.
Richard Thornburgh, an attorney general under the first President George Bush, said he sometimes disagreed with Mr. Holder but considered him a friend. But he expressed concern about whether Mr. Holder sometimes allows himself to get steamrolled by his adversaries. 'I have worried from time to time about Eric's being seemingly rolled by the administration and his political opponents,' he said.
An odd concluding paragraph made the dissipating of an anti-Holder protest sound as if the attorney general was getting beyond the worst of the hostile scrutiny.
Hours after the interview on Tuesday, Mr. Holder delivered his voting-rights speech and then went to a reception also attended by several leaders of civil rights organizations. Outside, half a dozen protesters waited within shouting distance of his motorcade, and a phalanx of police officers waited to escort him to the airport. But as Mr. Holder lingered inside, the protesters eventually drifted away.