Sharyl Attkisson and the Transparency Lie
I close my new book, You Lie!, with a list of President Barack Obama’s twenty-five most egregious deceptions. At the top of that list is the promise Obama made to the American people on his first full day in office, “Transparency and the rule of law will be the touchstones of this presidency.”
This was an extension of Obama’s campaign promise to establish the “most transparent and accountable administration in history.” Improbably, five years into his presidency, Obama was still claiming, “This is the most transparent administration in history.”
By this time, CBS News correspondent Sharyl Attkisson knew all too well just how preposterous a lie this was. As she documents in her stunning new book, Stonewalled, there has never been a more deceptive administration, nor one more dedicated to destroying those who tell the truth. In the words of David Sanger, the veteran chief Washington correspondent of the New York Times, “This is the most closed, control freak administration I’ve ever covered.”
Those of us reporting from what Obama biographer David Remnick called “the Web’s farthest lunatic orbit” anticipated this turn of events before the 2008 election. In attempting to get the word out, we were routinely discredited by the Obama camp and its media allies. Attkisson uses the word “controversialize” to describe the mechanics of this process.
I had some first-hand experience with this in the fall of 2008 when I advanced the theory that terrorist emeritus Bill Ayers helped Barack Obama with his acclaimed 1995 memoir, Dreams from My Father. In early October 2008 Rush Limbaugh discussed the theory on air. Had any major media outlet simply examined my evidence, an honest report on the same could have turned the election.
That was not about to happen. Remnick, editor of the liberal New Yorker, took the same tack in his biography that the few in the media who bothered to cover the “controversy” took in 2008. “This may not have been Limbaugh’s most racist insinuation of the campaign,” said Remnick, but he concluded that our collective “libel about Obama’s memoir -- the denial of literacy, the denial of authorship -- had a particularly ugly pedigree.”
The easily intimidated pharisees on the right quickly fell into line. The Wall Street Journal’s James Taranto, for instance, singled me out by name as among those right-wingers who “engaged in irresponsible rumor-mongering and conspiracy-theorizing.”
If people like me were easily “controversialized,” people like Attkisson were not. She was a veteran, Emmy Award-winning reporter for a major news network with a non-partisan paper trail. The problem was that there were too few people like Attkisson to commandeer a major media newsroom.
The most chilling part of Attkisson’s story details how some “sophisticated entity” managed to infiltrate her computers using a spyware proprietary to a government agency such as the CIA or NSA. A movie version would play more like Poltergeist than All the President’s Men.
The most damning part details how CBS management collaborated with the Obama administration to silence Attkisson and re-elect Obama. The incident that intrigues me most is one that I also reported in depth in You Lie, namely the role of CNN’s Candy Crowley in throwing the second presidential debate to Obama.
As it happened, Obama claimed during the October 16 debate that he called the September 11 Benghazi attack an “act of terror” during his Rose Garden speech. Sensing an opening, Mitt Romney looked straight at Obama and asked, “You said in the Rose Garden the day after the attack it was an act of terror? It was not a spontaneous demonstration, is that what you are saying.”
Now back on his stool, Obama answered uncomfortably,
“Please proceed. Please proceed, Governor.” Romney turned back to Crowley and said that he just wanted to get Obama’s response on record. With the camera still on Romney, the TV audience heard Obama say off-camera,
“Get the transcript.”
The camera then moved to a wide shot and showed Crowley waving a piece of paper that looked very much like a transcript. “He did in fact, sir, call . . .” said Crowley hesitantly to Romney, “so let me call it an act of terror.”
“Can you say that a little louder, Candy,” said a suddenly revived Obama while the Obama fans in the audience, Michelle included, cheered in violation of the rules. “He did call it an act of terror,” said Crowley, effectively ending Romney’s chance to unseat Obama.
A few days before the debate, a White House official called Attkisson, chatted amiably for a few minutes, and then segued abruptly to the point of his call, “He did call it a terrorist attack. In the Rose Garden. On September twelfth.” Attkisson did not understand the purpose of this call until she saw the debate and assumed Crowley got a similarly forceful call as well.
It was a week after the Benghazi attack that Obama took his first unedited question on the motivation of the attackers. The questioner was, of all people, David Letterman. “Here’s what happened,” said Obama. “You had a video that was released by somebody who lives here, sort of a shadowy character who -- who made an extremely offensive video directed at -- at Mohammed and Islam.”
The first edited question was asked six days earlier. CBS’s Steve Kroft interviewed Obama following his Rose Garden speech. “Mr. President,” said Kroft in his very first question, “this morning you went out of your way to avoid the use of terrorism in connection with the Libya attack.” Obama answered, “Right.”
Later, Kroft asked the president point blank, “Do you believe this was a terrorist attack?” Obama answered, “It’s too early to know exactly how this came about.” Not having aired the Kroft interview in its entirety, CBS selectively mixed bits of it with an out of context excerpt from Obama’s Rose Garden speech to rewrite history following the second debate.
It had been about 14 hours since the attack, and the president said he did not believe it was due simply to mob violence. "You're right that this is not a situation that was exactly the same as what happened in Egypt," Obama said, referring to protests sparked by an anti-Islam film. "And my suspicion is that there are folks involved in this who were looking to target Americans from the start." Shortly after that, Obama stepped into the Rose Garden and spoke of the killing of four Americans as if it were a terrorist attack. "No act of terror will ever shake the resolve of this great nation," Obama said in his Rose Garden remarks.
Five days later, on October 24, CBS executives insisted Attkisson insert the “not simply mob violence” line into a report she was doing, again implying that Obama called Benghazi a terrorist attack on September 12.
Only after that report did Attkisson get to see the complete transcript of the Kroft interview. She was horrified by what the editors had done. She protested that this editing was “extremely unethical and dishonest.” Obama’s “no act of terror” remark came towards the end of the Rose garden speech and encompassed 9-11 and terrorists act in general. It had nothing to do with Benghazi. He had told Kroft as much. Romney had been right all along.
CBS did not want to hear this, especially CBS News president, David Rhodes. His brother Ben, the deputy national security advisor, had helped draw up the thoroughly dishonest Benghazi talking points.
“The election is drawing near,” writes Attkisson of autumn 2012. “I feel that familiar Big Chill. Leave it alone. Troublemaker.”