Stonewalled: A Conversation with Sharyl Attkisson

Sharyl Attkisson’s book, Stonewalled, is a riveting account of her struggles as an investigative reporter. There are a number of different issues covered in this book ranging from Benghazi and Fast and Furious to the state of journalism today. American Thinker had the privilege of interviewing her about the book. 

A quote from another author and award-winning journalist, Kathleen Antrim:  “If the press doesn’t report the truth, the people don’t get the truth,” best represents Attkisson’s beliefs. She seeks out the facts, not caring if those affected are Democrats, Republicans, or corporations, and is motivated, not by her own views, but by where the story leads. Unlike many of her colleagues, she sees her role as making sure government and corporations are held accountable, seeking out fraud and hypocrisy. She will continue the fight through freelance work and stories on her website.

The most fascinating part of the book is her discussion of media bias. She exposes what most people believe, that there is a difference between the way Democratic and Republican administrations are covered. Chapter One takes a look at the mainstream press as a whole, and how it lost its "mojo", which she describes in the book as the press's "ability to serve vigorously and effectively as the Fourth Estate (and be the) watchdog to government and other powers that may otherwise overstep their bounds."

In many cases, reporters have allowed the government under the Obama administration to bully them into submission. She documents how the Obama presidency has become an enemy to openness and is one of the least transparent administrations in American history. In fact, after reading what she had to go through, President Obama makes Richard Nixon look like Mother Teresa.

In Stonewalled, Attkisson talks about what she refers to as “controversializing,” where a propaganda campaign is launched by surrogates and sympathizers in the media to divert from the damaging facts by focusing on personalities instead of the evidence. She told American Thinker, “There was a successful campaign to ‘controversialize’ Chairman Darrell Issa. It should not matter if you like a politician or not. If his committee is turning up important documents why would you not report on them. My colleagues were saying ‘you don’t want to be a Darrell Issa mouthpiece’ and my thoughts were ‘you are falling for their attempt to have us not go there.’ The story should be based on the facts, not where the reporter wants to go with it. That is what I tried to point out in my book.”

Another element she writes about in her book is the “substitution game.” Showing that bias might exist, she wishes journalists would be aware of how their own prejudices can affect their stories. What Sharyl recommends is for reporters to exchange people using the same scenario. Commenting directly, “Reporters should be treating the story the same no matter what name is inserted. I noticed, since Republicans won the Senate majority in the midterms, the narrative is changing in subtle ways, with some reporters portraying Democrats in a positive light, as wanting to compromise. In ‘substituting’ I don’t recall the same reporters implying that Republicans wished to compromise when the Democrats controlled the Senate, and yet there were indeed some Republicans who expressed that sentiment. The focus, instead, was on portraying some Republicans as uncompromising even as the Democratic leader Harry Reid was refusing to let Republican-passed bills be voted on in the Senate. ”

Probably the most outrageous point Sharyl makes is the administration's lack of respect for freedom of the press. At CBS, there are two glaring examples where there is strong potential for conflicts of interest: Mike Morrell, a high-ranking CIA official during Benghazi, and David Rhodes, the brother of Ben Rhodes, a key advisor to President Obama. Attkisson told American Thinker, “I argued at CBS that we needed to disclose the potential conflicts of interest for our own protection. Morrell was a CBS consultant but also has a paid position with the Hillary Clinton-dominated PR firm. In my view, disclosure is our friend, because people then can’t say we hid a relationship. This way people can make up their own minds.”

Part of the problem is with the press itself, since it does not circle the wagons when one of their own is threatened and harassed. She noted, “All administrations try to keep secrets and push back against inquiries. But there is now a consensus among many journalists that the Obama administration has displayed a new level of aggression as they have perfected the ability to use propaganda and social media to “controversialize” reporters who put out stories the administration perceives as negative to their interests. One way they do this is by threatening to withhold access to future interviews and information. But if all the news organizations responded to threats of denied access by saying ‘we don’t care, because we have a job to do’ this administration would not have news outlets for its propaganda. Instead, the threats seem to work with some in the media. They shape their stories, or they self-censor them entirely to remain in favor with the administration. One example of this is cited in Chapter One. C-Span was going to air an interview with the president at a time that the White House felt it would be harmful for various reasons. After C-Span refused to succumb to pressure to withhold the interview, this administration apparently made good on its threat to retaliate. C-Span claims they have not been given an interview with the president, the first lady, or other top administration officials since then, and that was four years ago.”

What directly happened to her regarding government surveillance could be a plot straight out of a Vince Flynn or John Grisham novel. Unfortunately, the bad guys are not Islamic terrorists but those in government today. Instead of using guns and bombs, they use intimidation and harassment. Attkisson has been targeted by a government agency or official that infiltrated her computer and cell phone and placed classified information on it. They are not listening to terrorists plotting to kill Americans, but are trying to find out what information this CBS reporter has that will be damaging to them. 

Sharyl pointed out, “For a reporter to have classified information is not a crime in itself. What could be a crime, if the person who took them and handed them over broke the law. My sources have theorized that perhaps they could put something in someone’s computer for some pretense to justify a legal wiretap at some point. The long story short, they could then get a court order, frame a federal source, or frame the owner of that computer. Whoever did this to me is very sophisticated. I have decided to pursue it to let them know I was not just going away and to make the public aware. It is almost humorous that people think my accusations are outlandish and they call me paranoid. It is part of the propaganda campaign. This is not a figment of my imagination if you look at the undeniable forensic reports and the CBS press release.”

Concerning the General David Petraeus scandal, she wonders how much sense it made “that the president supposedly was not told about the affair, the FBI investigation into it, and the FBI plans to take no action regarding it. Yet, when Petraeus wasn’t toeing the party line on Benghazi, only then did the news of his affair become public, which ultimately led to his resignation. Surveillance of citizens by the government makes one wonder, as many officials have speculated to me aloud, if people, including government officials and politicians, could be blackmailed about information. The timeline of Petraeus certainly raises that question.”

She wants Americans to understand that the press self-censors the news regarding public issues. In future articles American Thinker will discuss her comments on Benghazi and Fast and Furious, but she warns, “there are many ground level reporters and producers who do want to report on the issues, but the ‘gatekeepers’ in the news have kept many important stories from getting the coverage they deserve.  For example, for a couple of weeks all the networks heavily covered ObamaCare. All of a sudden the light switch went off and there was very little critical media coverage even though millions have been displaced from their insurance plans, enrollment figures were lackluster, and problems still existed with rising premiums, unaffordable deductibles, and the inability to continue to see their own doctors. There are still questions that remain: What are the exact numbers of those affected by the rate increases and the benefit decreases? What about this new class of people who had insurance and are now going without due to the Obamacare changes? I tried to explain in my book the sophisticated strategies that corporate and political interests use to manipulate the public through the press and social media. It’s as if we are wearing foggy glasses and need to take them off to see things more clearly.  I try to offer some strategies in the book.”

Stonewalled needs to be read so Americans can understand that this administration is targeting journalists and the sources. But a word of warning: anyone can be targeted. This book shows how corporate and political interests try to manipulate public opinion. They add some obstruction, some intimidation, and some threats and an alternate reality is created. Attkisson’s chronicles her journey in a fascinating manner.

The author writes for American Thinker. She has done book reviews, author interviews, and has written a number of national security, political, and foreign policy articles.

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