Sharyl Attkisson Exposes Big Media in The Smear

Journalists today are elitists with their own agenda, never actually practicing journalism.  Only a handful can be respected, trusted, and believed.  Sharyl Attkisson falls into this category.  She is an author and investigative reporter who hosts the syndicated TV news series Full Measure.  Attkisson is a whistleblower of sorts in educating the public about the biased media.  Her latest book, The Smear, reveals the tactics used to influence opinions in order to obscure the truth.

In the beginning of this book, Attkisson discusses the propaganda campaign used by the OSS, the predecessor to the CIA.  They had asked the legendary Marlene Dietrich to sing "Lili Marlene" in German and English in order to make the Axis forces feel homesick and realize they were fighting for the wrong side.  She contrasts this with Hitler's chief propagandist Joseph Goebbels's playbook, which calls for creating a big lie – the bigger, the better to get more people to believe it.  Repeat it often enough so it becomes the truth, and persistence is the most important requirement for success.

Today's media and leftists seem to take a page not out of the OSS, but out of Goebbels's strategy.  Attkisson wants to inform Americans on the tactics used by political operatives on both sides as well as corporate operatives.  These tactics fall into categories of "Astroturf and transactional journalism," all tools of the smear campaign.  She told American Thinker her definition of a smear: "taking a sprinkle of truth and perverting it into a weapon of mass destruction to advance an undisclosed larger goal, often political or financial.  Smear campaigns take something that many times has a grain of truth and amplifies it to accomplish the annihilation of their target."

Attkisson has experienced smear campaigns personally.  In an email, then-attorney general Eric Holder's top press aide, Tracy Schmaler, called Attkisson "out of control" and intended to call CBS news anchor Bob Schieffer to get the network to stop her reporting on Fast and Furious.  After Attkisson's first book, Stonewalled, came out, the liberal smear group Media Matters reviewed it as having "sloppy inaccuracies and absent context that reinforce her image as a journalist more interested in a biased narrative than uncovering the facts."

One way the operatives do this is by Astroturf, an "idea to keep the public from ever knowing exactly who is behind a particular effort to sway opinion.  I describe it in my book as a way to saturate our consciousness, where we are made to think everyone believes something.  It's similar to the bandwagon approach.  If you do not agree with a narrative, you are made to believe you're an outlier, afraid to say what you think because 'no one' agrees with you.  The idea is to give the impression there's widespread support for or against an issue when there may not be."  Attkisson points out that in his last State of the Union address, President Obama's statements on climate change implied that anyone who does not support the popular theory is out of step with the rest of the world.  In fact, polling contradicted the president.  Just recently, while in South Korea, he continued this false narrative: "In Paris, we came together around the most ambitious agreement in history about climate change."

Transactional journalism refers to the "friendly, mutually beneficial relationships that have developed between reporters and those on whom they report.  It's when the relationships cross a line."  Falling into that category are some political pundits.  Take for example CNN's Donna Brazile, a Democratic Party operative, who secretly slipped Hillary Clinton an advance question for a CNN town hall with Bernie Sanders.  Attkisson noted, "We are not keeping an adequate firewall, giving the very people access to the newsroom who are trying to sway our opinion and shape news coverage.  I am often not sure what these pundits on both sides add, besides propaganda talking points.  As I discuss in the book, Media Matters and its groups claim to have coached and trained hundreds of these pundits on everything from messaging to facial expressions and body language, so they can appear on television news shows and effectively distribute narratives.  This is part of what I call the 'soft infiltration' of the news media.  We haven't done a good job at staying at arm's length from the interests who seek to use us as tools."  For example, Fox News has hired one of the Obamacare architects who basically got everything wrong about Obamacare.  Yet he is now commenting on the new health care plan.  Attkisson wonders, "Why is he being put forth as an expert in anything?"

Cognitive dissonance is the discomfort that results from the perception of a dichotomy between what is told and what is actually occurring.  People's own personal experience allows them to question what the media is reporting or those in government are saying.  Donald Trump's recent speech in Poland had those who watched it saying how great it was for championing Western values.  Yet CNN and MSNBC said the Western values could appeal only to whites.  Are they implying that minorities do not believe in freedom of speech and religion, or in equality for all?

Remember President Obama's famous words: if you like your doctor and insurance, you can keep them.  Yet a vast number of Americans found Obamacare worse than their previous health insurance.

Attkisson told of the example where polls showed Hillary Clinton widely ahead, even though she saw something quite different while traveling the country and digging into the polls.  "On August 10, 2016, Bloomberg reported Clinton up by six.  But looking at the actual poll, I found that her lead over Trump had shrunk by eighteen points in the past five months.  Yet no news outlets reported that."  Maybe this is why the press has such a dismal approval rating.  A recent PBS poll showed that the media are trusted by only 30%.

Attkisson went on: "I believe Donald Trump should be covered, as any president should, aggressively, and questioned on what he does.  Yet there has been a shocking degree of false reporting on him in this short period of time by formerly well respected news organizations that have publicly suspended their normal standards and practices to cover Trump, saying they view him as uniquely 'dangerous.'  This has also led to such practices as over-reliance on anonymous sources, who prove to be wrong time and again.  I think this has resulted in experienced journalists at formerly well respected news organizations like CNN, Time, The New York Times, and The Washington Post making rookie mistakes that would not even be accepted in journalism colleges."

As an investigative reporter, Attkisson is an expert at detecting smear campaigns.  She warns, "One smear artist I interviewed said nearly every image you run across in daily life, whether it's on the news, a comedian's joke, a meme on social media, or a comment on the internet, was put there for a reason.  It's like scenes in a movie, he said.  Nothing happens by accident.  Sometimes people have paid a great deal of money to put those images before you.  What you need to ask yourself isn't so much 'is it true,' but 'who wants me to believe it and why?'"  This is why everyone should be reading The Smear: to find out how they do it, who is doing it, and what to look for regarding these dirty tactics.  

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