“Investigative Journalism and the Obama Administration” - Sharyl Attkisson

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If they investigate U.S policies they will be arrested.

👍︎︎ 3 👤︎︎ u/ld43233 📅︎︎ Dec 30 2016 🗫︎ replies
Phil Wegmann: Good evening ladies and gentleman my name is Philip Wegmann and I have the pleasure of introducing Ms. Sharyl Attkisson today. When Ms. Attkisson files stories Washington DC takes notice. Her breaking reports on the Fast and Furious scandal, Benghazi controversy and the blundering role of Obama Care continue to capture national headlines and fuel congressional investigations. A 30 year veteran of journalism, Ms. Attkisson has investigated numerous controversies during the Clinton, Bush and Obama administrations. After graduating from the University of Florida she first reported with a local PBS network then anchored with CNN before beginning her career as an investigatory journalist with CBS. Also an accomplished author Attkisson has recently published a new book called Stonewalled my fight for truth against the forces of obstruction, intimidation and harassment in Obama’s Washington. She has received numerous honors for her work including the prestigious Edward R. Murrow award and also 5 Emmy awards. Unbiased and unafraid she as tenaciously pursued truth throughout her entire career. For this White House officials call our guest unreasonable however history is more likely to call her one of the greatest journalist of the decade the Woodward and Bernstein to my generation. Ladies and gentlemen would you please join me in welcoming Ms. Sharyl Attkisson. Sharyl Attkisson: I feel so short. Can you even see me? You see my little head that’s good enough I guess. Everybody smile! I love speaking at colleges. I just came from the University of Nevada Reno. I recently spoke at the Washington Policy Center, George Mason University. I’ll be going to colleges in New York, in Tennessee. I’ll be at my alma mater University of Florida Journalism College, Go Gators!, for student conference about freedom of information and government accountability. The conference we’re putting on is funded with some of the proceeds from Stonewalled. I’m pleased to have heard from quite a journalism college professors, not hundreds but a few who say that they’ve added Stonewalled to the recommended reading for the journalism students or in the case of a Florida professor that wrote me an email he said he scrapped their textbook and has replaced it with Stonewalled. I’m really pleased to hear that some journalism college professors think there’s something of teachable value in there. I love learning about the colleges that I visit. One of the interesting facts about Hillsdale which you all probably know but I found interesting is the fact that it turned down the invitation to a Tangerine Ball in the 1950’s for its undefeated football team because Hillsdale’s black players weren’t going to be allowed on the field. That’s standing for principle. Thank you so much for inviting me. In 2009 President Barack Obama pledged to make history with a high level of transparency his administration would bring to government. He issued a federal directive stating in part here’s a quote “My administration is committed to creating an unprecedented level of openness in government. We will work together to ensure the public trust and establish a system of transparency, public participation and collaboration. Openness will strengthen our democracy and promote efficiency and effectiveness in government.” It sounds so good in theory. The Clinton years have proven difficult for the cause of transparency and any hopes that George W. Bush would usher in a new era of openness were quickly dashed for reporters like me but Barack Obama here he was placing a value and emphasis on openness that really to us at least in this business set him apart. It could only mean positive things for journalist especially for investigative journalist like me whose effectiveness as watchdogs of government is directly proportional to our ability to access public information and inside sources at least that’s what we thought. The Obama administration has found itself instead making history for its secrecy and assaults on the press. There’s delay, denial, obstruction, intimidation, retaliation, bullying, surveillance and for some the possible threat of criminal prosecution. In my view and that of other national reporters, this is proving to be the least transparent administration we’ve covered. It’s so bad that practically every major news outlet including the CBS News, Washington Post and the New York Times signed a scathing letter to the White House in 2013 objecting to restrictions on the press that are unprecedented that we had not dealt with before. We wrote “As surely as if they were placing a hand over a journalist camera lens, officials in this administration are blocking the public from having an independent view of important functions of the executive branch of government.” We called some Obama administration press policies in this letter “Arbitrary restraint and unwarranted interference on legitimate newsgathering activities.” We told the White House “You are in effect replacing independent photo journalism with visual press releases.” We said the White House behavior raised constitutional concerns. New York Times photographer Doug Mills likened the White House press office to the Soviet news agency Tass. It’s so bad that in 2013 the free press advocacy group Reporters without Borders gave a serious downgrade to America’s standing in the global free press rankings rating the Obama administration as worst that Bush’s. “The whistleblower is the government’s enemy.” wrote the group quite rightfully explaining it’s finding. It said, “Amid an all-out hunt for leaks and sources, 2013 will be the year of the Associated Press scandal which came to light when the Department of Justice acknowledge it had ceased the news agency’s phone records.” They weren’t the only ones complaining. In March of 2014, New York Times reporter James Risen spoke at an investigative journalism conference I attended at Berkeley and called the Obama administration “The greatest enemy of press freedom in at least a generation.” Perhaps the best example I can think of is to how this administration threatens loss of access to control its public message is a little story that I tell about C-SPAN. In summer of 2010 C-SPAN wanted to add footage of President Obama to a White House documentary that had produced in the final years of the George W. Bush administration. President Obama agreed to tape a brief interview in the oval office with Brian Lamb the founder an executive chairman of C-SPAN’s board of directors. The 9 minute interview conducted with both men standing is pretty innocuous. “What have you changed in this room?” Brian Lamb asks the president in the oval office. “We have not redecorated yet,” answers the president. “Given that we are in the midst of some very difficult economic times we decided to hold off last year in terms of making some changes.” All is well until about 2 weeks later when a C-SPAN official gets a call from Obama’s director of broadcast media Dag Vega. Vega tells C-SPAN that in just a couple of days the Washington Post will be breaking the story of the president’s reported multimillion dollar renovation of the oval office. Vega is calling to make sure that C-SPAN won't follow-up that news by running it’s interview with the president that seemed to imply the oposite, the one that was taped just days before. “You’re going to save the interview for the documentary which was set to air in a few weeks, right?” Vega reputedly asked the C-SPAN official. “If the public were to see the president’s interview at that time, they might wonder whether he had been clueless or had intentionally perhaps been misleading about the impending make over.” From C-SPAN’s viewpoint this is a problem. There was never an agreement as to when the president’s interview would air and it would be foolish for C-SPAN to hold the relevant material only to air the inaccurate interview later for the documentary. Discussions go back and forth with the White House saying that the agreement was for the president’s interview to air in the future around the release of the updated documentary but within news events C-SPAN rightfully decides it has no choice but to air the interview sooner when the story breaks about the oval office decorations. The White House follows up by pressuring C-SPAN to change its mind and suggests that the cable television network will be punished with lack of access if they do air the interview. On August 31st that year as the White House’s Vega had foretold, the Washington Post breaks the news of the president’s oval office facelift. C-SPAN goes ahead and airs the president’s interview the same day. That night, Josh Earnest then White House Deputy Press Secretary now White House Press Secretary reportedly fires off an angry email to C-SPAN. The biggest surprise is that he sends it in the middle of the president’s live address to the nation about the drawdown of US troops from Iraq. You’d think he had bigger fish to fry. In the email Earnest accuses C-SPAN of being egregiously unethical in violating terms of the interview. Though there is no evidence of any existence of any prior agreement he continues to insist the White House would not and did not agree to an interview with the president without specifying all the terms under which it would air. Earnest went on to say that no other news organization has done such a thing to the Obama White House and he threatens to withhold future access. For its part frustrated C-SPAN officials feel they’re the ones who had been wronged after all the president is the one who gave an interview containing incorrect information in which the content was almost immediately invalidated. Like a bad tempered child stomping his foot against the exercise of logic and reason, Earnest accuses C-SPAN of a violation of trust and says there’ll be unlikely to see any further cooperation for the president as long as he remains in office. One can only guess whether the Obama White House has made good on that threat to withhold cooperation but C-SPAN’s programing since that date reflects no interview with either the president or the first lady. The message, don’t cross the White House even if it involves the simple act of airing an on the record on camera unedited interview white the president of the United States, the consummate public official. The White House gets to direct its coverage and the terms. Good behavior will be rewarded with access. Dissenters will be punished and I hate to say it but I think many news organizations would have agreed to the White House demand to hold the president’s interview no questions asked. President Obama seems to be either oblivious or in denial or maybe he just thinks that repeating the same thing often enough will make people believe it to be true. During an internet question and answer session hosted by Google on February 14, 2013, the president told the online audience this is the most transparent administration in history. Every visitor that comes into the White House is now part of the public record. Every law we pass, every rule we implement we put online for everyone to see. The Obama administration measures its supposed transparency accomplishments by the sheer number of documents published online and the amount of paper turned over to congress. On Benghazi the president says “We’ve had more testimony and more paper than ever before.” Never mind all the paper they’re withholding the ignored and denied freedom of information requests or the fact that they still refused to answer many basic questions more than 2 years later, the job of getting the truth has never been harder. In part it’s because the Obama administration and government in general have figured out how to avoid questions in accountability by cutting out the news media middle man. White House officials have exploited non news media to spoon feed unfiltered messaging at times pure propaganda into the public’s mouth. The Google sponsored chat that I mentioned that came with a preselected audience and question submitted in advance by the White House’s own YouTube channel. That’s the way they like it. They generate their own content, rely on surrogates to help spread partisan blogs, Twitter and Facebook, give lots of interviews to entertainment programs, digital media and feature press. When they feel the situation demands an appearance of newsiness such as a presidential apology for healthcare.gov’s disastrous launch and obfuscation they look for a soft landing with a handpicked outlet reporter. All of this impacts how well informed we can keep the public but also it impacts the very survival of investigative journalism. In the 3 decades of polling by the Research Center for people in the press, news organizations are near all-time lows when it comes to the public’s view of our accuracy, fairness and independence. There’s one thing the public still values the most and it makes no difference whether they’re Democrat, Republican or independent they overwhelmingly support the media’s role as government watchdogs. That support rose a full 10 percentage points from 2011 to 2013 amid revelations about government conducted surveillance of the public and the press. The people also reflects the public’s rising concern about loss of civil liberties. If the press doesn’t challenge and expose government secrecy and overreach then who can? Back to the broken promise of transparency. One of Obama’s first actions in office was to direct federal agencies to begin complying with freedom of information law. What a concept! No matter where you stand politically as a journalist one had to be excited by the idea that under Obama we would gain back a major necessary tool to do our jobs. Obama said that federal agencies were to err on the side of releasing public information rather than withholding it. Instead we’ve seen the opposite. A continuation and expansion of the federal bureaucracy that perverts FOIL law as it’s called into a tactic used to prevent the release of public information. To send request to the end of a bureaucratic queue that may never be answered and if it is takes months or years successfully delaying and obfuscating past the point of relevance. I’m still waiting for lawful Reponses to my FOIL request on Benghazi, Ebola a mysterious paralyzing virus, fast and furious, healthcare.gov from the FBI. Try suing over their lack of proper response and you find the Department of Justice not encouraging federal agencies to abide by the spirit of FOIL law but instead providing lawyers to defend the withholding of information and they use your tax dollars for the court cases so there’s no downside for them. They still accomplish the obfuscation and delay and in the end even if the court orders them to turn over document there is no punishment or recourse. They may have to pay the plaintiff’s legal fees but they do that with your tax dollars too. It’s not just me and it’s not an opinion, it’s a fact and a consensus. In late June 2013 I’m flying back from an investigator reporter’s conference in San Antonio, Texas and I’m seated next to another journalist Len Downie. He’s the former executive of the Washington Post who had just spoken at our conference. He had told the audience “The Obama administration’s war on leaks is by far the most aggressive that I’ve seen since the Nixon administration and I go back that far.” As Downie and I chat shoulder to shoulder on the airplane I bring up the subject of Edward Snowden. I asked Downie if it doesn’t seem as though more tension should be focused on the content of Snowden’s claims instead of only whether he’s hiding, whether he broke the law, whether he graduated from high school. Downie agrees. Four months later Downie published what I see is the definitive report for the committee to protect journalist. It establishes the Obama administration as the news media’s top choice for least transparent American presidency in modern times. When you think of all the transparency promises, it’s pretty stunning the way the actual experiences of national news reporters not those working at conservative outlets but journalist from the New York Times, the Washington Post. David Sanger our chief Washington correspondent at the time said “This is the most closed control freak administration I’ve ever covered.” Times public editor Margaret Sullivan “It’s turning out to be the administration of unprecedented secrecy and unprecedented attacks on a free press.” Financial Times correspondent Richard McGregor “Covering this White House is pretty miserable in terms of getting anything of substance to report on in what should be a much more open system.” ABC News White House correspondent Ann Compton “He’s the least transparent of the 7 presidents that I’ve covered in terms of how he does his daily business.” Josh Gerstein of Politico “If the story is basically one that they don’t want to come out, they won't even give you the basic facts.” Washington correspondent Josh Meyer “There is across the board hostility to the media. They don’t return repeated phone calls and emails they feel entitled to and expect supportive media coverage.” Post managing editor Kevin Merida describes what he sees “As the White House’s hypersensitivity saying the officials often call reporters and editors to complain about the tiniest thing maybe something on Twitter or a headline on a website. I have a slightly different interpretation of the administration sensitivities and all their reactions. It’s not really that they’re so sensitive, they’re simply executing a well thought out strategy to harass reporters and editors at the slightly error of negativity so as to impact the next news decisions. To provide so much unpleasant static and interference, that we may subconsciously alter the way we report stories. To consume so much of our time explaining and justifying what we reported that we begin to self-censor in the future. They accuse us of “piling on” when all we’re doing is accurately covering their actions and the outcome of their decisions but what human being doesn’t instinctively learn to avoid negative unpleasant feedback.” This trend did not begin with the Obama administration and I’m afraid will not end there either. I don’t really blame the Obama administration and I don’t even blame the entrenched federal bureaucracy. I blame us the news media. When government invariably attempts to advance itself, separate itself from the public it works for, covets information, feathers its own nest and acts as if it’s an independent corporation beholden to shareholders, politicians and special interest rather than public, it’s the media that’s supposed to make sure that doesn’t get out of balance. We haven’t been doing a very good job. We send letters. We make statements but instead of insisting our rights be respected we place ourselves in an unnecessarily subservient position as if it’s a favor we’re asking for, something to be granted at the king’s pleasure rather than a right that we’re entitled to. Instead of demanding the government follow the law, we politely and somewhat timidly ask “Could you pretty please follow the law?” Instead of demanding to access to information we own, that’s collected on our behalf by public servants paid with tax dollars we make an appeal “Could you maybe please just consider giving us some of our information?” Here I’d like to pause and take some questions on this topic before speaking a little bit on a related topic. How the government generates its own propaganda using your tax dollars and why what you see on the news is so homogenous and often discourages a very original reporting that would actually get more viewers. We’ll take questions for a few minutes and then I’ll talk about that. There’s some nice young ladies in the aisles ready to hear from you. Yes sir. Speaker 1: Thank you very much. Quick question. It seems to be part of the problem seems to be that we do not have a loyal opposition anywhere in this government relative to what the people want and demand about liberty. Sharyl Attkisson: I would say there is a shared viewpoint among a lot of people that even the Republican “opposition” is not doing its best job at presenting opposing viewpoints. I will say that I’ve noticed this is just my opinion based on observations but also conversations of what staffers and members of congress. Like the media there seems to be less will to do oversight, to ask the tough questions and do the follow-through. Much like the media I hear staffers and members of congress saying the same things. There just isn’t the appetite and leadership to do tough oversight. They want to take the easy road. They do look into things but only goes so far and then they seem not to follow up. I’ve made some of those same observations and I feel like there’s some symmetry with what’s going on in some aspects with the media as well. Let the lady with the microphone decide who to go to. Speaker 2: Can you shed some light and give some insight on why the Obama administration is so untransparent? Do they have things to hide or they just constitutionally not inclined to shed any information on what they’re doing? Give us some insight into that please. Sharyl Attkisson: It’s hard to know what people are hiding when they don’t tell you what they’re hiding. I would argue it’s a natural inclination of those in power to do that. I believe when President Obama said he was going to usher in a new era of transparency I believe he meant it. I believe he thought he could and something happens along the way whether it’s embarrassing information they’d rather not have be released or they get inundated by advisers who have different opinions but it seems to be that no matter how good the intentions are the opposite happens. That’s where again as I said I felt the press, if that’s the natural inclination of government it’s our job as the media to push back against that and make sure it’s not successful if they’re withholding information that they shouldn’t be withholding. We’re supposed to dig and probe and push on that and I don’t think we’ve always done the best job at that. Speaker 3: I just want to follow up on this gentleman’s question because it was kind of what I was thinking originally. What I’m concerned about is this president has made so many decisions that really are not in the best interest of the United States and that’s what concerns me. That’s what he’s hiding. Benghazi, the national security all of his decision leave me to think there’s something very nafty going on. Sharyl Attkisson: As a journalist when someone doesn’t want to tell you something especially when it’s arguably public information that’s what sets of the idea that they’re wanting to hide something for a reason even if you don’t know what it is but that’s certainly what keeps you going in my case what keeps me digging. On the other hand I would say there’s still about 50% of America that would disagree with you. I have a very active social media account and for all the people who sound exactly like you, I have postings from reasonable acquaintances who say quite the opposite, who think that and you’ve heard it too, they still think this president is correct in what he’s done that the mistakes and problems are overblown by a partisan press and by Republican stoked controversies and so on. I guess there’s just difference of opinion on that. Speaker 4: Thank you very much. You mentioned that there’s less will to do oversight no appetite, they want to take the easy road. I assume you’re talking about the individual journalist in this case and that certainly the symptoms but I’m wondering a little deeper if you can give us your thought on the corporation influence on each of those journalist within CBS, ABC, NBC you amen them all the 3 letters. You see some of them coming out. You see yourself coming out. I see Fox News coming out that everybody else takes the high road if you will and stays away from the real problem. Why does the corporations allow that? Sharyl Attkisson: When I talk about the taking the path of least resistance, I don’t particularly mean the individual ground level journalist. I think I’m speaking more and I’ll talk about this in a few minutes about the gatekeepers who decide what goes on TV and how much headache they want to have against these highly sophisticated fairly recent pushback campaigns that are well funded, that are mounted by special interest and corporate interest against new stories they don’t like and news outlets that bother to publish these things and whistleblowers who dare to tell the truth and politicians who dare to ask the tough questions. They’re subjected to an organized campaign to controversialize them funded by PR efforts that are invisible so it appears to be a grassroots over swelling opinion that’s not really there. I call it an artificial reality but it’s somewhat overwhelming to the news organizations at times who see all the social media activity and read the logs and read about themselves and maybe don’t have the stomach to push through that. It’s hard to say how much corporate influence there is. There’s always been a little bit of that and journalist from time to time have to pushback against what we feel maybe corporate influence but you don’t always know what corporate influence is because no one tells you necessarily why certain decisions are made. In a few instances in the book I talk about … I did have some insight because somebody said something very pointed. In general you don’t always know why the gatekeepers don’t want a particular story that seems so obvious and so obviously in the public interest. I would say corporations and government have become so intertwined in their interest and they become intertwined also with the media which is beholden to in some respects the interest of the government and some corporations as well. Whether they’re advertisers or some other interest it’s all meddling into one big interest. When they all start to think alike and don’t want to do oversight on each other because they’re beholden to the same ideas or interest I think that’s part of a trend you might be seeing. Speaker 5: Thank you so much Sharyl. I was wondering if you could perhaps compare the relationship between Obama’s administration and the press with perhaps past presidents like say President Woodrow Wilson or Abraham Lincoln even. Sharyl Attkisson: I don’t have an answer for that question I’m sorry because I’m not a student of those times. I can’t say. Every chunk of press has its own relationship with the president and there’ve always been adversarial questions asked. I think back to Sam Donaldson “Hold on Mr. President!” and there are still reporters asking adversarial questions even if they don’t make it on the evening news necessarily every night. I’m sorry I haven’t studied back that far. Speaker 6: Within the context of what you just said about a lot of reasons for skepticism about corporate America and about the government, previously you commented that you gave Obama the benefit of the doubt when you said that he would be transparent, what’s the basis of that opinion? Sharyl Attkisson: Once he was already elected to make that be a key proclamation as you enter office without any reason for having to say so once you already elected but to focus so much attention on that I do give the benefit of the doubt. I could be wrong but my instinct say he meant it and he thought that was one thing that he could change about Washington that was a problem. It didn’t turn out that way and I can’t tell you what’s really in his mind or his heart that’s just my interpretation. Dave: Hi my name is Dave Fergusson and I’m just wondering if you know for sure whether or not this president has college records sealed and if so would that be a clear indication of how transparent this guy was going to be? Sharyl Attkisson: I have not looked into that issue. Sorry. I’m going to try not to answer questions I don’t know much about. There if you don’t mind let me go on to the second half of what I thought you might find interesting to talk about and then I’ll take some more questions after that. This gets to the heart of a few questions you all just asked. In the last decade or more the government has adopted and perfected many of the public relations and crisis management strategies employed by big corporation. It’s a natural outgrowth of their incestuous relationship. The big difference is the government is using your tax dollars to promote itself and advance it’s propaganda. One way they do it by self-producing videos and building their very own television production facilities where the upper echelon gives interviews and speeches controlling everything from content to lighting. While the nation descended into unprecedented debt, congress and the federal agencies ranging from health and human services to the national institutes of health used millions of your tax dollars to build or expand their very own television studios. The food and drug administration’s facility boast “a number of mobile and fixed sets as well as various configurations to allow for a studio audience of over 100.” The Transportation Security Administration, TSA, sports a studio with Hitachi high definition cameras and Fujinon lenses and LCD based teleprompters. When top officials from those federal agencies appear on camera, naturally they have to look good. Your tax dollars may kick in for the cost of their hairstylist, makeup artist and wardrobe consultants. One insider told me that the head of a federal agency even had her fashion colors analyzed at tax payer expense. In addition the Pentagon has its own 24 hour channel which features military news, interviews with top defense officials and program such as the Grill Sergeants. While the Pentagon frets over sequestration cuts and the troops listen to talk of cutting their pensions, your tax dollars are paying to produce programs such as a cooking show competition that features mess hall cooks and aids to generals battling it out over dishes like seared ahi tuna and lamb with blueberry wine sauce. Both the defense department and the centers for disease control provide tax payer funded advisers to television and Hollywood entertainment producers to promote accuracy or propaganda depending on your viewpoint. Some of the public interest justification for use of these assets are dubious. In 2013 you may remember congress caught the IRS making Star Trek and Gilligan’s island parody videos to educate federal employees at a conference. When Secretary of Energy Steven Chu resigned from the Obama administration, the federal agency produced a slick photo tribute to him using your money. It touts Chu’s incredible successes but forgets to mention any of his scandals such as the failed effort at playing venture capitalist with tax dollars and green energy investments like Solyndra. By its own admission the Pentagon the film liaison office gives for profit filmmakers free use of taxpayer assets from tanks to jets but only if the film portrays the images the Pentagon wants. If not, the assets are withheld. There was a documentary called Hollywood and Pentagon a dangerous liaison. In the documentary they said “Scripts are cut and sometimes watered down. Characters are changed and historical truths sometimes fudged. One director might be loaned combat ships and jets. Another director who’s script displeases the government or the army maybe refused any kind of support. Few great war films have escaped the influence or even the censure of the US army.” It’s pure propaganda according to the documentary and you’re paying for it. Like big corporations each federal agency and all 535 members of congress have teams of taxpayer funded media and communication specialist to advance their message. A few years ago a well-placed insider at the US Department of Agriculture confessed to me that even he was surprised to learn that his own agency supposedly had more than 1200 employees working in some sort of media relations capacity nationwide. Department of Agriculture, 1200 media relations employees. Your tax dollars pay for their salaries that many times they’re little more than private publicity agents for their bosses spending, avoiding and obfuscating as expertly as any of their corporate counterparts and too often we let them get away with it. Too often press releases that read like propaganda from government and corporation are used in the news without the required critical examination and analysis. If you’re confused about all the influences behind what you see the news and how they affect the product, there’s good reason. At times there’s a liberal political bias in mainstream media that tells toward stories favoring liberal social issues and philosophies but there’s also a competing conservative corporate bias that favors specific companies, industries and paid interest. Unfortunately the result isn’t an ideal balance of complete information about the world, it’s often a distorted and perplexing mix. The trend has become more predominant in the last couple of years as powerful interests have mastered their method of influencing us and some of our managers have embraced the influence believing they’ll keep their lucrative jobs by going along rather than resisting. The capitulation to special interest may preserve these news manager’s job into short term but in the big picture I think they’re ensuring a quicker demise of the entire platform. Alienating and eroding the audience that we supposedly serve. The network evening newscast bragged that increasing numbers of people are watching, the total number of television broadcast network audience members compared to that which is available remains minuscule. Many in the public believe are feeding them a lot of pablum. I’ve never before heard so many people say so, liberals, conservatives and people who define themselves as neither. What is the mysterious process behind the decisions as to what stories make the news on the given night? Some stories are carefully chosen and edited by a small group of broadcast news managers because they serve a specific set of agendas. In a book called Manufacturing Consent the author state commercial news organizations disseminate propaganda on behalf of dominant private interest in the government “The media do not function in the manner of the propaganda system of a totalitarian state, rather they permit indeed encourage spirited debate, criticism and dissent as long as these remain faithfully within the system of presuppositions and principles that constitute an elite consensus. A system so powerful as to be internalized largely without awareness.” There are other factors at play. Many story topics are selected by managers who are as I say producing out of fear in trying to play it safe. Playing it safe means airing stories that certain other trusted media have reported first so there’s no perceived risk to us if we report them too. We’re not going out on a limb. We’re not reporting anything that hasn’t already been reported elsewhere but it also means we’re not giving viewers a reason to watch us. Playing it safe means shying away from stories that include allegations against certain corporations, charities and other chosen powerful entities in people. The image of the news media as fearless watchdogs poised if not eager to pursue stories that authorities wish to block is often a false image. Decisions are routinely made in fear of the response that the story might provoke. The propaganda’s heavy handed tactics have worked. They don’t even have to pick up the phone and complain about a story. Some news managers demonstrate a Pavlovian style avoidance response when presented with a story that they fear will bring some negative reaction. We are weak and diffident when we needn’t be. Many investigative reporters around the nation are experiencing the same thing. It’s a trend. Long time Emmy Award winning reporter Al Sunshine retired from the CBS owned and operated station in Miami the summer before I left CBS News. Afterward he made some similar observations he said “Because of the recent lack of support and commitment for my investigations, I faced an almost daily battle to get the time to work on my stories and had to fight harder than ever for air time.” Though his brand of investigative reporting in consumer stories was widely popular with viewers, sometimes resulting in new laws being passed and criminals getting prosecuted, he was told his stories were too negative. Instead he was often reassigned to what we call day of air news coverage. He told me “Advertisers are dominating news judgment and news organizations all over the country. The public interest is being diminished in the interest of corporate advertisers and lobbyist. What’s almost universally accepted is business as usual in Washington, corruption between lobbyist dollars and political favoritism is slowly but surely becoming the norm for many news organizations as well.” says Sunshine. It might be growing worse but historical narrative implies there’s always been an element of this condition avoidance response in the corporate news world. In his 1967 memoir called Due to circumstances beyond our control CBS news president Fred Friendly expressed discomfort that top management felt over its star reporter at the time Edward R. Murrow. During the 1954-55 season we did a 2 part report on cigarettes and lung cancer and both CBS and CBS sponsor Alcoa, aluminum company felt the pressures of the tobacco industry which buys both air time and aluminum foil. The attitude at CBS says this book was “Why does Murrow have to save the world every week?” In another instance, Fred Friendly quoted CBS Bill Paley as telling Edward R. Murrow “I don’t want this constant stomachache every time you do a controversial subject.” These tendencies to censor topics that generates objections from their powerful targets aren’t necessarily spoken or even consciously addressed. Those of us who report on these subjects are not told that our stories are undesirable because they’re not safe or because they challenge powers. As Sunshine said “News manipulation is subtle.” He says “It comes in many forms like withholding resources such as cameraman and producers and conveniently dropping investigative reports from the newscast when the timing of the show happens to run too long to fit it in.” We figured it out. Ironically management has avoidance response can result in absurd machinations that inadvertently generate the very liabilities they’re trying to avoid. Some of us had boiled it down to a saying “They’re often worried about the wrong things and not worried about the right things.” I’ll tell you just one story that serves as an example. During the time under skittish broadcast show management my last 2 years at CBS I reported a story on a credit card scam that showed a surveillance video of a suspect who was caught on camera allegedly using one stolen card after another at Target, Walmart and Macy’s. Neither the story nor our use of the surveillance video was precarious in any sense. The police had publicly released the video. It already appeared on the local news. The suspect had been identified and I had run my story through the CBS legal department for legal clearance. Even under the standards of the current skittish evening news management this story was safe. Just prior to air the executive producer views the finished piece in New York and rings the hotline phone to the Washington news room where I was. “We can’t show the suspect’s face.” she protest. “Why not?” I ask. She says, “He hasn’t been convicted of anything.” I take a breath. The idea that a criminal suspect’s face can’t be shown on television comes from someone who lacks the most basic knowledge of the law. I’m having way too many of these conversations lately and I know it means she’s not going to listen to me. She’s scared of the story. Nonetheless I patiently explained that somebody doesn’t have to be convicted of a crime for us to identify him or show his face. Under her mistaken idea of the law arrest mug shots would never be shown on the news. We wouldn’t have shown OJ Simpson’s face when he was accused but never convicted of murder. We wouldn’t have identified any criminal suspects prior to conviction Timothy McVeigh, John Gotti, Jack Kevorkian, Lorena Bobbitt, Tom DeLay, Martha Stewart, Michael Jackson, Bernard Madoff, the Unabomber, Osama bin Laden, these would be phantom faces that we wouldn’t be allowed to show. None of these stories wouldn’t have been done if we were to consistently apply this executive producer’s warped view of the law. Still she balks “Call his lawyer and ask for permission to show his client’s face.” Another breath. I look at the clock it’s nearly 6:00 story is set to air at 6:30. The odds that I’ll reach the suspect’s public defender and get a yes from him in the next half hour are pretty remote but importantly the idea that we would set a precedent by asking a suspect for permission to use his image has to rank as one of the more preposterous suggestions I’ve ever heard. “We don’t need his permission.” I reiterate “and I doubt he would give it. I wouldn’t if I were him.” “Okay,” she says still sounding unconvinced. We hang up the phone and within seconds she sends me a follow-up message telling me to blur out the suspect’s face anyway. “Just wuz it a little” she says. With time ticking I rush back to the editing booth and break the news to my producer and our editor. “You’re not going to believe this.” I say “but she wants us to get permission from the defender’s lawyers to use his face or else blur it out.” “What?” says my producer dumfounded “That’s outrageous!” The producer makes another attempt to reach the attorney whom we tried earlier. It’s futile at this hour and we know that if asked he’s going to say no anyway so we go ahead and blur out the suspect’s face and re-feed the story to New York to air. In some ways this may not sound like a very big deal. What’s the harm in masking a criminal suspect’s identity? I know the answer. The executive producer’s misguided and capricious decision hasn’t avoided risk it’s actually created a potential liability. We’ve now set a precedent that sets us up for accusations and bias and inconsistent treatment when we don’t do the same for the next accused criminal suspect. This is just one example of the twisted away sometimes that you get the news or don’t get news and I’m happy to take some questions on that subject. Is there anything else that you want to ask? Do we have time for questions? Speaker 7: Yeah. Sharyl Attkisson: Okay. Speaker 7: We have some time for questions. Microphones will be out. Please raise your hand and stand up when they come to you and once again keep the questions shorter than the answer might be. We like that. Speaker 8: I hate to have to ask this question but I just wonder if you’ve ever been concerned for your personal safety or your life in pursuing some of the stories that you pursue? Sharyl Attkisson: Thank you for asking. I don’t want to talk about that but I’m okay. Thank you. Speaker 9: In the last week or so the president did an interview with an online blogger, a young woman with bright green lipstick and it was heralded by Osama as a new era of journalism. I just wondered, what do you think this administration’s target audience are for their release of information? Sharyl Attkisson: As I described I think this administration has perfected the idea of going around neutral news reporters who would ask critical questions and I don’t have a problem with doing that thing if that’s what they want to do. My only problem would be if they do that instead of also being answerable to those who could ask the tough and probing and challenging questions and hold them accountable on behalf of the public. I think sometimes they do more of that social media and fun stuff and entertainment celebrity stuff which does reach an audience because that’s how some people get their news in a way that they’re not asked critical questions or they don’t have an informed interview on these certain controversial topics. Doing that instead of doing more of the other kind I see is a problem because I’m a traditional journalist but I don’t have a problem with them dogging if they don’t want to do it in addition to. Speaker 10: Would you present it seems like a great argument for limited government would you agree? Sharyl Attkisson: What do you mean by limited government? Speaker 10: You talked about I think 1200 people in media for the Department of Agriculture so smaller government and also you get in the issues of crony capitalism. Smaller government reduces those opportunities. Sharyl Attkisson: Yeah one might say so. Speaker 11: What’s the word on the street with your brothers and sisters so to speak with regard to journalism schools? Are they acquiesce or push back? Second part, why does Fox kill it in the ratings every period in your opinion? Sharyl Attkisson: I don’t really know about journalism schools across the board. I’ve been thankfully exposed to some great ones and had dinner sitting next to one here from Hillsdale who were trying to teach students good journalism and fair reporting. I think a lot of people go into this business maybe not coming from journalism school. Sometimes they find their way in through a friend or a contact they study politics and government but I’ll say 2 things growing out from that. Some people get in the business and they think their job is to convince you to feel the way they do about something. That’s a different kind of journalism. That’s not how I was taught. If in the end after I presented you with what the facts are as I’ve been able to find them I really don’t care what you decide. I’m not here to try to make you think a certain way. I want you to have facts that you can’t get easily somewhere else. Then if you see all those facts and you don’t care or you think the opposite of other people, whatever you think is fine. It doesn’t bother me. I just like to put those facts on the table because those belong to you in my opinion and you should have those as you make up your mind. Some people want to change your mind but secondly I would also say believe it or not some of the poems I described are not the ground level reporters and producers who do a great job from what I’ve seen day in and day out producing original stories in an unbiased fashion but there are key gatekeepers that shape those stories and decide which stories will go on the air and which ones will never be seen unless they’re shaped a certain way and that’s more of where I see a problem. What was your second question? Sharyl Attkisson: Fox News has great ratings. They can probably tell you more about why they resonate. Just what I hear from people who do … I know a lot of people that sample. They watch Fox. They watch MSNBC. They click around. They want to hear not just yes people do seek their own opinions but they also want to hear what the other people are saying too. I think it resonates because maybe it’s the only network that’s doing that specifically where there are several networks doing the liberal side of it. If you want to watch conservative tilted talk I would say a lot of the reporting is very neutral but conservative tilted talk and topics I can’t think of another TV station that you can go to. They can get that whole audience in one lump sum while the rest of the networks divide up the liberal tilting audience that’s my guess. Speaker 12: What advice would you give to pressured journalists and how is the increased speed of the internet and the use of social media impacted investigative and analytical journalism? Sharyl Attkisson: I don’t have general advice for journalist you’d have to ask me a question about what kind of journalism … what question what area of advice you’re looking for. The impact of social media has been tremendous. I think some of it good, some of it bad. You can’t unwind and go back from the internet. I think some people wish you could. Bloggers for example a mixed blessing. There have been bloggers that have uncovered amazing stories that the news media hasn’t but by the same token you have to sit there and sift and filter and be exposed to a lot of stuff that may not be true to get to the truth. I don’t have any magic recipe because I’ve been asked to help you figure out as we try to do was there a source that you can believe, where can you go and you don’t have to knock 20% off because it’s a conservative site or 30% off what they say because it’s a liberal site. It’s very confusing time and I don’t know what’s going to be born next. Something will come all of this and I hope it’s something good down the road but unfortunately I can’t foresee what’s next. Speaker 13: You remember MIT economist Jonathan Gruber who wrote Obama care with full understanding that the American people won't be lied to and he did. Could it be that Obama also believed that we are all idiots that want to be lied to? Sharyl Attkisson: It’s hard to say what conversations are had and what they think but the evidence is clear with healthcare.gov and has not been well reported in my view by some it has been but not widely reported. I have reported this at CBS News and afterwards. The projections showed prior to this passing the government’s own projections show that millions of people were going to be knocked off their health insurance, that millions of people were going to be knocked off of their work insurance. This is happening now and that’s not been widely reported. It’s being overshadowed by positive news. I really have no explanation for how the government’s profession as to what was going to happen are so different from what the documentary record shows they knew was going to happen but they’re very much at odds. That’s not an opinion, that’s a fact. Speaker 14: Thank you so much for your time this evening. My question is going to go back to when you talked about how it’s important for us to be able to make proper decisions to have all the information really in front of us. That you have transparency, that organizations like the Sunlight Foundation have been very adamant in advocating. My question is going to lean towards campaign finance and we see a lot of times where politicians oftentimes aren’t able to disclose that information to the public. My question to you would be, what does freedom of the press have to do with campaign finance and how that would relate to an electoral system that we have in the United States today? Thank you. Sharyl Attkisson: That maybe a little bigger question than I’m qualified to answer but I would say every time you get at the heart of campaign finance, what’s wrong with it, how to get influence out of it they thought of another way around that. One big area I’ll just give as an example. Even if you regulate full transparency and where certain donations come from and limits on campaign contributions and everything you try to do people can’t go straight from congress to lobbying without a cooling off period. There are new tools that come into play that allow them to get around all of that. One tool I think that’s being widely used I’ve reported a little bit on it are nonprofits which are highly in my view unregulated from a sense of the IRS looking at what they really do and what they have to disclose financially. Nonprofits are often coopted by special interest because they sound like altruistic neutral organizations but in fact the strings for them are being pulled and they’re being funded by special interest who are in some way benefiting in some cases a member of congress for example. I did a story on a couple of years ago a Republican congressman who started what I would call a fake charity that was supposed to collect money for educational scholarships but hadn’t given out any. He probably never thought his own connection with this charity would be revealed and it was only revealed through a strange set of circumstances. Once it was revealed he was connected to this charity that was collecting millions of dollars from guess who? All the interest regulated by the committee that he sits on tobacco industry, pharmaceutical industry. He was golfing and giving access to the people donating millions of dollars to the charity which employed his family members but gave out no scholarships and this kind of this trail went on and on. This was a way I believe the money was stated for that foundation by a pharmaceutical company after which this congressman introduced favorable legislation that made statements on the floor. I was able to match up almost every time he got a large donation from one of his interest he was supposed to regulate after a donation or right before donation he took some action or made some statement in congress. It took a lot of digging to find that relationship but to me it was pretty clear and he resigned from congress shortly after that. That’s just one example I think of it’s so hard to find an answer to how to get influence out and make it be where people who are elected are serving just the folks instead of the well-financed interest. Speaker 7: We have time for one more question. Speaker 15: Thank you for your insights tonight. I’m a concerned citizen outside of the profession of journalism, politics but interested in as much accuracy and objectivity as I can find. I come home from work with about half hour to an hour of time to invest in that. What recommendations would you make to me about how I should use that time the best? Sharyl Attkisson: I’ve been talking about this a lot with people because I think we all have to develop our own ways. I can’t say go to one site and that site will always have the news that’s probably the way you want it. I don’t think that exist and yet many sites and many news outlets do great reporting. Maybe it’s harder fought these days but PBS frontline, 60 minutes, the networks, the newspapers they’re still doing great investigative reporting. You have to find reporters you trust maybe on a particular topic because of some experience you’ve had that knows that its ringing true and then you may decide that’s reporter you will follow on other topics because you found them to be in your view trustworthy. Same as with some news outlets I think you’ll hop around from one place to the next and it’s not going to be the same … You just spend your 30 minutes looking at the same 3 or 4 places every time. I just don’t think it works that way. A lot of people are telling me that they use their Twitter feed and Facebook feed as story circulate on outlets they might never have seen. They pop through those and they find stories of interest and that’s their daily newspaper of the day. They’re just looking around and seeing what people are sitting around and talking about. I will repost in the next couple of days something that I posted a couple of week ago because people are asking what some alternative websites you might want to check out that do some good investigative journalism. You may not like everything they do but they do some great work. Just as one example I’ll say Project Censored. It’s probably projectcensored.com but you can google it. They made it their mission to take stories that are untouchable that news outlets for whatever reason, for a variety of reasons don’t want to touch and they report on those and at the end of the year they compile the 10 best stories into a book and publish it. These are stories you probably won't see anywhere else for a lot of different reasons and there are places like that that you might find interesting. I’ll repost that in the next week or so in sharylattkisson.com and you can see if there’s anything of interest there for you. Thank you all.
Channel: Hillsdale College
Views: 218,864
Rating: 4.8695383 out of 5
Keywords: Sharyl Attkisson (TV Personality), Hillsdale College (College/University), CBS (TV Network), CBS News (Broadcast Producer), Investigative Journalism (Media Genre), Journalism (Film Genre), Presidency Of Barack Obama (Literature Subject), Barack Obama (US President), CCA, Journalism, Hugh Hewitt (Author), bret stephens, Fox, Abc, Fox News, Fox News Radio (Radio Network)
Id: 9CgQ8wx-CXY
Channel Id: undefined
Length: 59min 42sec (3582 seconds)
Published: Sun Jan 25 2015
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