CBS News, already in trouble for not bothering to fact-check sensational claims about the Benghazi attacks, has stepped in it again with an exclusive story on the Affordable Care Act that has quickly fallen apart. On November 11, CBS News reported that the "project manager in charge of building the federal health care website was apparently kept in the dark about serious failures in the website's security." CBS investigative correspondent Sharyl Attkisson's report was based on an exclusive "first look at a partial transcript" of closed-door testimony by project manager Henry Chao that was likely leaked to the network by Republicans on the House Oversight Committee. Other media outlets picked up CBS's scoop and ran with it.
According to Attkisson, Chao was presented with "a memo that outlined important security risks discovered in the insurance system," and said he was unaware of that memo. CBS News reported that this indicated that Chao had been "kept in the dark about serious failures in the website's security" that "could lead to identity theft among people buying insurance."
But as Washington Post media blogger Erik Wemple demonstrated, Rep. Gerald Connolly (D-VA) questioned Chao at a November 13 Oversight Committee hearing and revealed how misleading CBS News' report was. The memo shown to Chao dealt with portions of the website that aren't yet in use -- not the website as it currently exists, as the partial transcript and CBS News' report wrongly suggested. And those portions won't include personally identifiable information, making it impossible for the security risks to lead to identity theft.
Here's the video and transcript of Connolly's questioning of Chao:
CBS News, currently under fire for airing a dubious 60 Minutes report that relied on discredited source Dylan Davies, aired a report on the Affordable Care Act based entirely off selectively leaked partial transcripts from ACA opponent, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA).
On the November 11 edition of CBS Evening News with Scott Pelley, correspondent Sharyl Attkisson reported on supposed "security risks" surrounding the law's exchange website, HealthCare.gov. Host Scott Pelley alleged that the project manager in charge of building the site "was apparently kept in the dark about serious failures in the website's security." Pelley speculated that this could eventually lead to "identity theft among people buying insurance.":
The basis for this report was a "partial transcript" obtained by CBS correspondent Attkisson and provided to her by House Oversight Chairman Rep. Issa.
As MSNBC's Steve Benen pointed out, the CBS report leaves out "pretty much every relevant detail that points in a more accurate direction," most importantly that the supposed security risk relates to a part of the website that won't be active until Spring 2014 and has nothing to do with the parts of the website that are currently in use. The Hill reported:
A Democratic Oversight committee staffer said the security issue relates to a function of the website that isn't currently active and won't be until early next year.
"It's hard to understand why anyone would trust the accuracy of Chairman Issa's press releases when they consistently distort and manipulate the truth," the staffer said. "The chairman's staff basically sandbagged this witness with a document he had never seen before and then failed to inform him that it has nothing to do with parts of the website that launched on Oct. 1."
"Rather than seeking out the truth, this press release tries to scare the public by capitalizing on confusion caused by the chairman's own staff," the staffer added.
Problematic for CBS is that Issa has earned a reputation for leaking misleading and partial transcripts in order to attack the Obama administration. On November 8, ThinkProgress reported Rep. Elijah Cumming's (D-MD) characterization of Issa leaks to the press regarding HealthCare.gov's capacity to handle only 1,100 users as "reckless and highly irresponsible." Cummings concluded that these were "unsubstantiated public allegations" and that Issa was "taking information out of context."
The use of a dubious source with a history of telling partisan falsehoods in order to spread right wing smears is even more troublesome given the context of the terrible week CBS just experienced for using a dishonest source. Following the airing of an October 27 60 Minutes report on Benghazi in which the main source of the report was proven to be unreliable, CBS received widespread criticism , was forced to retract the story, and apologized on air.
On Wednesday, the State Department Office of the Inspector General (IG) issued the results of its investigation of the Benghazi Accountability Review Board that was chaired by Ambassador Thomas Pickering and Admiral Mike Mullen, as well as the State Department's implementation of its recommendations. The first finding of the report states [emphasis added]:
The Accountability Review Board process operates as intended--independently and without bias--to identify vulnerabilities in the Department of State's security programs.
After being given advance copies of a Republican report attacking the credibility of the Benghazi review that was released on September 16, publications rushed to inform their readers of its flawed findings. There is no similar urgency on the part of the media to cover this new report which should lay to rest the notion that the Accountability Review Board was anything but an independent investigation into the tragedy that occurred in Benghazi on September 11, 2012.
Broadcast and cable Sunday political talk shows featured previously debunked myths about the September 11, 2012 attacks on diplomatic facilities in Benghazi, Libya.
CBS News reporter Sharyl Attkisson is reportedly "in talks to leave CBS ahead" of her contract in the midst of disagreements with executives over her "wading dangerously close to advocacy" on Benghazi. Attkisson, who has a history of producing shoddy reporting, is getting support from Fox News personalities, with one calling for the conservative network to hire her as an investigative reporter.
Conservatives see a crusader and truth-teller. Tim Graham of the conservative Media Research Center calls Attkisson "an outlier" among TV reporters -- a hard-nosed investigator of "how our public officials behave and misbehave." Liberals see a partisan tool. "I think Attkisson has completely given herself over to the right and is very happy to be their champion," says Eric Boehlert, a senior fellow at the liberal Media Matters for America organization.
Politico reported that CBS News "has grown increasingly frustrated with Attkisson's Benghazi campaign" and executives "see Attkisson wading dangerously close to advocacy on the issue, network sources have told POLITICO. Attkisson can't get some of her stories on the air, and is thus left feeling marginalized and underutilized. That, in part, is why Attkisson is in talks to leave CBS ahead of contract." (The Post wrote of the contract situation: "Despite reports of internal conflicts with her superiors, Attkisson says she has no immediate plans to leave CBS. 'I am currently under contract,' she says flatly, declining to say when her agreement lapses or what might follow.")
Fox News contributor Katie Pavlich tweeted today: "Fox News should launch a new investigative unit featuring: @sharylattkisson, @jamesrosenfnc, @JenGriffinFNCand Catherine Herridge." All the reporters referenced except for Attkisson currently work for Fox News. Fox News contributor Jonah Goldberg replied: "Fox Untouchables." Reporter James Rosen retweeted Pavlich.
Here's the latest claim: The survivors of the deadly terror attack last September represent the key to the whole story, and only when Republican members of Congress are able to interview them, and possibly even subpoena them, will the truth come tumbling out.
Never mind that the survivors were interviewed by the FBI within days of the deadly assault and that the FBI's investigation remains ongoing. Never mind they were later interviewed by investigators working for retired Ambassador Thomas Pickering and a former Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman, Adm. Mike Mullen, who led an independent review of the State Department's handling of the attack. Never mind that even the conservative press has reported on why, for legal reasons, it might not be permissible for the survivors, many of whom are likely intelligence officers, to testify at this time before Congress.
And never mind that when then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton appeared before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in January and answered Benghazi-related questions for hours, not a single senator pressed her about the survivors.
But that was then. Now, or at least this week, the Fox-fueled Benghazi talking point is all about the survivors and the increasingly loud demands that they come forward and tell their stories; that they be dragged into the right-wing production in hopes their presence will gin up interest in a story that was long ago politicized beyond recognition.
Alternately insisting the survivors are potential "whistleblowers" who've been put under a "gag" by President Obama, Benghazi conspiracy theorists seem determined to turn the victims into pawns. Fox's misguided Benghazi crusade has often been unfair, but the idea of the right-wing media turning their klieg lights on the Benghazi victims and demanding they become the story seems especially exploitative.
In what appears to be a coordinated campaign this week, Republicans have been working with Fox News to push the survivor angle, as Obama's critics now enter their sixth month touting wild conspiracy theories about the Benghazi attack. Thwarted at nearly ever turn in their attempt to manufacture a massive Watergate-style cover-up that would cripple the Obama administration, partisans now think parading victims of a terror attack in front of a Congressional hearing is the best way to keep the (nonexistent) cover-up story alive.
CBS reporter Sharyl Attkisson received an award last month from the right-wing group Accuracy in Media, which is best known for peddling wild conspiracy theories. Christopher Isham, CBS vice president and Washington bureau chief, accepted the award in person on her behalf. Attkisson and Isham accepted AIM's award despite news experts warning that Attkisson's credibility would be harmed by doing so.
Since then, AIM has returned to doing what it does best: promoting conspiracy theories. And AIM's Cliff Kincaid has a doozy in his March 26 "special report": He asserts it "has to be seriously considered" that Army Sgt. Robert Bales, accused of killing 17 Afghan civilians, may have been a sort of Manchurian candidate who was working with the Taliban. Kincaid writes that the "rampage had the earmarks of somebody programmed or manipulated to kill."
More from Kincaid:
What can be safely assumed at this point is that the anti-American narrative that the U.S. was backing Bales with a squad of soldiers in a deliberate conspiracy to massacre civilians is almost certainly a conspiracy theory that is part of a global attempt to convince the world of the opposite of what really happened.
Which means that another theory -- that Bales engaged in the killings, with the help of the Taliban, in order to accelerate an American withdrawal -- has to be seriously considered.
There is no direct evidence at this stage for the theory of Bales as an enemy agent or dupe. But Bales' attorney says he has seen "no forensic evidence" and there have been "no confessions" to support the Army's case. The fact is that so little is known about the killings that both sides of the story -- the one told by the U.S. Army and the one told by anti-American foreign propagandists -- have to be questioned.
If the enemy recruited Bales and then helped him carry out the massacre, so it could be blamed on the U.S., then we gain an additional important insight into the brutal nature of those who want the U.S. to leave so they can take over. Staging a massacre and blaming it on the Americans is something that makes sense, if we examine what is already known about the killings.
Consider that the enemy has infiltrated and recruited among members of the Afghan Army. Is it so far-fetched to believe that an American soldier was recruited as well? Perhaps he was not converted to Islam. But he may have had his outlook on the war completely twisted by the propaganda telling him that he is a member of an occupying force that has to leave the country.
Kincaid goes on to state that "a cover-up may be underway, intended to obscure the nature of the apparent brainwashing that Bales underwent at some point in his military career."
Are Attkisson, Isham, and CBS still proud to have received that award from AIM?
CBS Correspondent Sharyl Attkisson did not appear at the Conservative Political Action Conference today to receive her journalism award from fringe group Accuracy In Media (AIM), despite previous reports that she would speak at the event. Instead, CBS Vice President and Washington Bureau Chief Christopher Isham accepted the award on her behalf.
AIM said earlier this week that Attkisson had "confirmed and reconfirmed" her attendance at the award presentation and that she would address the audience for 8-10 minutes. Isham did not speak at length, telling the audience: "Sharyl was very sorry not to be here today. She is traveling out of town on assignment, so I'm going to accept this award on her behalf, on behalf of CBS News."
After saying Attkisson would be donating the award to the family of slain Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry, Isham added: "CBS News is very proud of Sharyl's groundbreaking reporting, as you've described it. It represents the best at CBS News -- original reporting that we are extremely proud of."
Attkisson's reported decision to accept AIM's award -- which before this year had only been given to conservative commentators -- drew attention, due to AIM's history of promoting virulently anti-gay views and conspiracy theories. In less than 24 hours over 11,000 people signed a Media Matters petition urging CBS not to legitimize AIM by accepting the award.
Among other veteran journalists who questioned the move, former CBS Washington bureau chief Ed Fouhy said Attkisson risked becoming "another pawn in the ideological chess games being played with such intensity in Washington." Charles Davis of the University of Missouri School of Journalism added: "I'm not going to ever applaud a journalist for accepting an award that essentially recognizes the fact that the advocacy group likes what they reported."
In announcing this year's winners, AIM praised Attkisson for her January 13 "investigation" purporting to reveal 11 "New Solyndras." But Attkisson's report suffered from factual problems that CBS has yet to correct. Attkisson has also been criticized for a series of articles fueling unsupported claims about a link between vaccines and autism.
Veteran journalists and media ethicists -- including a former CBS News Washington bureau chief -- are criticizing CBS News reporter Sharyl Attkisson for accepting an award from Accuracy in Media, a conservative group with a long history of promoting anti-gay views and conspiracy theories.
Attkisson is scheduled to accept the award in person Thursday at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, D.C.
Several longtime news experts contend Attkisson is hurting her own credibility and that of CBS by participating in the event.
"If you go out and you've received an award from any organization with an agenda, then any reader of your work or viewer of your work has a right to question your impartiality or your fairness," Ken Auletta, media writer for The New Yorker, told Media Matters in an interview. "I don't think journalists should accept awards from either right-wing or left-wing, conservative or liberal organizations, or from any other organized group that has an agenda. We're not supposed to have an agenda. By accepting those awards or appearing, you are raising questions about your own dispassion. We have enough of those questions already about journalists."
Ed Fouhy, a former long-time CBS News producer and one-time Washington bureau chief for the network, called Attkisson a "pawn."
"Sharyl Attkisson is making a mistake in accepting an award from A.I.M. By doing so she becomes just another pawn in the ideological chess games being played with such intensity in Washington," Fouhy stated. "Her acceptance helps to legitimize A.I.M., a fringe group, whose sole agenda is and has been for many years, to undermine the credibility of the mainstream media, fueled by the donations of millionaire conspiracy theorists."
Fouhy, also a former CBS News vice president, then noted A.I.M's past efforts against the network dating back many years:
"Reed Irvine, founder of A.I.M., and his political heirs have long made CBS News a special target in their fevered attempts to propound the myth of the liberal media. Going back to Watergate days, A.I.M. has relentlessly tried to intimidate and harass CBS News journalists. Ms. Attkisson may not be aware of that history but she should know that accepting awards from groups with political agendas, whether of the right or the left, is a bad idea."
CBS News correspondent Sharyl Attkisson is set to receive a journalism award at this year's Conservative Political Action Conference from Accuracy in Media, a right-wing group with a long history of promoting anti-gay views and conspiracy theories. Attkisson -- the first reporter from a mainstream news outlet to receive AIM's annual award -- has produced some notably bad journalism over the past year, particularly on the topics of clean energy and vaccines.
Over the weekend, CBSNews.com ran an AP report on the bankruptcy of Ener1, whose subsidiary received contracts under the Bush administration and a grant under the Obama administration to manufacture batteries for electric cars. CBS added this paragraph and an accompanying video to the AP report:
A CBS News investigation found earlier this month that a dozen green-energy companies - which in total received at least $6.5 billion in stimulus money from the federal government - have filed for bankruptcy protection.
But the CBS "investigation" found no such thing. Earlier this month, CBS ran an error-ridden report by Sharyl Attkisson which purported to reveal 11 "New Solyndras." Attkisson said these clean energy companies were "having trouble" or had "filed for bankruptcy" after receiving a total of $6.5 billion in federal assistance (making no distinction between loan guarantees and grants.) The deeply flawed report has been eagerly repeated by conservative media; Bill O'Reilly managed to use it to falsely claim "We gave France 1.2 billion."
But CBS is counting companies that didn't even receive federal funds, companies that haven't actually gone bankrupt, and companies that have sold the government-backed projects to other firms. CBS hasn't even identified 4 of the 11 companies it claimed are endangering taxpayer money. And instead of issuing a correction, CBS is doubling down on this shoddy reporting in a way that recalls the editorial standards of Fox News.
Last night Fox News' Bill O'Reilly told his viewers that the Obama administration "gave France 1.2 billion" in clean energy funding. It was completely false and something Fox could have avoided with a few minutes of fact-checking. But a chunk of the blame belongs to CBS, which enabled O'Reilly's misinformation with its own sloppy journalism.
CBS News' new morning show ran a report on Friday by correspondent Sharyl Attkisson which purported to identify 11 "New Solyndras." The segment was surprisingly bad, and like so much reporting on clean energy these days, eagerly skipped over the facts in pursuit of a broader narrative. In the report, Attkisson included California solar company SunPower on her list of struggling clean energy companies purportedly risking taxpayer dollars:
ATTKISSON: SunPower landed a $1.2 billion loan guarantee last fall after a French oil company took it over. On its last financial statement, SunPower owed more than it was worth.
Citing CBS, O'Reilly concluded that "the French people got our money," adding, "We gave France 1.2 billion, because this company went bankrupt and the French guy swooped in ... grabbed the company, and went back to Paris with our money":
In reality, SunPower doesn't have a federal loan guarantee. NRG Energy acquired the project in question -- the California Valley Solar Ranch -- from SunPower shortly before the project received the loan guarantee from the Department of Energy. So NRG, not SunPower, is on the hook for the loan. The CVSR project is not considered risky for taxpayers because California utility Pacific Gas & Electric Co. already signed a long-term contract to buy the power from the solar plant.
In a misleading segment painting a skewed picture of the Department of Energy's clean tech investments, CBS News' new morning show purported to reveal 11 "New Solyndras" -- companies CBS said "are having trouble" or "have filed for bankruptcy" after receiving federal assistance. But CBS only identified 7 companies and included some that did not actually get federal funds.
Several media outlets have purported to fact-check claims about government funding for abortion but have ignored the fact that a proposed amendment by abortion opponents would have had the effect of forcing many who currently have abortion coverage to lose such coverage even if they receive no government subsidy. The amendment offered by Reps. Bart Stupak (D-MI) and Joe Pitts (R-PA) would have barred anyone who receives insurance through the health care exchanges created by the House bill from buying insurance that covers abortion.