Former CBS reporter Sharyl Attkisson has stepped up her campaign to paint herself as a victim of media bias by floating half-baked conspiracy theories about the research that exposed factual issues with her work. These newest allegations are as unsubstantiated as the shoddy reporting that has previously tarnished her -- and CBS'-- record as a reliable source.
Former CBS reporter Sharyl Attkisson appeared on MSNBC's Morning Joe and continued to lob accusations of bias at her former employer while offering no evidence to substantiate her charges.
Since leaving her former job as an investigative correspondent for CBS' Evening News, Attkisson has engaged in a media blitz notable for two goals: promoting her upcoming book and leveling substance-free accusations. In her appearance on Morning Joe on April 22, Attkisson continued this trend, suggesting that the lack of interest on the part of CBS News in pursuing some of her stories was due to political bias.
When offered an opportunity by co-host Mika Brzezinski to substantiate her claims, however, Attkisson refused, saying:
ATTKISSON: I decided for many reasons not go into a lot of detail. I'll probably write about some of this in the book when I can think it out and word it carefully. But it was just, to me, a huge variety of stories, and I'm certainly not the only one complaining about that, and it's not the only network where correspondents think this sort of thing is going on.
Attkisson's campaign of evidence-free accusations has been praised by the right, but has come under fire from media critics. Washington Post's Erik Wemple pointed out that both Attkisson's accusations of bias and her attacks on outlets such as Media Matters "rest on uncorroborated stuff":
In any case, Attkisson's claims against CBS News rest on uncorroborated stuff, as do her claims against Media Matters, as do certain of her suggestions about intrusions into her computers (though she promises news on that front). The more media interviews she does, the more she thrusts this un-journalistic tendency into the public sphere for the inspection of prospective employers. And the more she all but compels CBS News to strike back at her ramblings.
Invited to do just that today, CBS News spokeswoman Sonya McNair told the Erik Wemple Blog: "CBS News maintains the highest journalistic standards in what it chooses to put on the air. Those standards are applied without fear or favor."
Former CBS reporter Sharyl Attkisson is augmenting her campaign to paint herself as a victim of liberal media bias with conspiratorial and false attacks on Media Matters.
Earlier this year Attkisson, who had been celebrated by conservative activists for her often shoddy reporting on the Obama administration, ended her two-decade career at CBS News. She has since made numerous media appearances, often on Fox News, claiming that her reporting had been curtailed by CBS managers who opposed critical reporting on the administration. As Media Matters noted last week, Attkisson has provided little to no evidence to support her broad claims that politics, rather than newsworthiness, was keeping her stories off CBS' air.
Attkisson responded during an April 20 appearance on CNN's Reliable Sources. After Attkisson claimed that there is a "campaign by those who really want to controversialize the reporting I do," host Brian Stelter asked, "Media Matters has been campaigning against you and saying you've been inaccurate in your reporting, is that what they're doing? They're just trying to controversialize the issue?" Attkisson responded that she had been "targeted" by Media Matters and hinted at a motive, saying, "I don't know if someone paid them to do it or they just took it on their own." After Stelter asked her whether she really believed Media Matters had been paid to target her, she responded, "Perhaps, sure. I think that's what some of these groups do, absolutely."
Attkisson's claims quickly found a ready audience on Fox News.
But Attkisson's claims are false. Media Matters has never taken contributions to target her or any other reporter. We have published research on her reports on green energy and Obamacare, among other topics, when those reports have been inaccurate or misleading -- the same standard to which we hold any other reporter.
Attkisson decided to float this conspiracy theory without any evidence during an appearance on a news program, suggesting that she doesn't believe she needs to prove her contentions before bringing them to a national audience. If that was the reporting standard she sought to uphold at CBS News, it's no wonder that her managers were unwilling to let her promote half-baked conspiracies on their airwaves.
When Sharyl Attkisson ended her two-decade association with CBS News earlier this year, she warmed the hearts of conservatives by implying her work had been curtailed by progressive forces inside the network. It was Liberal Media Bias 101: CBS erected roadblocks that made it impossible for Attkisson to tell the truth about the Democratic administration. Previously toasted by right-wing activists and praised for her anti-Obama reporting, the reporter's public farewell was filled with finger-pointing: "Sharyl Attkisson Paints CBS News As A Bunch of Cowards," announced one Washington Post headline.
Recently, Attkisson returned to the friendly confines of Fox News to pump up the claim that she had been waging "war" with her "own management team," as Fox host Howard Kurtz described it. In a series of interviews described by media observers as an "audition," the former network reporter alleged there was a "political aspect" to her troubles at CBS and that her supervisors gave in to "well organized" outside campaigns that complained about coverage.
She bemoaned the fact that "The press in general seems to be very shy about challenging the administration as if it is making some sort of political statement rather than just doing our jobs as watch dogs."
Whistleblowers should always be listened to. The problem is she refuses to back up any of her conspiratorial claims.
While making her allegations, Attkisson continues to break a cardinal rule of journalism: show, don't tell. Attkisson constantly tells interviewers about how her work was curtailed at CBS. But she never shows examples of it being done; she never cites specifics. The network manager she mentions by name is CBS News chairman Jeff Fager, who she describes as sharing her views "as to what the news should be about."
Any competent journalist should be able to back up their assertion with evidence. In this case, Attkisson doesn't even bother to try.
Politico's Dylan Byers reports that sources say Attkisson left CBS because she "had grown frustrated with what she saw as the network's liberal bias" while some staffers characterized her work as "agenda-driven, [which] had led network executives to doubt the impartiality of her reporting."
Attkisson is writing a book tentatively titled "Stonewalled: One Reporter's Fight for Truth in Obama's Washington" for HarperCollins, which is owned by News Corporation, the corporate sibling of Fox News parent 21st Century Fox.
If Attkisson joins Fox, she'll follow the path of several other controversial media figures who conservatives believed were mistreated by the media. Those include Doug McKelway, Lou Dobbs, Don Imus, and Judith Miller. Reporter Bernard Goldberg joined Fox News after leaving CBS and accusing his former employer of liberally slanting their news coverage.
Fox News has showered praise on Attkisson in recent months, with personalities indicating they want her to join the conservative network.
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."