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.
This is how she described the problem during a radio interview earlier this year [emphasis added]:
With various stories, you do get the idea at some point that they want you to stop, especially if you start to dig down right into something very, very important, and it's not just with political stories -- it's with stories that go after other interests, corporations, different things. There seems to come a point when you get close, they seem to not be interested in the stories anymore sometimes and some people -- certainly not all of them; this has not been universally true -- but some people or some managers act as though, yes, you're a problem if you keep pursuing the questions.
Simple questions that Attkisson ought to be able to answer: Which CBS “managers” is she accusing of killing stories (the ubiquitous “they”)? And which “very, very important” stories was she referring to? After two decades inside CBS, she doesn't have a single email, a single CBS memo, a single newsroom colleague to back up her claims of politicization?
During her interviews, Attkisson often advertises the fact she's working on a book about her troubles covering the Obama White House, and it's possible she's holding all her evidence back for that. But that still doesn't excuse the fact she's currently making empty allegations.
Meanwhile, what scoops of hers didn't get on the air in 2013? And since leaving CBS, why hasn't the reporter rushed those alleged scoops out to the public? Thanks to the web, independent reporters can create all kinds of platforms themselves. To date however, Attkisson's own website largely consists of links to her previous CBS reports.
Additionally, her central accusation remains illogical. Why would CBS producers, in the business of breaking news, purposefully refuse to allow Attkisson to break news on television? Why does CBS News pay people to not do their jobs? Attkission's implied answer: There's a vast conspiracy at work and CBS treads lightly around the Obama White House.
Really? The same CBS that suffered its worst newsroom scandal in a decade last year because it aired an entirely faulty hit-piece about the Benghazi terror attack in what appeared to be an obvious attempt to curry favor with conservatives, that CBS was too timid, too politicized, to air Attkisson's tough pieces on the Obama administration?
That doesn't add up.
Meanwhile, defenders point to the fact that in recent years Attkisson's on-air time at CBS declined and they say it's proof that she had been silenced. “The numbers around total annual air time provide the clearest evidence that there was likely a political aspect around Attkisson's stories (deemed unfriendly to the Obama Administration) not making it to air,” announced conservative Joe Concha at Mediaite.
Is the argument really that there's no possible reason a network news correspondent's on-air minutes could diminish other than an insidious plot to silence journalists? Only someone who doesn't understand how the (very competitive) business of network news works would make such a silly claim. Fact: Airtime fluctuates all the time and correspondents' fortunes rise and fall.
For example, after 30 years with NBC News, Lisa Myers, the network's senior investigative correspondent, announced in January she was leaving the network. What's interesting is that Myers' on-air minute count mirrored that of Attkisson's over the years.
Note that in 2007, Attkisson logged 160 on-air minutes at CBS, according to Andrew Tyndall whose Tyndall Report monitors network news. That same year, Myers appeared for a nearly identical 162 minutes on NBC. By 2010, Myers' time had fallen to 123 minutes, while Attkisson's dipped to 149 minutes. And in 2013, Myers was only on for 43 minutes, Attkisson for 54 minutes.
So that's the snapshot of two veteran network news correspondents who went from posting 160 minutes of on-air time in 2007, to under 60 minutes in 2013. But only one of them is giving interviews to conservative outlets and authoring a book where she paints herself as a victim of corporate censorship--Attkisson.
Network news correspondent jobs aren't tenured for life. Nobody's promised endless airtime. With a 20-year run, Attkisson's career at CBS News was a long and prosperous one. Now she's trying to spin her departure and suggest her bosses worked to silence her efforts. But until she produces hard evidence to buttress her allegations of ethical misconduct inside CBS, Attkisson's claims sound more and more like sour grapes.