Sharyl Attkisson's new book attempts to cast the former CBS News reporter as an intrepid reporter fighting against intractable barriers. But the book's sloppy inaccuracies and absent context reinforce her image as a journalist more interested in a biased narrative than uncovering the facts.
Attkisson resigned this year after two decades at CBS and promptly launched a media tour attacking her former employer for supposedly protecting the Obama administration from her reporting. Her new book has been published and promoted by conservative interests, who clearly see this narrative as a confirmation of their worldview that the "liberal" media is biased against them.
But Attkisson doesn't portray herself as a conservative folk hero pitted against "liberal bias." In fact, she sees that kind of rhetoric as distracting "from the real issues," and the real reasons she left CBS. Instead, Stonewalled: My Fight for Truth Against the Forces of Obstruction, Intimidation, and Harassment in Obama's Washington is meant to confirm her place in the pantheon of nonpartisan journalists, who will "follow a story wherever it leads, no matter how unpleasant, no matter whom it touches or implicates." In her account, Attkisson is one of the few reporters who have been trying to hold the Obama administration accountable by investigating its supposedly scandalous behavior in the face of "forces" who seek to protect the White House.
Attkisson organizes the book around her coverage of four major news stories -- the botched law enforcement Operation Fast and Furious, the bankruptcy of a few green energy companies that had received federal funding, the Benghazi attacks, and the rollout of the Affordable Care Act's website, Healthcare.gov -- which she casts as symbolic of her desire to investigate administration failures. But Attkisson claims her efforts were repeatedly stymied by CBS.
Attkisson's claims of the opposition she faced at CBS News are difficult to confirm, as they rely on private conversations and anonymous sources. (The Washington Post's Erik Wemple has been attempting to identify and reach out to some of them, but has received few confirmations.) But her account inflates those supposed scandals by hiding key facts in favor of pushing conservative talking points -- the sort of behavior that led CBS officials to fear that she was "wading dangerously close to advocacy" in her reporting.
Attkisson was one of the first reporters to cover Operation Fast and Furious, under which Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) agents allowed firearms to be trafficked across the U.S. - Mexico border, hoping to follow the guns to high-level Mexican drug cartel targets. ATF lost track of the guns, some of which ended up at crime scenes in Mexico, while others were found at the scene of the fatal shooting of a U.S. Border Patrol agent in Arizona.
Stonewalled details Attkisson's role in reporting the story, for which she won an Emmy. However, her book also floats a number of debunked conservative conspiracy theories about the botched operation, while promoting the 2012 Department of Justice Inspector General report that undermines those same theories.
For instance, Attkisson falsely suggests that her reporting proved Attorney General Eric Holder was lying about his knowledge of Fast and Furious. Holder testified under oath that he was unaware of the operation until it became public knowledge in early 2011, but Attkisson claims Holder was aware several months earlier:
Unfortunately for Holder, it wasn't long after his testimony that we obtained internal documents showing he was actually sent weekly briefings on Fast and Furious as early as July 2010, ten months before. The briefings came from the director of the National Drug Intelligence Center and from Holder's own Assistant Attorney General Breuer.
However, the Inspector General report found that Holder did not personally review those reports, and that those reports did not refer to the agent's major failure to stop the firearms from crossing the border. The report went on to completely exonerate Holder, placing the "primary responsibility" for Fast and Furious on the ATF's Phoenix field office and the Phoenix U.S. Attorney's Office. Even House Oversight Chair Darrell Issa (R-CA) has acknowledged that he has "no evidence" or even a "strong suspicion" that Holder was aware of the gunwalking tactics.
Attkisson calls the Inspector General report "scathing" while acknowledging that its findings contradicted some of her reporting. Nevertheless, she misleadingly concludes by blasting the press for accurately exonerating Holder, accusing them of a "generous interpretation of the facts."
Attkisson goes on to attack the Obama administration's electric vehicle initiative, a part of the Department of Energy's clean energy loan program. She focuses on several failed companies that received federal funds, including Fisker Automotive and A123, and falsely claims their eventual bankruptcies were representative of the entire program:
Were these failed enterprises alone among an overwhelming body of successful green energy initiatives funded by tax dollars? No.
This is false. Despite conservative media's fixation on the few beneficiaries of clean energy loan programs that failed, such as Fisker and Solyndra -- and despite Attkisson's previous error-ridden report on what CBS called "new Solyndras" -- 98 percent of clean energy funds went to successful ventures:
Attkisson criticizes the media for a double standard when covering the bankruptcies, insisting that journalists gave President Obama a pass that they wouldn't have afforded President Bush -- all while insisting that she would have covered each president fairly (emphasis added):
Imagine a parallel scenario in which President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney personally appeared at groundbreakings for, and used billions of tax dollars to support, multiple giant corporate ventures whose investors were sometimes major political campaign bundlers, only to have one (or two, or three) go bankrupt. At a cost to taxpayers of hundreds of millions of dollars. During a presidential election. When they knew in advance the companies' credit ratings were junk. News headlines would have been relentless with images of Bush and Cheney smiling and waing at one contrsuction-start ceremony after another, making their invalidated claims about jobs and untold millions...contrasted with images of empty plants and boarded-up warehouses. And I would have been proposing those stories.
But the program that started the Fisker loans -- called the Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing program -- did begin under Bush.
In fact, Fisker itself was approached by the Bush administration and encouraged to apply for the loan, and they were in charge when the application was filed. Attkisson does not mention this context in her description of Fisker; instead, all she offers is a brief note that she had broadly investigated "the backgrounds of some troubled green ventures that benefited from federal tax dollars, whether under Bush or Obama."
Attkisson hides basic facts to suggest the Obama administration is trying to cover up the truth about September 2012 terrorist attacks in Benghazi, Libya.
She narrates a moment in November 2012 when she attempted to find a photograph of President Obama on the night of the Benghazi attacks as a way to account for his "actions that night." Conservative media, and Fox News in particular, have repeatedly questioned the whereabouts of various administration officials the night of the attacks.
Attkisson claims the White House isn't being forthright about the President's whereabouts, which she characterizes as suspicious and politically motivated, given that "tax dollars pay to have a professional photographer cover most every aspect of the president's work life."
A photo of the president in the Oval Office taken the night of the attacks has been available on the public White House Flickr account since October 11, 2012, three weeks before Attkisson claims she started looking for a photo.
The photo depicts Obama meeting with Denis McDonough, then-Deputy National Security Advisor, Vice President Joe Biden, then-National Security Advisor Tom Donilon, and then-Chief of Staff Jack Lew. The existence of the photo has been repeatedly documented. Attkisson apparently did not know about the photo at the time, but she does not attempt to reconcile the facts now.
Attkisson criticizes her CBS bosses for not letting her repeatedly report on theoretical security problems the Affordable Care Act's insurance exchange website faced -- while hiding key testimony that confirmed there had been no security breaches.
Attkisson highlights the closed-door House Oversight Committee testimony of Teresa Fryer, a lead cybersecurity official on the project, who Attkisson holds up as "a knowledgeable insider" whose testimony is worth trusting as a "current, sitting, senior manager." Fryer testified that there had been two high-risk security findings on Healthcare.gov "after it went live October 1" (emphasis original), which Attkisson claims is a "bombshell" and reveals that the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has misled journalists when they confirmed that "all fears about security risks in the past never came to pass."
What Attkisson fails to note is that during her testimony Fryer also explained there had been "no successful breaches" of the website; the "several layers of security" in place had performed as expected. The two findings Fryer mentioned were simply red flags -- they did not result in any real security failures, according to Fryer herself.
Attkisson notes that according to HHS one of the findings was a "false alarm" and the second was fixed, but insists "that may or may not be true. No proof is offered." She insists until evidence is produced it's simply the government's "side of the story," and derides media figures who accept the HHS "claims." She does not mention that Fryer made the exact same claims.
Fox News used a baseless, wildly inflated figure to blame the continued delay of the Keystone XL pipeline on spending by climate activist Tom Steyer, who has lobbied against the project. The network claimed that Steyer has spent $42.9 billion on the midterm elections -- a number that is nearly 600 times larger than the amount Steyer has actually spent.
On October 30, the hosts of Fox News' Fox & Friends berated the Obama administration for delaying a decision on the Keystone XL pipeline until after the 2014 midterm elections. If approved, the pipeline would transport crude oil from so-called "tar sands" deposits in Canada to refineries on the Gulf Coast for export overseas. Fox co-host Anna Kooiman alleged that part of "the equation" for that delay is the money and influence of Steyer -- a donor and activist supporting environmental causes -- in this year's elections. Kooiman claimed that Steyer had contributed "some $42.9 billion" to defeating the pipeline:
Tom Steyer's entire net worth is $1.6 billion, according to Forbes, and as of October 28, Steyer had spent about $73 million during this year's elections, according to USA Today, on issues ranging from the Keystone XL to the Renewable Fuel Standard to climate change denial. Fox inflated Steyer's contributions in opposition to the pipeline by nearly 600 times, and its estimate is off by roughly $42.8 billion.
From the October 29 edition of MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show:
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On the second anniversary of Superstorm Sandy, Fox News promoted a plan called the "Hurricane Slayer," which works to cool ocean temperatures through geoengineering, without mentioning climate change or the role it played in exacerbating the devastating storm.
In late October 2012, Superstorm Sandy made landfall on the Atlantic seaboard bringing catastrophic damage and massive flooding exacerbated by rising sea levels due to global-warming. As global ocean temperatures continue to rise from man-made global warming, hurricanes are expected to become even more intense.
Fox made no mention of climate change or sea level rise during a segment on how to "lessen the impact of storms like Sandy" on the October 29 edition of Happening Now. Instead, Fox correspondent Doug Kennedy interviewed scientist Alan Blumberg about his plan to lower the intensity of future storms called the "Hurricane Slayer." Blumberg explained that his plan would use "tubular pumps" to bring cold water from deep in the ocean to cool the surface water and lessen the difference between ocean temperature and air temperature, which he explained is "key in lessening a [hurricane] wind's wrath":
From the October 28 edition of Fox News' The Five:
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The Wall Street Journal is defending BP's decision to fight its legal responsibilities in the wake of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill by criticizing both class-action lawsuits and the settlement agreement that BP itself agreed to.
The Journal is vocally opposed to class action lawsuits and has previously criticized them as frivolous, abusive, and beneficial only to trial attorneys. Yet the editorial board apparently isn't fond of companies that take responsibility for their harmful actions and settle, either -- even though these settlements can be a less costly alternative to class action lawsuits.
In a recent editorial, the Journal was supportive of BP's latest efforts to avoid having to pay claims related to the oil spill that it caused and that has still not fully been cleaned out of the Gulf of Mexico. Even though BP helped craft and agreed to a billion-dollar settlement deal in order to avoid a trial result that could have been even more damaging, the company is now questioning the terms of the agreement. The Journal is fully onboard with BP's tactics, despite the fact that BP has repeatedly lost its varied attempts to disregard the settlement. The Journal wrote that the ensuing payments to claimants represent "an all-you-can-eat buffet" that is "the best thing ever to happen to the trial lawyers who continue to exploit the accident for fun and profit."
The editorial went on to call on the Supreme Court "to impose discipline on the class-action lawsuit industry" by voiding the settlement under a far-fetched legal theory that could foreclose the ability of anyone to agree to a settlement:
The fund has become an all-you-can-eat buffet and everybody is invited, regardless of the cause of the damages they may or may not have suffered. As long as claimants can show a material loss within certain geographical regions, they qualify.
BP sued to break this wave of abuse but lost in front of [federal district court Judge Carl] Barbier and then mostly again amid a tangle of opinions at the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. But the major question for the High Court to resolve isn't a narrow dispute about whether [claims administrator for the settlement fund Patrick] Juneau's or BP's interpretation of the terms is right. Rather, it's whether the courts can certify a class in which thousands of people cannot prove they suffered injuries that the defendant caused and could never succeed in an individual lawsuit, as even Mr. Juneau has conceded.
A class settlement is not a mere understanding among private parties but carries a judicial imprimatur -- or at least is supposed to outside of the Bayou. The legal system is not allowed to convert non-claims into legitimate claims under either Federal Rule of Civil Procedure No. 23 or especially Article III of the U.S. Constitution.
The main reason is that aggregating real and false torts exceeds the constitutional bounds that limits judicial power to "cases and controversies." If BP wants to run a pot-of-gold fund, that's its business, but the courts can't play the administrator.
After being ignored by the mainstream media, the co-founder of The Weather Channel was given a platform on Fox News to spout climate denial. But the discredited former meteorologist has no formal education in climate science, and he did little in his Fox appearance but repeat falsehoods.
The October 28 edition of Fox News' The Kelly File featured John Coleman, co-founder of The Weather Channel, allowing him to promote his belief that "man-made global climate change is a myth." During the segment, Coleman falsely claimed that the scientific consensus that human activities drive climate change is based on "bad, bad science" and repeated the falsehoods that an increase in Arctic ice disproves global warming and that polar bears are doing just fine. He also blamed Al Gore for making it difficult for a climate skeptic to "get on TV":
Host Megyn Kelly joked that The Weather Channel is now going to "be pushed out of existence since [Coleman has] taken this position." But Coleman's connections to The Weather Channel were severed decades ago; he helped created the 24-hour weather channel in the 1980s and served as CEO of the company until he was forced out one year after it went to air.
Moreover, Coleman's experience in weather forecasting does not make him an expert in climate science -- there is an immense difference between a scientist and a weather forecaster. For starters, they use different models and ask different questions: climate scientists observe and predict long-term trends over entire ecosystems, while meteorologists focus on weekly, daily, and hourly changes in the weather. MIT climate scientist Kerry Emanuel previously compared asking a meteorologist's opinion on the state of climate science to "asking a country doctor to comment on the latest developments in biomedical research." Disregarding the fact that Coleman never received a formal education in meteorology -- his degree was in journalism -- his experience predicting the weather does not make him a credible source to debunk the vast majority of scientific literature on climate change.
Coleman also claimed that "9,000 Ph.D.'s and 31 [thousand] scientists" agree with his position on climate change, referring to the widely discredited Oregon Petition Project. Its signatories are mostly engineers with master's degrees, and it once included the names of fictitious characters and a member of the Spice Girls.
For years, Coleman has been connected to the Heartland Institute, which has been funded by fossil-fuel interests, and its promotion of climate change denial. Coleman was featured at a Heartland Institute climate conference in July of this year. Previously, he hosted four paid associates of Heartland to deny climate change on the San Diego station where he worked as weathercaster for 20 years (he has since retired). As Coleman told Kelly, the Heartland Institute has been promoting his letter urging UCLA's Hammer Museum to "provide balance" to a debate it recently hosted on climate change. In the letter, Coleman wrote, "It is important to have those who attend know that there is no climate crisis."
On the same day the Kelly and Fox News chose to feature Coleman, the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) convened to finalize a report saying that climate change driven by human activities will cause "severe, pervasive, and irreversible impacts" if left unchecked, which Bloomberg News noted is "stronger language" than the panel has previously used. At the time of this posting, Fox News has not covered these IPCC meetings.*
*Based on a search of internal video archives for "climate."
Fox News went to bat for a Virginia lobbyist-turned-farmer unhappy with the easement restrictions agreed to as a condition on the purchase of her property, characterizing the execution of the easement as an attempted "land grab" and government invasion.
On the October 22 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends, co-host Brian Kilmeade summarized the story of farmer and right-wing political activist Martha Boneta with the tease, "Caught on camera: A woman's farm invaded by the government." Boneta appeared for an interview to explain how, in the words of co-host Steve Doocy, a "land grab" of her farm was in the works.
Boneta, a GOP donor and so-called "Tea party farmer," complained that because the Piedmont Environmental Council (PEC) owns conservation easements on her land, the group is conducting "invasive" and "abusive" inspections of the property. She proclaimed, "What we have here is an organization that has the power over thousands of acres of American farm land and yet there is no accountability to the American people or the democratic process."
Conservation easements are legally binding agreements entered into by private parties. And PEC is a private party, with a private property right attached to Boneta's farm that the organization's representatives are responsible for inspecting. Boneta's claim that PEC is "an organization that has the power over thousands of acres of American farm land" is simply her devious way of describing the basic right of a person or organization to purchase and own property and control the conditions upon which they transfer that property.
A BP executive dismissed the environmental impacts of the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill and the company's role in the disaster in an opinion article for Politico Magazine, while the company is attempting to overturn a court decision finding it "grossly negligent." But the effects of one of the worst environmental disasters in U.S. history are still being felt in the region today.
Four years after BP's Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded in the Gulf, BP's senior vice president of communications and external affairs Geoff Morrell attempted to argue that previous "dire predictions" about the environmental effects of the spill had been overblown. In an October 21 Politico Magazine article, Morell wrote that a yet-to-be-completed environmental assessment -- funded by BP -- will show that "the Gulf environment is rebounding and that most of the environmental impact was of short duration and in a limited geographic area."
But Morrell's Politico Magazine article was misleading. Wildlife in the region is still experiencing the consequences of the spill, according to a recent report from the National Wildlife Federation (NWF). The NWF studied 14 species that have suffered effects from the spill, including the ongoing illness of bottlenose dolphins and a "dramatic increase" in sea turtle deaths. The report concluded that more needs to be done to speed up the region's recovery. CBS reported of its findings: "No matter how much money is exchanged and what efforts are done, there remains no guarantee that the Gulf Coast regions will fully recover to pre-spill conditions."
Morrell also made the mistaken claim that bacteria in the Gulf's waters "adapted over time to feast on oil," which he claimed showed the Gulf's "inherent resilience" in recovering from the spill. But the bacteria's appetite for oil "die[d] down five months" after the oil rig explosion, according to a team of researchers at Rochester University.
BP is currently attempting to overturn the recent court verdict that the company was "grossly negligent" in advance of and in response to the spill. The verdict, which assigns BP the majority of the blame, sets the financial penalties the company may have to pay at as much as $18 billion.
The night before the court decision was first announced, Morrell blamed "opportunistic" environmentalists for over-exaggerating the spill's environmental impacts and journalists for "under-report[ing]" the company's cleanup efforts. He echoed this argument in the October Politico Magazine article, writing that "we should not be accountable for damages caused by the acts of others, or those conjured up by opportunistic advocacy groups."
Politico has touted its magazine, which launched last November, as containing "consequential stories that are not always the stuff of daily headlines" and aiming "to fill a dangerous vacuum in the rapidly transitioning world of journalism, with too few really big takes on big subjects holding leaders in Washington and beyond accountable."
Thousands of low-income Detroit residents denied access to water over delinquent bills did not find much sympathy from the hosts of Fox & Friends, who argued, "If you're not paying for water, why should you get it?"
The city of Detroit has shut off water service to more than 27,000 households this year, an effort to address the water department's more than $5 billion in debt in a city where over 50 percent of residents are delinquent on their water bill.
An estimated 2,300 homes are still without water, despite the fact that the city has established a payment plan for some who are unable to afford their water bill. The city says that 33,000 customers are currently enrolled. According to U.N. human rights officials who made an informal visit to Detroit, the water disconnection constitutes a human rights violation.
But to the hosts of Fox & Friends, the water shutoffs were more justified. Co-host Ainsley Earhardt said that it is "devastating" that several thousand Detroit families don't have water and that she's sorry they can't afford to pay their bills, but declared:
EARHARDT: Why is that any different than any other bill that we have to pay? You don't pay your car payment, you don't pay your house payment, you lose your car. You lose your house. If you're not paying for water, why should you get it?
The hosts condemned the U.N. officials' determination that the water shutoffs constituted a human rights violation, claiming the U.N. was making "a deliberate attempt to embarrass the United States."
Fox's indignation didn't extend to the commercial and industrial businesses similarly behind on their water bills -- as of July, the city had not reported which delinquent businesses had seen their service disconnected. According to recent reports, the Detroit Red Wings' hockey arena and the Detroit Lions' stadium owe tens of thousands in unpaid water bills but still have service.
Detroit's water shutoffs take the greatest toll on low-income residents, a significant number of people given that nearly 40 percent of the city lives below the poverty line. People are often forced to choose between paying for rent, electricity, or water, and the water department has recently increased the price of service by almost 10 percent. Beyond water being a basic necessity for life, the lack of access has other repercussions -- it could be grounds for child protective services to remove children from their homes.
From the October 20 edition of Premiere Radio Networks' The Rush Limbaugh Show:
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Fox News has repeatedly dismissed the prioritization of addressing climate change, questioning if now is the correct time to focus on it even as military experts highlight climate change as a threat to national security.
On September 30, California became the first state to ban the use of plastic bags in stores, leading to a barrage of misinformation from various media outlets claiming the ban would actually hurt the environment. However, these contrarian claims are undermined by research showing that previous bans and taxes have reduced energy use and litter, while doing no harm to the economy.
The Daily Caller tried to "debunk" the "myth" that a recent mass walrus beaching is connected to global warming, even though scientists say the walruses have crowded onshore because they cannot find a resting place on Arctic sea ice, which has declined significantly as the Earth warms.
An October 1 Daily Caller article titled "Myth Debunked: Arctic Walrus Beachings Are Nothing New" promoted zoologist Susan Crockford's claims that a recent massive beaching of around 35,000 walruses on a single Alaskan shore has nothing to do with climate change. To support her claim, Crockford cherry-picked two instances of walrus beachings from the 1970s.
However, Biologist Anatoly Kochnev of Russia's Pacific Institute of Fisheries and Oceanography told NBC News that extended beachings of this size only began occurring in the late 1990s, adding: "The reason is global warming." Vox.com's Brad Plumer further reported that this "appears to be the largest ever observed in northern Alaska, though NOAA is still trying to verify the exact numbers." The current beaching is so vast that the Federal Aviation Authority is re-routing flights in order to avoid setting off a stampede.
In six of the past eight years, all of the floating sea ice in the Chukchi Sea (the region of the Arctic near the current haul-out) that walruses need to rest in between swims has completely melted away by mid-September, according to Chadwick Jay, head of the U.S. Geological Survey's Pacific walrus program.
In the Daily Caller article, Crockford even noted that mass walrus beachings occurred in 2009, 2011 and 2014, but dismissed them simply because they "did not coincide with the lowest levels of Arctic summer sea ice" in 2007 and 2012.
However, every one of these years had much less Arctic sea ice than the historical average, contributing to the extended beachings.
And 2007 actually did experience a massive beaching, contrary to Crockford's claim.
Daily Caller's attempt to rebut what appears to be the consensus, that the massive walrus beaching is one example of climate change's impacts, relied entirely on Crockford. But Crockford may not be the most reliable source -- she has been working to attack the scientific consensus for years, once signing onto a document "rebuk[ing]" President Obama for accepting manmade global warming. A 2012 document from the climate "skeptic" Heartland Institute, which has received funding from oil interests, showed that Crockford was paid by the institute for the explicit purpose of combatting the United Nations' consensus reports on the state of climate science. She has co-authored several of Heartland's "Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change" (NIPCC) reports that attempt to mirror and debunk the U.N. reports. Climate scientist Kevin Trenberth has stated that the NIPCC reports have "no standing whatsoever."
CNN aired only a third as much coverage as MSNBC on the United Nations' Climate Summit and related events including the historic People's Climate March. Even Fox News aired over twice as much on the subject compared to CNN -- though much of its coverage mocked or dismissed the events.