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.
National Rifle Association board member Ted Nugent weighed in on the Texas governor's race in his column for conspiracy website WND, attacking the "America-hating" campaign of Democratic candidate Wendy Davis.
In his October 29 column, Nugent wrote, "Thank God there are still way more Texans that stand in defiance of the lying, scamming, America-hating, Texas-hating scammers and scoundrels that infest and steer the Wendy Davis campaign of deception."
In February, Nugent set off a lengthy controversy when he appeared at a campaign event with Republican candidate Greg Abbott and called him his "blood brother." Abbott was criticized for appearing with Nugent after the NRA figure had recently called President Obama a "subhuman mongrel" and because of Nugent's history of demeaning attacks on women.
A paranoid column from National Rifle Association leader Wayne LaPierre appearing in the gun group's magazine fearmongered about terrorist attacks and "angry mobs" rioting "just for the sheer hell of it" in the United States before calling on supporters to "vote our guns" on Election Day.
As part of a "special two-cover election issue," the NRA's magazine, America's 1st Freedom, depicted a flag and gun-toting ISIS fighter along with the headline, "Chaos At Our Door?" Other text on the cover added, "Your Second Amendment Freedom Has Never Been More Important And Necessary. Vote Your Guns In November."
LaPierre's column was illustrated with a graphic that combined an image of a suburban house and an ISIS militant who has been seen in recent videos beheading U.S. and British hostages:
The image used by the NRA comes from an Islamic State propaganda video showing the execution of British aid worker David Haines.
Conservative media are claiming that looser gun safety laws are key to preventing shootings like the one in Canada, a nonsensical stance given that the U.S. has far less restrictions on gun ownership and a higher incidence of gun violence compared to Canada and other high-income nations.
Fox News host Andrea Tantaros attacked model Chrissy Teigen because Teigen correctly noted the higher level of public gun violence that occurs in the United States compared to Canada.
As news reports came in on October 22 about an active shooter in Canada's parliament building, Teigen tweeted, "active shooting in Canada, or as we call it in america, wednesday."
On the October 23 edition of Outnumbered, Tantaros said Teigen "is known for obviously her lovely bottom and her food Instagram pictures. She should stick to that. This is the problem when models start to talk; it plays into that dumb model stereotype."
Conservative commentator Dana Loesch's new book Hands Off My Gun: Defeating the Plot to Disarm America includes spurious quotes from George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and other Founding Fathers, despite the fact that it purports to teach readers about "the history of the Second Amendment."
Loesch, who hosts a radio show on The Blaze, is currently on a media tour promoting her book and has made appearances on Fox News programs The Kelly File, Fox & Friends, Hannity and America's Newsroom.
In her book, Loesch also attempts to demonstrate that the Founding Father's view of the Second Amendment matches her own, but in doing so she misquotes, and often takes out of context, the Founder's true words.
In a section titled, "In Their Own Words," Loesch writes, "Just to make sure everyone reading this book is well armed -- pun intended -- with the facts about the Founders and their intentions, the Buckeye Firearms Association compiled a list of quotes attributed to various Founders that demonstrated beyond any shadow of a doubt what our Constitution's drafters intended when they drafted and approved the Second Amendment."
Loesch added, "Do the new-century equivalent of sticking them onto your fridge: Post them to Facebook or Twitter."
However, many of the quotes listed are not accurate.
"A free people ought to be armed." - George Washington
"A free people ought not only to be armed, but disciplined; to which end a uniform and well-digested plan is requisite; and their safety and interest require that they should promote such manufactories, as tend to render them independent of others for essential, particularly military, supplies."
The version appearing in Loesch's book crops language from Washington's quote that made it clear he was talking about the creation of a national defense strategy. According to the full text of Washington's first State of the Union address, he was discussing what it meant to "be prepared for war" and "[t]he proper establishment of the troops."
After repeatedly using his regular Forbes column to attack gun safety efforts without mentioning that he also writes for the National Rifle Association, Frank Miniter's latest column discloses his ties to the gun group.
In an October 20 column about the relationship between gun laws and law enforcement officers, Miniter added, "Full disclosure: The often politically incorrect truth about guns led me to write the recently published book The Future of the Gun. I'm also a former executive editor of the NRA's magazine American Hunter. I still write for the NRA and for many other publications and am a 'field editor' (an honorary title) for American Hunter."
Media Matters previously criticized Miniter and Forbes for not disclosing his NRA ties in a September 25 column that claimed the gun safety initiatives undertaken by Everytown for Gun Safety and the group's founder Michael Bloomberg were "backfiring."
Miniter's latest column proves the need for the disclosure. In the piece, he cites a discredited survey previously hyped by the NRA in order to create the impression members of law enforcement typically oppose gun safety laws.
A new commentary video from the National Rifle Association defends the controversial practice of openly carrying firearms in public, arguing that firearms are not capable of intimidation.
In an October 20 video, NRA News commentator Billy Johnson took on open carry critics, stating, "Somehow we have completely dehumanized gun violence, and have instead humanized guns. Guns kill. Guns strike fear. Guns intimidate. Seriously? They're just bits of plastic and metal." Johnson also apparently defended the controversial practice of open carrying firearms in Michigan public schools.
Johnson centered his commentary around "a little bit of a dust-up over a law-abiding citizen enacting his right to open carry" in his community. He didn't identify the specific incident, however, stating, "I'm not going to get into the details, because they honestly don't matter."
Johnson stated that he is "baffled by why society is so damn afraid of" open carry and attributed concern about the practice to "our irrational, media-fed hysterical fear of guns." According to Johnson, guns "are no more capable of intimidation than my vacuum is capable of cleaning my house, or my lawn mower is capable of mowing my lawn."
A new commentary video from the National Rifle Association argues that blaming the manufacturer of the assault weapon used in the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre is "like blaming Kleenex for the flu."
On December 14, 2012, a gunman used a Bushmaster XM-15 E2S assault weapon to kill twenty children and six educators at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.
NRA News commentator Natalie Foster complained about a "lack of accuracy and shoddy research" leading to an anti-gun bias in the media and argued, "Bushmaster, for instance, was blamed for Sandy Hook. It's like blaming Kleenex for the flu" in an October 15 commentary video.
Ted Nugent called for "freedom" or the "evil carcasses" of President Obama and other progressive politicians in a Facebook post where he told followers to support the National Rifle Association and discredited gun advocate John Lott's Crime Prevention Research Center.
Nugent is a longtime member of the NRA's board of directors, conservative columnist, and spokesperson for Outdoor Channel. In his October 14 post, Nugent named President Obama, Attorney General Eric Holder, "Clinton," Sen. Charles Schumer (D-IL), Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-CA), Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), and former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg (I) as participants in a "propaganda jihad against our right to self-defense." He added, "JOIN THE NRA! Be the best American you can be. Freedom or their evil carcasses for traction back to it."
Nugent also called on supporters to donate money to the Crime Prevention Research Center (CPRC), a group founded by economist John Lott. Lott's research on gun issues, including his famous "more guns, less crime" theory, has been discredited in academic circles and he has faced credible accusations of data manipulation and fabrication. He often twists statistics on gun violence in order to advance a pro-gun agenda. A recent CPRC report purporting to point out errors in a study on mass shootings from Bloomberg's Everytown for Gun Safety was actually itself riddled with errors that undermined its claims.
Nugent's Facebook post:
Discredited gun researcher John Lott attacked a recent FBI report on active shooter events by suggesting the report called some incidents where no one died "mass killings." In fact the report clearly states, "This is not a study of mass killings or mass shootings," but a rather report on "active shooter incidents" in the U.S.
In September, the FBI released a report on the 160 active shooter incidents that occurred between 2000 and 2013. The report found that during the 13 year period, 1,043 people were killed (486) or wounded (557) in active shooter incidents and the number of such incidents is increasing:
According to the FBI, "The agreed-upon definition of an active shooter by U.S. government agencies -- including the White House, U.S. Department of Justice/FBI, U.S. Department of Education, and U.S. Department of Homeland Security/Federal Emergency Management Agency -- is 'an individual actively engaged in killing or attempting to kill people in a confined and populated area.'"
NRA News host Cam Edwards provided a platform for a guest to push a sexist attack against prominent gun safety advocate Shannon Watts in which the guest called Watts a "shrill harridan" and said she "stripped the most basic and threshold abilities of a man" from her husband.
On the October 9 edition of the NRA's radio show Cam & Company, guest and conservative columnist Kurt Schlichter claimed that Watts, who founded gun safety group Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, had stripped her husband "of the most basic and threshold abilities of a man; that is to defend his self, his family and his community, by being married to this shrill harridan." Schlichter was unfavorably comparing Watts to actress Annette Bening's American Beauty character Carolyn Burnham, provoking Edwards' laughter.
The Washington Times is amplifying an attack on gun violence prevention group Everytown for Gun Safety by citing a shoddy report from discredited gun researcher John Lott.
In an October 9 article, Times reporter Kelly Riddell, who is a frequent source of misinformation about gun violence, shared a report from Lott's group, Crime Prevention Research Center, that purported to demonstrate that a recent Everytown report on mass shootings is "riddled with errors."
Riddell decided to base her article solely on highlighting Lott's claims about Everytown, even while acknowledging that Lott "is often decried as biased to the right." Riddell subsequently updated the piece with responses from Everytown that debunked the Lott claims that Riddell had credulously amplified.
Lott's purported debunking of Everytown's mass shooting report itself includes erroneous information. In one case Lott, who is an economist, criticized Everytown because of his failure to distinguish between two statistical terms.
The National Rifle Association's media arm is defending a Maryland sheriff who warned that the enforcement of gun laws could lead to a civil war between his county and the federal government.
Wicomico County Sheriff Mike Lewis made national headlines in September after telling a local news station, "As long as I'm the sheriff in this county, I will not allow the federal government to come in here and strip my citizens of their right to bear arms. I can tell you this, if they attempt to do that, it would be an all-out civil war, no question about it."
According to USA Today, Lewis made similar comments to a Delaware NBC affiliate, warning of a civil war with the federal government over the enforcement of a hypothetical ban on high-capacity ammunition magazines.
In response to Lewis' comments, gun safety group Coalition to Stop Gun Violence (CSGV) launched a petition calling for the revocation of Lewis' Maryland Police Training Commission certification. According to CSGV, "It is difficult to see how a law enforcement officer who is threatening to wage war with the United States government meets any recognized standards of public service. In the wake of his threatening comments, Sheriff Lewis should not be given the responsibility of training law enforcement officers in Maryland."
The NRA's media arm, NRA News, responded to CSGV's petition, terming it "pathetic" and downplaying the inflammatory nature of Lewis' comments.
NRA News host Cam Edwards claimed that CSGV was trying to "silence" Lewis "because of the sheriff speaking up the way he has." Edwards also offered a two-fold defense of Lewis' civil war comments that sought to downplay their nature.
National Rifle Association board member and conservative commentator Ted Nugent suggested that President Obama is not a Christian and touted Republicans as "the only chance we have" to kill "the wolf at the door" during the 2014 midterm elections.
In an October 8 column for conspiracy website WND, Nugent, claiming to speak on behalf of "we the people," also conspiratorially questioned how unaccompanied children are arriving at the U.S. - Mexico border and wrote that the "vast majority" of those in poverty have "every imaginable luxury known to man":
Now more than ever, we the people are painfully aware that those subject to the separation of powers have become nothing more than a conspiratorial gang against us.
We refuse to believe that all those children showing up at our southern border just happen to make that near impossible journey all on their own.
We don't believe that our president is a Christian.
We can't believe our government squawks about so many living in so-called poverty when the vast majority of such poor people have cellphones and every imaginable luxury known to man.