Sharyl Attkisson's new book shows the common interest between a discredited journalist trying to cash in on right-wing credibility and the conservative machine that wants its media worldview confirmed.
Attkisson resigned in March after two decades at CBS News, reportedly in part because she believed the network had stymied her reporting due to "liberal bias." Staffers there reportedly characterized her work, which often focused on trumped-up claims of Obama administration misdeeds, as "agenda-driven," leading "network executives to doubt the impartiality of her reporting."
In her forthcoming book, Stonewalled, Attkisson alleges that the press has been protecting Obama from scrutiny for ideological reasons. "Attkisson doesn't explicitly accuse CBS and the rest of the mainstream media of a pervasive liberal bias," writes Fox News' Howard Kurtz in a review. "But that view is clear from sheer accumulation of detail in her book."
Based on press accounts, Attkisson's allegations of CBS News' bias rely largely on her own recollections of conversations she says she had with her former colleagues. The network declined Media Matters' request for comment, but one apparent subject of Attkisson's criticism has denied her account.
Attkisson's credibility is central to determining whether to believe her claims. Given her history of conspiratorial claims and shoddy reporting -- including her false and baseless claim that Media Matters may have been paid to attack her -- it is difficult to take her story at face value. But one thing is clear: her message is very valuable to both right-wing media and Attkisson herself.
Conservative media are lashing out at individuals who have worked with and support Hillary Clinton to attack her by proxy and rehash tired Benghazi smears.
The Washington Post reported this week that WJLA, ABC's Washington, D.C., affiliate, has taken a "subtle but noticeable turn to the right" since being taken over by the Sinclair Broadcasting Group. This conservative tilt was on full display this week when the channel ran a news package promoting a baseless conspiracy theory about Benghazi from reporter Sharyl Attkisson.
The Washington Post piece highlighted the concerns of some staff members of local ABC affiliate WJLA, that following the finalization of the sale to Sinclair in August 2014, "some of the stories ordered by Sinclair on a 'must-run' basis don't meet the station's long tradition of non-partisan reporting." One factor in this shift to conservative partisan reporting was announced in July prior to the sale, when Sinclair hired discredited journalist Sharyl Attkisson as an "independent freelance reporter" to "focus on stories that follow the money and waste watch type of investigations."
However, prior to the September 17 opening hearing of the House Benghazi Special Committee, Attkisson ran a dubious report for Sinclair that appeared on WJLA highlighting the unverifiable claims of former State Department employee Raymond Maxwell alleging that some documents were intentionally withheld from the Accountability Review Board investigating the terrorist attacks in Benghazi:
The same day Attkisson's report ran on WJLA, Attkisson appeared on Fox News Channel's Fox & Friends where she reiterated the report's unsubstantiated accusations. Host Steve Doocy lamented that only a handful of outlets such as Fox and the Daily Signal -- the Heritage Foundation website to which Attkisson occasionally contributes -- were covering this latest so-called "Benghazi bombshell." Attkisson concluded the segment by mentioning that her report was also broadcast to "maybe 30 million local news viewers" through Sinclair's affiliate stations.
Although Sinclair's support of right-wing misinformation has been widely documented and criticized for many years, its increasing influence in local media bodes ill for objective journalism at stations like WJLA.
From the September 16 edition of MSNBC's PoliticsNation:
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Fox News' coverage of an evidence-free "bombshell" from Benghazi hoaxster Sharyl Attkisson took just hours to morph from a reiteration of her claim that a disgruntled former State Department employee "couldn't help but wonder" if Hillary Clinton's staff had turned over "scrubbed" Benghazi documents to investigators into full-blown allegations that documents had been "destroyed" -- allegations that remain baseless.
From the September 15 edition of Fox News' Special Report with Bret Baier:
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A new report from discredited investigative journalist Sharyl Attkisson baselessly suggested State Department staff removed damaging documents on Benghazi instead of turning them over to the Accountability Review Board (ARB) for investigation. But Attkisson's claims have been denied by the State Department and are based solely on speculations from a disgruntled employee after he was disciplined for his "lack of leadership" and engagement by the ARB.
In a September 15 report for The Daily Signal, a publication of the conservative Heritage Foundation, Attkisson reported that a former State Department diplomat alleges that "Hillary Clinton confidants were part of an operation to 'separate' damaging documents before they were turned over to the Accountability Review Board investigating security lapses surrounding the Sept. 11, 2012, terrorist attacks on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya." The Daily Signal described this as a "Benghazi Bombshell."
Attkisson reported that the diplomat, Raymond Maxwell, a former deputy assistant secretary responsible for North Africa, says that in late 2012 he observed an "after-hours session" at which a State Department office director "close to Clinton's top advisers" directed staff to separate out Benghazi documents "that might put anybody in the Near Eastern Affairs front office or the seventh floor in a bad light" from "boxes and stacks of documents." Attkisson notes that "'seventh floor' was State Department shorthand for then-Secretary of State Clinton and her principal advisors." Maxwell told Attkisson that while he was present, Clinton Chief of Staff Cheryl Mills and Deputy Chief of Staff Jake Sullivan "appeared to check in on the operation and soon left."
Speculating that potentially missing, possibly damaging documents made it impossible for the ARB's investigation to be thorough, Attkisson reported that Maxwell said "he couldn't help but wonder if the ARB--perhaps unknowingly--had received from his bureau a scrubbed set of documents with the most damaging material missing."
Fox News' America's Newsroom quickly reported Attkisson's claims, calling them a "bombshell development" and a "smoking gun of a potential cover-up":
ABC News has reportedly invited former CBS reporter Sharyl Attkisson to be a part of the roundtable on This Week, creating a potential challenge for other panelists given her history of inaccurate stories and conspiracy theories.
After blaming CBS News' supposed political bias for her decision to leave the network, Sharyl Attkisson represented her recent affiliation with a conservative online blog as little more than a freelancer, a description seemingly at odds with the blog's explicit designation of Attkisson as a contributor.
Atkisson left CBS News in March, reportedly because of a perceived political bias at the network, and in June began work for the conservative Heritage Foundation's online news outlet, The Daily Signal. On The Daily Signal's authors page, Attkisson is currently listed as a "Senior Independent Contributor."
Yet Attkisson appeared to downplay her relationship with The Daily Signal during a Q&A interview with CSPAN on June 22. She presented her position as akin to that of a freelancer, telling host Brian Lamb "I don't have an ongoing obligation" with the outlet after they purchased one particular story:
After reportedly leaving CBS News because of the network's supposed political bias, Sharyl Attkisson is now working for the conservative Heritage Foundation as a "senior independent contributor" to their online news outlet The Daily Signal.
Politico's Dylan Byers reported in March that sources said 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," leading "network executives to doubt the impartiality of her reporting." Attkisson had supported CBS' disastrous Benghazi reporting, which the network ultimately had to apologize for and retract, and CBS executives reportedly saw her as "wading dangerously close to advocacy on the issue." She also released an error-ridden report on clean energy, and relied on partial information from House Republicans in a botched story on the Affordable Care Act.
Following her departure from the network, Attkisson attempted to paint herself has a victim of media bias, floating baseless conspiracy theories suggesting Media Matters had been paid to attack her work. She was unwilling to provide specifics, but claimed 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. Conservative media outlets, particularly Fox News, rallied to Attkisson's defense, with personalities showering praise on her shoddy work and indicating they wanted her to join the conservative network.
The Daily Signal debuted June 3 with a report from Attkisson and the first of three planned interviews with her, in which she said she hoped she could "bring under-served stories to a broad audience through an editorial process that doesn't censor, that doesn't try to direct a story to go in a certain unnatural direction."
The conservative outlet has said it plans to do "true, straight-down-the-middle journalism," while simultaneously attracting a younger audience that "will find themselves persuaded by the conservative commentary and analysis that will draw on the think tank's scholars and researchers." The Heritage Foundation, which the New York Times described as providing "the blueprint for the Republican Party's ideas in Washington," recently lost some if its "most prominent scholars." The Times added, "research that seemed to undermine Heritage's political goals has been squelched." The think tank also started the political group Heritage Action, which has proven to lean so far to the right that some congressional Republicans have reportedly distanced themselves from the group.
Bloomberg Businessweek reported that The Daily Signal will use Heritage's blog The Foundry as inspiration, which has in the past attempted to inject "its worldview into the mainstream press."
UPDATE: Media Matters founder David Brock released the following statement:
Sharyl Attkisson began auditioning for this role long before she left CBS. Her shoddy reporting on Benghazi, health care reform, and the Obama administration was relentlessly hyped by conservatives who then celebrated her hollow claims that her departure from the network was the result of liberal bias.
Media Matters has rebutted error-ridden reporting from Attkisson when she was part of the mainstream media and we look forward to continuing to do so now that she has found a happy home in the right wing.
Fox News has pushed reset on many of its favorite Benghazi myths that have already been put to rest in the wake of the recently released Rhodes email and the House GOP's announcement of the formation of a Select Committee to investigate the attacks.
From the May 1 edition of Fox News' On The Record with Greta Van Susteren:
From the April 30 edition of Fox News' Hannity:
Ex-CBS reporter Sharyl Attkisson's latest round of Benghazi misinformation rapidly became the basis of a misleading Fox News report.
In an April 29 blog, Attkisson claimed that a newly released September 14, 2012 email from Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes to other key national security aides had finally revealed "direct White House involvement in steering the public narrative about the September 11, 2012 terrorist attacks in Benghazi, Libya, toward that of a spontaneous protest that never happened." She highlighted the right's "persistent allegations that the Obama administration developed a false political narrative to downplay or hide the fact that terrorists had struck," and argued that:
[T]aken as a whole, the documents and testimony revealed since the attacks support the idea that the administration's avoidance of the word "terrorism" was a strategy rather than an accident or mistake.
The following morning, Fox & Friends parroted her attack, hyping the emails as proof the White House covered up the truth about Benghazi. Co-host Steve Doocy pushed several claims from Attkisson's blog, including that the email had been retroactively "classified" in order to keep their information away from Congress. He later reminded viewers of Fox's previous efforts to hype mainstream media stonewalling on the story: "remember, [Attkisson] resigned because, among other things, she couldn't do what she wanted to do, like Benghazi":
These allegations have been debunked again and again. The Rhodes email reveals nothing new, but was consistent with other intelligence briefings circulating at the time. A bipartisan Senate Select Committee on Intelligence report has already found that "there were no efforts by the White House or any other Executive Branch entities to 'cover-up' facts or make alterations for political purposes." Instead, it showed that former UN Ambassador Susan Rice's statements after the attacks reflected the best intelligence available at the time and revealed that it took days for eyewitness statements by U.S. personnel indicating that there had been no protests to make their way into CIA assessments -- information that was not reviewed or disseminated until after Rice's statements.
In the email preparing Rice for her September 15 appearances, Rhodes only briefly referenced Benghazi. He stated that "the currently available information suggests that the demonstrations in Benghazi were spontaneously inspired by the protests at the US Embassy in Cairo and evolved into a direct assault against the US Consulate and subsequently its annex" -- language that is identical to the initial draft of the separate set of CIA talking points that were crafted by CIA analysts earlier that day. The email's topline talking points, which both Fox and Attkisson highlighted for their failure to mention terrorism in connection to Benghazi, did not actually refer to Benghazi attack, but offered an accurate description of the anti-American protests occurring in the region at the time.
Despite Attkisson's efforts to portray herself as a victim of media censorship, this is only the latest example of how her Benghazi reporting ignores journalistic standards and denies facts. According to Politico, CBS News executives saw Attkisson as "wading dangerously close to advocacy on the issue," but her arguments are clearly at home on Fox. As fringe media increasingly embrace Attkisson's shoddy reporting, it's possible that Attkisson may find her place pushing right-wing misinformation at Fox -- as Fox personalities have previously hinted she should.
From the April 27 edition of CNN's Reliable Sources:
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