Former CBS News correspondent Sharyl Attkisson has been making the media rounds, discussing her departure from the network she called home for more than two decades. She appeared on CNN's Reliable Sources over the weekend and shed additional light on a developing culture inside CBS News that she said she could no longer abide. Attkisson cited the network's "declining appetite" for original investigative reporting, prompting host Brian Stelter to note the irony that CBS News' slogan is "original reporting." But her concerns extended far beyond some producers' and executives' apparent disinterest in her brand of journalism. She said CBS' internal editorial inertia resists stories that could reflect poorly on the Obama administration, or the federal government in general. This full exchange is worth your time:
(1) Some CBS News managers are so "ideologically entrenched," Attiksson explained, that they're willing to quash or bury reports that could inflict political damage on the sitting administration. These influential figures "never mind the stories that seem to -- for example, and I did plenty of them -- go against the grain of the Republican Party. But they do seem to feel defensive about, almost personally defensive about, stories that could make the [current] government look bad." Stelter drilled down a bit, asking if Attkisson was similarly steered away from pursuing negative pieces about the previous administration. Her answer was unequivocal: "I didn't sense any resistance in doing stories that were perceived to be negative to the Bush administration. By anybody, ever." Adversarial journalism with conservatives in the crosshairs (for which Attkisson has won Emmys) was encouraged, it would seem, while pieces that risked crossing Team Obama faced additional obstacles.
(2) The president of CBS News is David Rhodes, whose brother, Ben, is a White House official. I wrote about that potential conflict of interest last year, but have since been assured by a number of sources (including Brit Hume) that the Rhodes brothers' politics don't necessarily mesh. In this interview, Attkisson attested that Rhodes was not a source of her frustrations at CBS; to the contrary, she said she and Rhodes had a "meeting of the minds." This goes to show that damning-looking breadcrumbs don't always lead where one assumes they might.
(3) Attkisson described "organized campaigns" from special interests -- within government and without -- that apply pressure to networks over story selection. This heat begins "prior to [a story] airing, when they get wind that it's going to air, as it airs, [and] after it airs." (The Obama campaign was infamous for this sort of guerilla-style agitation). These coordinated efforts, she said, may have prodded some CBS News suits to conclude that journalism critical of certain powerful entities was "too much trouble." Prodded to respond from criticisms of her work from the George Soros-backed, left-wing group Media Matters, Attkisson calmly dissected their modus operandi:
The Left's objective with Attkisson -- who has been one of the few mainstream reporters willing to wade into major Obama scandals -- is to "controversialize" her work product in an effort to convince her fellow journalists to tune her out. Liberals ghettoize conservative outlets and Fox News as illegitimate, so Attkisson's tenacious pursuit of the "wrong" stories prompted a furious marginalization campaign. Watching Attkisson coolly and professionally expose their machinations on CNN must have caused some heartburn at Media Matters headquarters -- although they've got their hands full at the moment with an absolutely hilarious labor dispute with...the SEIU.
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