Media Editor Anne Dachel's Note: Sharyl Attkisson talked about her career, the state of the media, and her future plans with Brian Lamb of C-Span. (Watch here.) Ms. Attkisson left CBS News in March 2014..... Thank you to Bob Moffit for sharing the link with me
Brian Lamb asked her why she left:
"Primarily because there just wasn't a market for what I think I do best. . . good investigative reporting, preferably on topics that are under-reported or underserved
otherwise, and often on topics that other people don't want to touch because they get so much pushback or blowback. I like covering those kinds of topics. It doesn't mean they're easy to cover, but I think that's important."
Lamb showed a clip of Attkisson from an interview from five years earlier. At that time, she loved her job at CBS. "This is the best!" She added, "The joke is, you're only as good as your last story."
Five years ago, she felt, "Overall, this is exactly where I want to be and what I want to do." She said her bosses "heavily support" her work.
Lamb asked her, "What happened?"
Attkisson: "I think overall, not just at CBS, according to my colleagues. . . there's been a declining appetite for investigative reporting. It's gotten harder and harder. . . Any kind of reporting that goes after the powers that be. There are such organized, well-financed efforts that go after the reporters and the reports, before, during and after they're being crafted. It's a lot of trouble and it ruffles a lot of feathers, and it upsets a lot of people."
Why are they concerned about "the powers that be"?
Attkisson: "It's a complex question. I think that there's an element of, it's just easier to take the path of least resistance. . . . I think there are financial connections between people that we may do stories on and the network entities we work for. I think there are politic connections sometimes. I think it's a very complex web of factors that have come together in sort of a perfect storm that's led to this declining appetite for investigative reporting.
"We have lost--really all the investigative reporters from CBS News are gone. They still have an investigative unit of producers. . . but the on-air people that were doing investigative reporting over the last couple of years--they're all gone."
Lamb then pointed out that there's a declining audience for network news shows. Attkisson said people are going elsewhere for their news. Network news stories are necessarily original anymore.
Attkisson: "Viewers have many places they can go to find news that they can't get elsewhere." She said alternative sources didn't always involve "a fair perspective," but instead were opinion blogs.
Next she was asked about her upcoming book and the coverage she got when she decided to leave CBS.
A clip of a recent interview with Lisa Meyers was shown. She had just retired from NBC.
Lisa Meyers: "I think journalism at its best, is a matter of holding powerful people and institutions accountable and exposing injustice. I fear today that we're not doing that enough. ...We're too driven by social media. ..
Attkisson was totally in agreement with Meyers. She cited the fact that there were other prominent journalists felt the same way. She also said that a year earlier she was prepared to leave CBS, but her boss talked her out it.
Her most important point was that she wanted to authentically cover the news but that those in charge of the news refused to carry her stories. Attkisson lamented the fact that she had stories involving whistle blowers that never got aired.
Lamb asked if these things were "a corporate decision, higher above the news people." She wasn't sure, but others thought there might be some of that going on.
Attkisson: "If there are a set of stories . . . that hits a set of advertisers that are very valuable to a company or a corporation, there is some discouragement to follow that path of stories. That probably always been the case, but ...with the financial crunch in the economy in recent years. ...that influencing factor became somewhat stronger. "
Attkisson also talked about the staff reductions she'd seen over the last 20 years. Her publisher had changed the title of her book from Unaccountable to Stonewalled. The discussion then turned the lack of transparency in Obama's Washington. She graded this administration with an "F." She specifically talked about the difficulty in getting information from Health and Human Services, citing FOIA requests that take 10 years to get.
She talked specifically about investigating vaccine stories. "The FDA shuts you out. I had the press person, the first time I met her, from FDA literally walk up to me and say ,'I hate you.' I was so literally taken aback, I'd never met her before, but this is sort of their attitude. They shut you out and they won't call you for press conferences and they won't clue you in on things. But I argue, all you're losing is the propaganda they want you to have anyway. You're never going to get a great "get" from the administration or from a federal agency about themselves and something they've done wrong, which is primarily the watchdog reporting I do.
Attkisson said networks were threatened with not getting access to sources if they aired stories that were not favorable to the government. When asked about having her young adult daughter also go into journalism, she said she wouldn't advise it.
There was one very attention-getting statement about halfway through the interview: "I argue corporation and government has almost become one and the same in their interests in recent years.
Special interests have been able to, I say figuratively, buy and pay for Capitol Hill interests. Many congressmen, the people on the committees on Capitol Hill who are supposed to watchdog certain industries and corporations, now fund raise--They get on those committees so they can fundraise from those very industries. Those are like key positions that they want to have so they can stay in office and serve the interests of those contributors rather than of the American public. It's all melded together in such a way that I think everyone is serving corporate and powers that be masters. And the media, we're supposed to be the ones, if all else fails, we're supposed to hold them accountable, and I think we're falling short in many cases, of doing that."
"To often now, we accept what politicians say uncritically and without checking. We are more likely now, as a general group in the media, I see this more than I used to, to take a press release or a pronouncement ...by a federal agency, even one that's been proven to provide misinformation or inaccurate information in the past, and take that as fact without checking it.... I think we pass along more information like that than we used to. ..."
Attkisson said that "FOIA is about 96 percent broken. Occasionally I can get something." ...
"It's pretty much pointless and useless."
Her goal: "I think my main goal at this stage of my life and career is to be able to publish stories that have some meaning, that are original, that maybe go against powers that be that others are afraid of, and have it be done in a way that's honest and straightforward and not shaped by the efforts that are out there to shape it in one direction or another."
And her book..."Is to make the public aware that the images that they see on the news and elsewhere everyday ... are manipulated in many cases by unseen forces that are being paid to do this...
Sharyl Attkisson, a five time Emmy winning journalist has given us this coverage of the vaccine autism link, including the work of Dr. Andrew Wakefield.
Gardasil HPV Vaccine Side Effects, July 8, 2008
Is HPV Vaccine Safe? July 7, 2008
Vaccine Watch, June 19, 2008
The "Open Question" On Vaccines and Autism, May 12, 2008
The Theories About Autism And Vaccines March 7, 2008
Vaccine Case: An Exception Or A Precedent? March 6, 2008
Vaccines on Trial 2007
Mercury Link To Autism? June 22, 2004
Autism, Mercury Link Disputed May 18, 2004
Anne Dachel is Media Editor for Age of Autism and author of The Big Autism Cover-Up: How and Why the Media Is Lying to the American Public, which goes on sale this Fall from Skyhorse Publishing.