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Weekly Wrap: Sharyl Attkisson Gets it Right

AofA Red Logo Ayumi YamadaBy Dan Olmsted

I know our readers appreciate Sharyl Attkisson and her willingness to take on vaccines and autism in a fair-minded way, but her new book Stonewalled really puts her at the center of a broad revival of fearless investigative reporting. It is the opposite of the “access journalism” that has plagued Washington for far too long. The New York Times-sponsored war in Iraq (aided by Judith Miller’s cozy lunches with Cheney aide Scooter Libby) and the media-wide cheerleading for the idea that vaccines don’t cause autism (because their pals at the CDC tell them so) are cases in point. Sadly, it is no exaggeration to say that lazy, credulous, cozy-up journalism has helped lead this country into the two worst international and domestic disasters of our time. 

StonewalledOtherwise, the media is doing just fine in their role as “watchdogs of democracy” (the ironic title of a book by another great Washington reporter, Helen Thomas).

I thought about this as I took Uber – a disruptive innovation that I’d never heard of just a few months ago and now means I will never call a taxi again -- from my home in Falls Church, Virginia, into what we locals call "the district" on Thursday night. As we crossed the Roosevelt Bridge, the Lincoln Memorial was lit up on the right and the Kennedy Center and Watergate on the left, with Arlington Cemetery and the Potomac River receding in the rear window. For once I wasn’t driving and trying to figure out the next turn, so I settled back. It is an awe-inspiring vista if you let it be – the greatness and majesty of the American Experiment spread out before you, with Watergate thrown in to remind us that the press keeps the government honest -- and tonight I was letting it be, the way I had 32 years ago when I came here as a wide-eyed member of the startup crew for USA Today. (These days, I’m one of those jaded residents who like to tell visitors that the rococo multi-tiered Watergate looks like a wedding cake, and the bland, rectangular Kennedy Center like the box it came in.)

The book party was in Georgetown, the center of the permanent establishment in Washington. This Sharyl Dan is where so many of the government and media bigwigs live – Bob Woodward, and Katherine Graham and Ben Bradlee before their deaths, and John Kennedy up to the morning he became president. Its charm is undercut these days for the people who actually live there by the Georgetown students who roam the streets after the rowdy bars let out, and by the lack of a metro stop which makes traffic and parking impossible (hence my Uber ride). But its iconic role is intact -- the last scene in All the President’s Men is Woodward and Bernstein standing with Ben Bradlee in his pajamas and robe on his front lawn in the middle of the night, conveying the full scope of the Watergate scandal and warning him that his own house might be bugged.

The car deposited me at a magnificent mansion on a quiet side street, one I suspect would have made Ben's eyes pop and Kay Graham wonder where she went wrong. This place, I knew from a little research after I got the invitation, was most definitely not Sharyl’s; the owners had paid in the upper seven figures (as Realtors here like to say) for it a decade ago, and, at unfathomable further expense, transformed its interior into an “oasis of Zen tranquility” in white, according to a design magazine spread, complete with priceless Asian artwork and statuary. (I also had borrowed a friend’s house for our book party four years ago, though on a somewhat smaller scale.)

There was a young woman just inside the door holding up a copy of Sharyl’s book, although whether that was an invitation to buy it or just a sign that we had wandered into the right mansion was unclear to me. Beyond her, a couple of hundred loudly energetic people were milling about the gorgeous rooms and, I feared, tracking mud from the recent rain onto the (white) carpets. Sharyl was surrounded, so I got a drink and a plateful of A-list food (“journalists love free food” is a truism that has fueled many a successful media event), and moved to a corner of the dining room next to a nearly full-size Buddhist statue to eat in tranquility. 

That was a little too close for comfort, it turned out; a (white-coated) waiter came over quickly and asked me to move because the statue “is so valuable.” (This reminded me of the story about the Zen master who asked his students: ““Do you see this glass? I love this glass. It holds the water admirably. When the sun shines on it, it reflects the light beautifully. When I tap it, it has a lovely ring. Yet for me, this glass is already broken. When the wind knocks it over or my elbow knocks it off the shelf and it falls to the ground and shatters, I say, ‘Of course.’ But when I understand that this glass is already broken, every minute with it is precious.” The scenario was best avoided altogether in these circumstances.)

One thing that struck me about the crowd was not just its size but that so many of them were youngish – mid-career or earlier. There were no TV faces that I recognized, but plenty of people from the online world (The Daily Beast, Bloomberg) and new power players (Politico). Despite or perhaps because of her falling out with CBS, Sharyl seemed to have quite a following among the rising generation of journalists, who are operating in ways that the collapsing Old Media can barely understand.

Speaking of local customs, I had already given her book, which came from Amazon the day before, “the Washington read” – you scan the index for your name and anything that might impinge of your area of interest; if you do this in the bookstore, you can avoid shelling out for it. My name wasn’t there, but vaccines and autism were, albeit briefly, and her words show why so many of us appreciate her work:

“After she finishes as the head of the government’s CDC, [Julie] Gerberding becomes president of vaccines for Merck. Think about it. The very government that we pay to serve us and protect our interests ends up marginalizing us, working against us, or even leaving us out of the equation entirely.”

All right!

After her first story on vaccines and autism, “hired guns for pharmaceutical interests flood me and CBS News with emails, phone calls, and requests for meetings. They write letters to CBS attorneys. The spokesman for Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy Thompson calls the CBS News Washington bureau chief to exert pressure to discredit our stories. Pharmaceutical company lawyers set up secretive meetings with CBS officials in New York. Pharmaceutical interests contact CBS executives to complain.” But Sharyl and her producer persist, and her bosses can find “no legitimate reason to kill the reports.”


A list of things that “were all later proven false” includes “cigarettes didn’t cause cancer” and  “government officials [who] claimed all links between autism and vaccines were debunked in the early 2000s.”

OK! Claiming vaccines do not cause autism is just another government lie.

There are so many powerful indictments in this book of the way the mainstream media lets government and big business collude against the rest of us that, well, you just need to buy it to enjoy them, and to savor their relevance to the issues we are focused on. (And to find out whether, as Woodward and Bernstein feared for Ben Bradlee, Sharyl's phone and computers were bugged, or, as we say nowadays, hacked). That’s why the book saying less about vaccines is actually more, because it becomes just one of many instances that point to the media’s failure to do its job. We are so used to  the issue being dragged onto a laundry list of supposed quackery that tosee it cited as proof that the government lies to us all the goddam time is kind of breathtaking.

But it's the lamestream media, not government or big business, that is her target. If the media did its job, she says, there would be a much better chance the others would do theirs:

“If the news media were to collectively hold public officials accountable, the officials wouldn’t be able to run and hide. … But it seems there are a relative few journalists doing all the chasing and more who see all that as – well, unnecessary and perhaps a bit rude. They don’t seem to share the view that public officials are answerable to the public. They make it easy for politicians to believe that the public serves them rather than the other way around.”


“The capitulation to special interests may preserve these news’ managers jobs in the short term, but in the big picture they are ensuring a quicker demise of the entire platform by alienating and eroding the audience that we supposedly serve.” 

Ultimately, this capitulation caused Sharyl to leave CBS and strike out on her own. On the face of it, such a role seems risky and uncertain – and it is. But there is really no alternative; the demise is irreversible. As the disruptive technology called Uber carried me back across the Potomac, I reflected that the world she’s leaving behind, for all its seeming power and permanance,  is already broken, shattered in a thousand pieces on the floor. What comes next will be fascinating to watch.


Dan Olmsted is Editor of Age of Autism.



@David Foster:

Here you go, David. This is a link to the first interview Sharyl did on the first day her book came out. Notice what she says about the so-called 'backspace' theory re: her computer issues:


Kind of shuts down that whole little theory about the backspace key, now doesn't it...

Jeannette Bishop

OT, but case this is not covered here in support of Sharyl's story, Judicial Watch got emails re Fast and Furious out this weekend:


Of course we have outright media publication (not coverage really) of HHS's Sibelious' directed non-coverage of vaccine problems ... so maybe this doesn't seem like news ... it's hard for me to tell nowadays...

Paul Fassa

Well - my wife was writing some heavy stuff regarding murky stuff including Gary Webb's being suicided - and her computer was acting very strangely even cursors moving without her running. There's more - but I just wanna say as did Gary Webb before he was killed - directly - that I don't believe in conspiracy theories - but I know there are conspiracies that are deadly. I don't understand why anyone would be critical or concerned about the rarity of courage exhibited by a mainstream journalist. Go Sharyl - I think you're great!

Jeannette Bishop

Thanks for letting us have a peek at Sharyl's book party!

IMO, Fast and Furious and Benghazi are huge stories FOX wouldn't really touch, way beyond "left" and "right." I'm not sure how important the Solyndra scandal is, but I'm learning things about Enron now that I think should have been huge components of the news back then, but of course wouldn't have been, because they are not out there much now.

I'm torn between wanting to see an independent up-and-coming major source for news that reporters like Sharyl could join and fear that any such successful "alternative" will either attract the capture all our "mainstream" media and probably some "alternatives" are under or will be set up from the start by the same forces with major means to buy the "news."

It gives me a daily (or weekly when I'm lazy) headache trying to figure out what is really going on with what's "news" and more importantly what's not covered, and it might be good if we can get truly subscriber supported (subscriber supported only may be crucial) news to be the new mainstream (with some independent health news coverage), but IMO people have to be more cynical (or savvy sounds better I guess--wish I was) than they want to be about what we are told and presented.


I am currently in the middle of reading Attkisson's book. Have to say, she's not saying something new. There have been other journalists like her that have exposed this sort of corruption/fraud in the past. Dan Rather, for example, and Gary Webb, the now deceased, former San Jose Mercury News journalist who lost his life because of his stories about the CIA's activities regarding gun/drug running.

@David Foster,

You stated, "I understand the whole thing is not terribly relevant, she made a silly mistake and didn't realize she had a broken backspace key..."

Not to be rude, David (really), but where the HELL did you get THAT?

Having a broken backspace key does not CAUSE your laptop computer to turn on and off BY ITSELF.

To quote a bit from Attkisson's book:

Pg. 5-6:

"..."In the fall of 2012, Jeff* is the first to put me on alert. HE'S CONNECTED TO A THREE-LETTER AGENCY (emphasis mine). He waves me down when he sees me on a public street.

"I've been reading your reports online about Benghazi," he tells me. "It's pretty incredible. Keep at it. BUT YOU'D BETTER WATCH OUT."

"..."Monitoring me -- in what way?" I ask.

"Your phones. Your computers. Have you noticed any unusual happenings?"

"Yeah. I have. Jeff's warning sheds new light on all the trouble I've been having with my phones and computers. It's gotten markedly worse over the past year..."

Attkisson then goes on to state the following:

Pp. 7:

..."Then, there are the computers. They've taken to turning themselves on and off at night. Not for software updates or the typical, automatic handshakes that devices like to do periodically to let other other know "I'm here." This is a relatively recent development and it's grown more frequent."

She goes on to say:

..."Around Thanksgiving, a friend tries to make a social call to my home phone line. I see his number on the Caller ID but when I pick up, I hear only the familiar clicks and buzzes. He calls back several times but unable to get a clear connection, he jumps in his car and drives over."

"What's wrong with your phone?" he asks. "It sounds like it's tapped or something."

"I don't know," I answer. "Verizon can't fix it. It's a nuisance."

"Well, if it's a tap, it's a lousy one. If it were any good, you'd never know it was there."

Attkisson goes on:

"Numerous sources would tell me the same thing in the coming months. When experts tap your line, you don't hear a thing. Unless they WANT you to hear, for example, to intimidate you or scare off your sources."

Pg. 9:

"In late December 2012, I take up my friend's offer (Jeff) to have my computer examined by an inside professional. Arrangements are made for a meeting.

..."I did find some irregularities," Jeff tells me on the phone after inspecting the outside of my home.

We meet at my house and he walks me to a spot in the backyard just outside my garage. His primary concern is a stray cable dangling from the FiOS box attached to the brick wall on the outside of my house. It doesn't belong.

"What is it?" I ask.

He picks up the loose end and untwists a cap exposing a tiny glass dome underneath. "It's an extra fiber optics line," he tells me. "In addition to your regular line."

"What's it for?"

"I'm not an expert, but someone could remove the cap and attach a receiver and download data. Or they could put a tiny transmitter here," he points to a place under the cap, "and send information to a receiver off site once a day, once a week, or whenever. You need to have this checked out."

So - Sharyl was observing some rather strange things happening in her home regarding her computers, etc. A friend of Sharyl's, connected to a three letter agency, was the one who warned Sharyl that she was most likely HIGHLY monitored.

Clearly, Sharyl was somewhat naive (if not highly so) when these things started happening and it was ONLY when her friend, Jeff, warned her about the possibility of being monitored, that she decided to allow him to check things out for her. This is hardly the scenario or mindset of a woman hellbent on finding a conspiracy behind every nook and cranny.

Having said the above, here's an interesting link re: information about media corruption/fraud:



"Jane Akre – Fox News. After our struggle to air an honest report [on hormones in milk], Fox fired the general manager [of our station]. The new GM said that if we didn't agree to changes that the lawyers were insisting upon, we'd be fired for insubordination in 48 hours..."

Dan Rather – CBS, Multiple Emmy Awards. What's going on is a belief that you can manipulate communicable trust between the leadership and the led. The way you do that is you don't let the press in anywhere. Access to war is extremely limited. The fiercer the combat, the more the access is limited, [including] access to information. This is a direct contradiction of the stated policy of maximum access to information consistent with national security. There was a time in South Africa when people would put flaming tires around people's necks if they dissented. In some ways the fear [now in the U.S.] is that you will have a flaming tire of lack of patriotism put around your neck. That fear keeps journalists from asking the tough questions. I am humbled to say, I do not except myself from this criticism..."

Sharyl Attkisson's NOT the first MSM journalist to expose the massive fraud/corruption in the business. Having said that, I do give her tremendous credit for exposing the fraud behind big pharma machinations in our MSM/vaccine issue (not to mention her other stories).

We need to see more of the likes of these journalists to step forward...and tell the truth.

Jonathan Rose

Dave: Perhaps you should read Sharyl Attkisson's book before criticizing it, In fact she writes that government manipulation of the media certainly did not begin with Obama, but it has grown considerably worse under the present administration. Investigative journalists, most of them liberal Democrats, ruefully agree with her. She provides heaps of evidence for her exposes of Fast and Furious and Solyndra -- and as someone who supports gun control and green energy, I don't want our government to funnel guns to Mexican drug cartels or shovel money to bogus but well-connected "green energy" companies that then go belly-up. The Obama administration of course hates her, and they have a corps of whorish bloggers who try to label her "right-wing", though she has also exposed Republican wrongdoing. For months they've been predicting that she will go to work for Fox News, and so far that hasn't happened (she's essentially freelancing). Don't follow their example. Sharyl is one of the few surviving journalists out there with balls. *Steel* balls.

Anne McElroy Dachel

How great was it that Dan was at Sharyl's book party in Georgetown Thurs evening! That's pretty good for someone who's the editor of a notorious "anti--vaccine website."
I'm still waiting for MY COPY! (And they are predicting 12 of snow Monday in WI here, so the mail may not come through.)
Anyone who discusses her book needs to include ANYTHING...not just Benghazi and "Fast and Furious." She makes it clear that the vaccine makers think they can control the media.

Anne Dachel (Media)


Go Sharyl !!!

There is no caption on the photo above... but there are some major offices open in a few years that could certainly be handled by a woman,

who might also need a new CDC director.

ALL of the first 10 Amendments need to be restored. Infants could once again be provided with Amendment 7 which was taken away from them by the vaccine industry.

David Foster

I understand this is probably not going to make me very popular, but I have a nasty tendency to say what I think, so here goes...

I love everything about Dan's work and I love his passion for it, but lets be very careful who we champion as the carriers of our message. Sharyl Attkisson has been a great champion for the vaccine safety movement, there is no denying that. She gets it, she is one of the very few journalists who has dug deep enough to understand what is really happening, and she has the guts to report it accurately, regardless what forces mobilize against her.

But please, please pay close attention to what she is doing right now. She has left her mainstream media attachments behind, and that could very well be a Good Thing...believe me I am no fan of the mainstream media when it comes to vaccine safety issues. What concerns me are all of the other issues she seems compelled to focus on. So where do you think she is going now? She spends the past few years trumpeting one bogus hoax of a political story after another, Benghazzi to Fast and Furious to Solyndra, seemingly without providing any concrete evidence to back up her serious claims, then writes a book called "Stonewalled" which is very critical of our current Administration. It is primarily a political book, though I haven't read it so I don't know how much of her vaccine safety reporting is discussed.

I agree with her contention that our government is becoming increasingly intrusive, and is ignoring personal rights, but it seems like she would have us believe that all of these problems began with Obama's Administration. So again I ask you, where do you think she is going?

My prediction...she will be a regular on Fox News within the month. She will then churn out political hit pieces with credibility on par with Megyn Kelly.

Is that who we want putting our message out?

The whole thing regarding her claiming her computer had been hacked, and then posting that video of text disappearing...I understand the whole thing is not terribly relevant, she made a silly mistake and didn't realize she had a broken backspace key. But this really made her look bad, but even worse, it made her look like she sees conspiracy everywhere she looks.

All of us understand that there really IS a conspiracy going on when it comes to the CDC and everything about our mass vaccination system.

Our challenge is getting others to see that. And believe it.


Louis Conte

Well done. I think that those young people that Sharyl has inspired will soon turn all the shattered glass into fine lenses.

And then they will use them.

We should all buy this book.

Jonathan Rose

As a historian of print media, I can testify that this is the most explosive book on that subject in decades. Sharyl Attkisson docusments just how far the First Amendment has been effectively rolled back. Nixon only burglarized the Democratic Party headquarters: now the government is spying on just about everyone, and has inimidated or bought off most journalists and editors. Read her book!

tony bateson

This is an absolutely brilliant article for my source and inspiration notes re the work I am now doing at University into corporate incursion into social welfare and family life in Britain and the USA. Keep up this quality of enquiry please never let up, even though as I recently read about the unauthorised vaccination of 2,000 children in Ireland in the thirties, the Pharmaceutical Industry won't ever let out a single word of regret for over eighty years.

Tony Bateson, Oxford UK

Kent Heckenlively

I love the hopefulness of this article. I think you may be right that there is a change coming to our political system. It's not about right or left, conservative or liberal, but between hard truth and easy lies.

BoB Moffitt

"... I reflected that the world she’s leaving behind, for all its seeming power and permanance, is already broken, shattered in a thousand pieces on the floor. What comes next will be fascinating to watch."

It must be terrifying to feel helpless against the ever advancing technology that threatens both .. the media as well as the government .. that has turned them from Helen Thomas' "watchdogs" .. into today's "lapdogs".

Consider .. the recent "Arab Spring" uprisings throughout middle-eastern countries that overthrew decades of repressive governments .. such as .. Lybia and Egypt .. spurred mostly by social media's frightening ability to inform and mobilize people .. garnering spontaneous, unruly "flash mobs" on a moment's notice .. eventually causing the collapse of "seemingly powerful and permanant" governments .. leaving them shattered in a thousand pieces".

It is not pretty to witness .. but .. thank the Founding Fathers .. this country has guaranteed "freedom of the press" for exactly this reason .. to prevent our government from becoming indistinguishable from the repressive, secretive, deceptive countries of the middle-east.

Sharyl's book is a "wake-up" call to our media .. much like Thomas Paine's "Common Sense" was a wake-up call the King of England should have heard loud and clear.

In any event .. I am hoping Sharyl has a "book tour" that brings her anywhere near my surburbs of NYC area .. because .. she is one member of the media I would be honored to meet.

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