Sunday, November 9, 2014

BOOK REVIEW: Stonewalled by Sharyl Attkisson (Part 1)

I just finished reading one of the most remarkable and yet disturbing books that I've come across in some time.

Former CBS News correspondent Sharyl Attkisson has written a blockbuster of a book with a blockbuster title: Stonewalled: My Fight For Truth Against the Forces of Obstruction, Intimidation, and Harassment in Obama's Washington. Despite the attempts to denigrate her in the media (which ironically follows the same pattern of "controversializing" an opponent which she describes in her book), she is eminently qualified to write this book. She has been a working journalist for more than thirty years (over twenty years of that time being with CBS News) and has been described in the Washington Post as a "persistent voice of news-media skepticism about the government's story." She is the recipient of five Emmy Awards and an Edward R. Murrow Award for investigative reporting . Her work has appeared on the CBS Evening News, CBS Sunday Morning, 48 Hours, and CBS This Morning. Up until recently, Sharyl Attkisson has been "an insider's insider." She has done multiple investigative stories critical of both Republicans and Democrats.

Since the book came out last Tuesday, I have read and watched multiple interviews of Sharyl Attkisson. (Not one of these has been with any of the Big Three networks - surprise!). There is one sensational and disturbing section of the book in which Attkisson discloses that both her CBS computer and her personal computer were found to have unauthorized software installed on them that were too sophisticated for anyone but the government to have installed. Almost every interview focuses on this one part of the book, which is indeed incredible and frightening. One of the three separate investigators who analyzed her computers stated that it was "worse than anything Nixon ever did." However, few of these interviews really delve into the bigger picture of what the book is about. In this post, I want to concentrate on the first three chapters of the book. I plan to cover the last three next time, which includes the alarming section about the computer breach.

Chapter 1: "Media Mojo Lost: Investigative Reporting's Recession"

As a consumer of news for the last forty years (I remember watching the Watergate Hearings gavel-to-gavel when I was ten years old. I was a strange kid!), it has been obvious to me that the national news media was and still is flagrantly biased towards the left side of the political spectrum. The difference between the way that a Republican Administration and a Democratic Administration are reported on should be obvious to any thinking person. However, in Stonewalled, Attkisson not only confirms what I've known all along, but shows how endemic this tendency is, citing multiple examples by playing "The Substitution Game" throughout the book. In each of these sections, she chronicles how the mainstream media covers a story coming from the Democratic side, then posits how reporters would have covered the same story if it had come from the Republican side. One example that she gives is then-Senator Obama's remark in 2008 presidential campaign that he had visited fifty-seven states. The news media by and large gave Obama a pass. While stating that everyone knows that he meant forty-seven states, she states, "the remark, nothing more than a verbal gaffe, didn't make big headlines. Substitution Game: What if Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin had uttered the same misstatement? Do you think the news media would've been so quick to overlook it?" Anyone who paid attention to the way the press excoriated Palin would know the obvious answer to that question.

Yet, Attkisson, in her book, shows that the endemic liberal bias of the press is only one of the barriers to fair and honest reporting of the facts. She also makes the following point:

Pushing original and investigative reporting has become like trying to feed the managers spinach. They don't like the taste, but they occasionally hold their nose and indulge because it's good for them—or because it looks good. They much prefer it to be sugarcoated , deep-fried, or otherwise disguised so that it goes down easier.

She states that the mainstream press as a whole has lost its "mojo", which she describes as the press's "ability to serve vigorously and effectively as the Fourth Estate (and be the) watchdog to government and other powers that may otherwise overstep their bounds." The national news media has become compliant. In many cases, they have allowed the government under the Obama administration to bully them into submission. They also practice "playing it safe."

Playing it safe means airing stories that certain other trusted media have reported first, so there's no perceived "risk" to us if we report them, too. We're not going out on a limb; we're not reporting anything that hasn't already been reported elsewhere. But it also means we're not giving viewers any reason to watch us. Playing it safe can mean shying away from stories that include allegations against certain corporations, charities, and other chosen powerful entities and people. The image of the news media as fearless watchdogs poised, if not eager, to pursue stories that authorities wish to block is often a false image. Decisions are routinely made in fear of the response that the story might provoke.

She later states:
The tendency to stick to mostly "safe" stories means you'll see a lot of so-called day-of-air reports on topics that won't generate pushback from the special interests we care about. Think: weather, polls, surveys, studies, positive medical news, the pope, celebrities, obituaries, press conferences, government announcements, animals, the British royals, and heartwarming features. They fill airtime much like innocuous white noise.

She describes this as "homogenized, milquetoast news." She illustrates this by comparing stories from one evening's news on the Big Three networks:

On February 21, 2014, all three networks lead with three minutes on the troubles in Ukraine. Everyone has two to three minutes on the weather: a new popular favorite dominating the news almost every night. Everyone has stories on the Olympics. Everyone does the exact same feature in the middle of their broadcasts about a woman who saved her baby nephew's life (a story widely circulated on the Web the day before). Everyone reports President Obama's decision to award the Medal of Honor. Two of the three networks devote more than two minutes of their precious, limited news time to tributes to their own network's employees: one who passed away and another who is retiring. Are we producing a newscast more for ourselves and each other rather than the public? What did we really tell America on this night that they didn't already know?

What are some of the stories they could have covered instead?

My own network is passing up stories on the crumbling Affordable Care Act; an exclusive investigation I offered about a significant military controversy; an investigation uncovering a history of troubles surrounding Boeing's beleaguered Dreamliner; and massive government waste, fraud, and abuse. Largely untouched are countless stories about pharmaceutical dangers affecting millions of Americans, privacy infringement, the debate over President Obama's use of executive orders, the FDA monitoring of employee email, the steady expansion of terrorism, the student loan crisis, the confounding explosion in entitlements, the heartbreaking fallout from the Haiti earthquake, continuing disaster for government-subsidized green energy initiatives, the terrorist influences behind "Arab spring," various congressional ethics investigations and violations, the government's infringement of and restrictions on the press, escalating violence on the Mexican border, the debt crisis, the Fed's role and its secrecy, to name just a few.

In this chapter, she also describes the many fascinating ways that the government, especially the current administration (which even the press now acknowledges to be the most obstructive in history), manipulates the press for their own ends. In one of the most shocking ways (to me) that they use it what is called "The Astroturf Effect," in which the Obama administration teams up with a cadre of special interests who:

…disguise themselves and write blogs, publish letters to the editor, produce ads, establish Facebook and Twitter accounts, start nonprofits, or just post comments to online material with the intent of fooling you into believing an independent or grassroots movement is speaking.

One of the "astroturf" websites is the ultra-liberal Media Matters, which is an Obama administration sycophant. Even before her book came out this last week, they have been publishing multiple articles supposedly "debunking" this book. Must be hitting close to home!

If the book had only this first chapter, it would have been worth the price of the book. However, there's much more.

Chapter 2: "Fast and Furious Redux | Inside America's Deadly Gunwalking Disgrace"

I admit that I didn’t follow “Fast and Furious” too closely when it was big in the news.  Actually, it wasn’t big in the news except on Fox, which covered it extensively.  It got labeled by the national media as a “Fox story” and pretty well faded out everywhere except on FNC.  However, the story that Sharyl Attkisson tells here is as much about the pushback that she got from “the powers that be” at CBS News as it is about “Fast and Furious.”  This chapter actually got me up to speed on the sickening details of the investigation.  It is just unbelievable that our government was involved in such a harebrained idea.  Not only did it tragically cost a border agent, Brian Terry, his life, but our government’s reckless and illegal “gunwalking” scheme probably cost countless Mexican lives as well.  It is just unbelievable to me that this got ignored by the media.  It is far worse than Watergate, and really a case could be made that it was worse than Benghazi, considering the number of lives that could have been taken (and may be yet taken) with these weapons.  In this chapter, she makes the case that the entire scheme could possibly have been conjured up as a Machiavellian way to promote the Obama administration’s gun control initiative.  By having these guns show up in Mexico, they could bolster the administration argument that we need tighter gun control laws in order to prevent guns from getting to Mexico! How convoluted is that!

Unfortunately, most of Attkisson's fine work on this scandal never made it to the network news, being relegated to the CBS News website. Somehow, this spectacular scandal just didn't interest the CBS News folks up in New York enough to merit attention. (See chapter 1 above.)

As a side note, I found it fascinating that one of the cities that she found evidence or allegations for "gunwalking" was Evansville, Indiana, just a few miles from where I'm writing this today. For me, that brings this literally "close to home!"

Chapter 3: "Green Energy Going Red: The Silent Burn of Your Tax Dollars"

The "poster child" for the Green Energy debacle was Solyndra. Just conjuring up the failed company brings up the image of hundreds of millions of our tax dollars being poured into a company that would soon go belly up. However, in this chapter, Sharyl Attkisson shows that Solyndra was just the tip of the iceberg. She tells of the "Think Global" electric car company (also right here in Indiana), which was given $17 million by the Obama administration. They ended up building a few dozen cars. An even more spectacular failure was another car company, Fisker, who built a car so bad that Consumer Reports stated, "We buy about 80 cars a year and this is the first time in memory that we have had a car that is undriveable before it has finished our check-in process." In this case, hundreds of millions of our tax dollars were wasted. Fisker would make 1800 undriveable cars before going bankrupt.

Unfortunately, Sharyl Attkisson's work on this scandal couldn't be shown on CBS Evening News with Katie Couric. See Chapter 1 above. They had bigger fish to fry at the network's flagship news program. More weather, polls, celebrity gossip. In this case, it was relegated to the weekend news program…and the web. She was told that this was "old news." She goes on to tell of an anecdote provided by one of her colleagues:

Evening News executive producer Shevlin and a CBS News executive in New York were discussing those green energy notes I'd been circulating. Here's the account as told to me: 
EXECUTIVE Attkisson's green energy stories are pretty significant. . . . Maybe we should be airing some of them on Evening News? 
SHEVLIN What's the matter, don't you support green energy?

Click Here to read Part 2.

For an inspirational lift, check out my new book, "Grace In Shoe Leather." It's an amazing story of grace and forgiveness that has made a difference in the lives of so many. You can download it here:    P.S. IT'S ON SALE TODAY - JUST 99 CENTS!!!!

Below are links to other articles I've written recently about current events:

The High Cost of Inaction

Is War In Europe Coming?
Oklahoma Beheading: Let's Call It What It Is!








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