Appearing at number five this week on the New York Times’ bestseller list is Sharyl Attkisson’s much anticipated debut “Stonewalled,” the tale of a renegade reporter who was forced out of her job at CBS because of a supposed “anti-Obama bias.” (Quick: name one reporter ever canned for having an anti-Bush bias.)
Attkisson’s real crime was to engage in actual journalism, which didn’t sit well with the president of CBS News, David Rhodes. Mr. Rhodes’s brother Ben happens to be a spin doctor at the White House, so you can see why stories critical of the Obama Administration might perturb him. Attkisson covered the Fast and Furious gunwalking scandal that cost countless Mexicans and at least one US Border Patrol agent their lives. She also delved into the Benghazi scandal, refusing to accept the administration’s initial yarn about the attack being a spontaneous reaction to “Innocence of Muslims,” a Youtube video that ridiculed Mohammed.
Judicial Watch recently obtained, via FOIA request, the smoking gun that proves that Obama Administration officials were trying to silence Attkisson. Tracy Schmaler, top press aide to Attorney General Eric Holder, complained in an email to White House Deputy Press Secretary Eric Schultz that Attkisson’s coverage of Fast and Furious was not reflecting well on the administration. “I’m also calling Sharryl’s [sic] editor and reaching out to [CBS anchor Bob] Schieffer. She’s out of control.” Schultz replied: “Good. Her piece was really bad for AG.”
Well, it’s good to know that there’s absolutely no collusion between journalists and officials associated with the Obama Administration. </sarcasm off>
In a sane world, Attkisson would be recognized with the highest commendations in journalism—the Peabody, the Pulitzer. She did what good journalists are supposed to do—she dug, and dug, and discovered that there’s a lot still untold about the Benghazi and Fast and Furious scandals. So much has gone untold, of course, because the administration refused, and still refuses, to answer basic questions. In the “most transparent administration in history,” the truth is always under wraps. National security, my dear. National security.
What exactly ails the fabled “fourth estate” that would cause it to toss aside a gem like Sharyl Attkisson? For the answer to this question I would refer to the late Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, the dissident writer and thorn in the Soviet Union’s side. Solzhenitsyn’s most famous work, “The Gulag Archipelago” is an indictment of the Soviet labor camp system in which he was himself imprisoned for producing “anti-Soviet propaganda.”
Upon arriving in the West in 1974, Solzhenitsyn hungered to read newspapers and periodicals that only an ostensibly free press could produce. How disappointed he was to discover that so much western journalism had little redeeming value. Speaking at Harvard in 1978, he remarked: “Without any censorship, in the West fashionable trends of thought are carefully separated from those which are not fashionable: nothing is forbidden, but what is not fashionable will hardly ever find its way into periodicals…”
I might object to the “without censorship” part. When a press aide to the attorney general can call upon editors and reporters to squelch a story that doesn’t flatter the administration, I’d call that government censorship. But the rest is spot on.
The problem with our media is their tendency to conform. No, they do not deliver “all the news that’s fit to print” as the masthead of the New York Times boasts. Their selection of stories is guided more by current fashions than any obligation to tell the truth. Their stifling conformity can and should be called soft censorship.
The counterargument here would be that America benefits from a wide variety of news outlets with different ideological bents. There are indeed differences between these outlets, and far be it from me to dismiss them. Let’s examine, for example, the cable news market. Consumers can get their news with a conservative spin (FOX News), a liberal spin (CNN), or a left-wing whackadoodle spin (MSNBC).
Of these, only FOX News really stands out as offering a different product. For this, they are detested. Plenty of people would love to see the network banned outright or muzzled by some kind of government agency. Does their despised existence disprove the theory of media outlets as a conformist bunch? I say no. It confirms it. The mere existence of a dissenting voice in journalism is enough to drive the rest of the journalistic establishment into fits of rage. They’d give the network the Attkisson treatment if they could, but unfortunately a whole network can’t be forced to resign the way she was.
The end result of most media outlets marching to the beat of the same fashionable drummer is that some newsworthy stories are ignored while others that seem rather flimsy become the focus of the news cycle for a day or two, maybe longer. Who can forget the picture of the empty press box at abortionist Kermit Gosnell’s trial? The man who ran a filthy abortion mill in Philadelphia, who killed children even after they had emerged from the birth canal fully alive, did not seem to pique the interest of most news agencies, as evidenced by the empty benches reserved for reporters at his trial. Dozens of little Michael Browns and Trayvon Martins died, but the media didn’t care because they couldn’t pin it on a supposedly racist white cop, or even a “white Hispanic.”
When the estimable Mollie Hemmingway asked The Washington Post’s “health policy” reporter Sarah Kliff why she covered the Susan G. Komen row, Todd Akin’s comments about rape, and Sandra Fluke’s petulant demands, but failed to cover Gosnell’s house of horrors, Kliff responded: “I cover policy for the Washington Post, not local crime, hence why I wrote about all the policy issues you mentioned.”
As if Gosnell’s case were just a routine mugging in Central Park! If Kliff were honest, she would admit that the reason she didn’t cover Gosnell’s trial is because she serves as Planned Parenthood’s go-to gal for all things abortion. Planned Parenthood wanted to strangle the Gosnell story in the cradle and Kliff was eager to assist.
That’s the state of our media today. Great reporters like Sharyl Attkisson find themselves unemployed because they pursue stories that powerful people don’t like, while abortion industry shills like Sarah Kliff get to keep their jobs. One knew how to march to the beat of the proper drummer; the other did not.
As Solzhenitsyn remarked thirty-six years ago, “Enormous freedom exists for the press, but not for the readership because newspaper[s] mostly develop stress and emphasis to those opinions which do not too openly contradict their own and the general trend.”
Has anything really changed? Ask Sharyl Attkisson.