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March 11 2014

Media Note: Sharyl Attkisson's Departure from CBS Is Fraught with Meaning

Charlotte Hays

The news that Sharyl Attkisson has resigned from CBS News after “hard fought negotiations” is extremely significant, not so much because one dogged reporter is leaving the network that was once the jewel in the crown of broadcast media but because it reminds us of how biased the mainstream media culture has become.

If something comparable to Watergate were happening (and an argument can be made that the IRS scandal is an even more far-reaching abuse of power), the Washington press corps today would turn up its nose and sniff that it’s “not news.”

Attkisson, a twenty-year CBS veteran, who has won numerous Emmy awards to her credit, became unpopular with her colleagues when she reported on such subjects as Benghazi, Fast and Furious, and Solyndra. Her colleagues profesedly perceived her as having a bias. And she did: a bias in favor of investigative reporting, a craft that has just been eclipsed by covering for or cheerleading for the administration in current newsrooms.

Dylan Byers of Politico reports:

Attkisson, who has been with CBS News for two decades, had grown frustrated with what she saw as the network’s liberal bias, an outsize influence by the network’s corporate partners and a lack of dedication to investigative reporting, several sources said. She increasingly felt that her work was no longer supported and that it was a struggle to get her reporting on air.

At the same time, Attkisson’s reporting on the Obama administration, which some staffers characterized as agenda-driven, had led network executives to doubt the impartiality of her reporting. She is currently at work on a book — tentatively titled “Stonewalled: One Reporter’s Fight for Truth in Obama’s Washington” — that addresses the challenges of reporting critically on the administration.

The title of the book alone is enough to ensure that the mainstream media will work to marginalize Attkisson in the future. The book will be discredited by mainstream reviewers, though because of Attkisson’s career, MSM outlets will likely have to hold their noses and review the damned thing. 

I agree with Commentary’s Jonathan Tobin that Attkisson's departure from CBS “may be a crucial moment in the history of American journalism:”

It was [formerly] assumed that any major news outlet would regard aggressive coverage of all administrations as a given. But that ceased to be the case when Barack Obama entered the White House. If Attkisson is being shown the door at CBS it is not because her work is not highly regarded but because she has violated the prime directive of liberal media insiders: thou shalt not report on Obama in the same way that you reported on George W. Bush or even Bill Clinton. The liberal bias that conservatives have long complained about is out of the closet.

It’s out of the closet but that doesn’t mean that the mainstream media has lost the ability to set the agenda. Nowadays, there are a lot of terrific media outlets that don’t toe the line, but the posh newspapers and networks still wield enormous influence. There are still many citizens who regard themselves as well-informed, and who, indeed, read the New York Times or Washington Post and watch network news, who don’t know enough about the IRS scandal to have an informed opinion because the “respectable” news outlets refuse to cover it.

I am slightly hesitant to recommend reading an article with the inflammatory headline “The Totalitarian Myth of the Free Press” in the light of the Attkisson story. But I’m going to brace myself and do just that: I urge you to read Michael Hanby’s article of that title over at The Federalist.

Hanby takes note of the many important stories which the mainstream media ignores because they would be unflattering to those in power. He contends that, while the state does not restrict the press in obvious sense (“it doesn’t have to”), the press restricts itself. He wonders if a reporter who goes against the zeitgeist would be “free to work in today’s newsroom.” The Sharyl Attkisson story provides an answer to that question.

We wish Ms. Attkison all the best in whatever she undertakes. Can’t wait to read her book! 

Independent Women’s Forum’s mission is to improve the lives of Americans by increasing the number of women who value free markets and personal liberty. Sister organization of Independent Women’s Voice.
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