When I was a younker, I always trusted Uncle Sam and CBS News. I believed every word spoken by Walter Cronkite and Morley Safer and Eric Sevareid and Daniel Schorr and the rest. Then I did a hitch in the Marines. Now, after Lyndon Johnson and Robert McNamara and Henry Kissinger and Richard Nixon and Vietnam and POWs and Watergate and Ronald Reagan and Oliver North, after Rush Limbaugh, after Dark Alliance, after journalism’s betrayal and professional slaughter of Gary Webb, after Bill and Hillary and Janet Reno and Ruby Ridge and Waco, after the Gulf War and the Drug War, after the Twin Towers and George W. Bush and Richard B. Cheney and Afghanistan, after WMD and Judith Miller and embedded journalism and Wolf Blitzer and Colin Powell and Iraq, I can’t find it in me to believe anybody in politics, or government, or journalism. Neither can I believe that any journalist would be fool enough to take government’s word for anything.
Now, along comes Sharyl Attkisson. She reports that she was a true believer when she graduated from what she claims is one of the best journalism schools in the country. Of Sharyl’s first years as a working journalist, she writes: “This was at a time when I believed the government had to tell the truth.” Then she caught county government dumping raw sewage in lakes and rivers while county government insisted it was doing no such thing. Then there was the time the state department of agriculture told her there was no citrus canker infestation in Florida citrus groves. According to official Florida sources “there’s been no citrus canker in Florida since 1933. Period.” Then Sharyl asked a farmer about citrus canker in his crop. He said “Sure. In fact the state fellas are here right now getting ready to burn a bunch of bad trees.”
So Sharyl lived and Sharyl learned. As her experience and skill increased and her career blossomed, she found herself being lied to about progressively more important things by progressively more important people. After she joined the elite team at CBS News, she found herself being lied to by various corporations, by departments of the federal government, by the heads of such organizations, by leading politicians and then by news executives, her superiors at CBS itself.
That’s how it went for Sharyl and so it goes for everyone else in journalism. I met a fellow once – a reporter retired from a small-town newspaper – told me that everyone lies to journalists all the time and that no working journalist can believe anything (s)he is told by anyone.
Ms. Attkisson now knows the ropes. Sharyl reports that she was tough and cynical and nosy by the time she got to CBS. Yet, when friends began warning her that her home computers were hacked, she didn’t take them seriously. Instead, she blamed her phone company for crappy service because her home phone squealed and squawked and howled and barked so much and so often that it was “practically unusable.” She blamed her Internet service provider for the fact that her computers – usually in the wee morning hours – turned themselves ON and OFF, seemingly at random. When the machines turned themselves ON, they growled and beeped and yelped, coughed and hiccuped and farted, drank her liquor, danced to Conga rhythms, and hopped around the room trying to stomp on her household pets. Sharyl wrote that she once watched her monitor in horror while some of her files were deleted before her eyes.
Sharyl then tells that she put up with those wacko computers for months before some spooky acquaintance finally persuaded her that the machines were indeed hacked and her phones were indeed tapped. The spooky friend called in one of his spookier pals (Call him Big Spook) who got on Sharyl’s keyboard and ran diagnostics on her computers. Big Spook saw what he saw (Whatever that was) and within a short while announced his verdict, which was unambivalent. Big Spook said that the hack of Sharyl’s machines was an uncommonly sophisticated job which was not done by teenage vandals but more likely by experts such as U.S. government spooks. CBS executives’ ho-hum reaction to news of the hack led Sharyl and her spooks to suspect that CBS knew Sharyl’s machines were hacked long before Big Spook figured it out.
Of course I’m only foolin’ about drunken, farting computers and Conga music. But I’m also serious. The behavior of Sharyl’s computers as she herself described it was so totally bizarre that her reluctance to recognize the behavior for what it was left this reader agape, thinking that Sharyl is incredibly naïve and more credible as an ordinary dumbbell.
That said, I should now state positively that Sharyl Attkisson is not a dumbbell. She may not know as much as some folks know about computer behavior, but she knows one hell of a lot about broadcast journalism and the inner workings thereof.
If you, the reader, watch and read American news and are not yet brain-dead, you must wonder why American news venues (All of them. Every one.) no longer tell hard news but spread soft soap, boohoo fairy tales, and propaganda instead. Why has American journalism become a collection of lying, limp-wristed, pretty-faced cowards and timeservers and schlubs? What happened to the Murrows, the Cronkites, the Izzy Stones and the likes of George Seldes? Where are the replacements for high-caliber critics such as H. L. Mencken and A. J. Liebling?
If you ever ask yourself such questions, you may also wonder why American journalism forsook fiduciary responsibility to American citizens, to democratic government, and to the Constitution of the United States. If you are curious about any of that, then Sharyl Attkisson wrote the first chapter of Stonewalled just for you. She calls it Media Mojo Lost: Investigative Reporting’s Recession. It is the foundation of her book. It is Sharyl’s inventory of the arsenal of weapons deployed by enemies of truth in journalism. It could just as easily serve as an obituary for concepts such as ‘democratic government’ and ‘news’.
Sharyl’s list of truth-killing weapons is long (pp. 15-91) but it is by no means boring, and readers must ingest Media Mojo Lost if they hope to “get” the rest of the book. Ordinary citizens who take the trouble to do so will come away from Stonewalled knowing a lot more about American journalism and what has become of it than they knew going in. Experienced journalists – who already know some or all of the things that Ms. Attkisson grouches in her book – might yet be staggered by the impact of all those things gathered together and piled in a heap without so much as a keg of cold beer in the foreground to mellow the vista.
In subsequent chapters, Attkisson acts the tour guide: She walks readers through important stories such as BATF’s ‘Fast and Furious’ gun-running scandal; the state department’s fustercluck at Benghazi; Obama’s personal, prize fupuck dubbed ‘Healthcare.gov,’ and a few others. Each tour illustrates how reporters are frustrated, how obfuscatory tactics deployed by business and government and by journalists themselves thwart exposés of criminality and incompetence that might sway the American people toward the righting of wrongs, badly needed systemic reforms, and the eventual achievement of social justice.
As far as this writer is concerned, any journalist in the room wants to accuse Sharyl Attkisson of lying about or exaggerating any of that stuff – before he/she opens his/her yap – should go ask Gary Webb about the issue.
Those who have not yet read Stonewalled may not yet know that David Rhodes, who is president of CBS News, is brother to Ben Rhodes, who is White House deputy national security advisor. Now that Sharyl has told it, I wonder how many realize what that tale implies about truth in journalism and how many are still willing to believe that CBS News gave us ‘fair and balanced’ coverage of events in Benghazi? How many still believe anything CBS News has to say on the subjects of Healthcare.gov? national security? foreign policy? the NSA? Edward Snowden? Ukraine? Russia? MH-17? the Obama administration?
I wonder about all of that because, of those who still believe that crap, I’d like to ask: Do the networks ever send you a thank-you note? If they don’t, they certainly should – along with a lifetime supply of beer and chips and Prozac®.
Away back at the beginning, I wrote that “Sharyl remains a Girl Scout inasmuch as she still wants to trust The Powers That Be.” I wrote that because, at the end of Media Mojo Lost, she threw in the following paragraph:
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. (Stonewalled pp 85-86)
When I read that paragraph, I wonder how many times I’d have to shoot a horse in front of Sharyl before Sharyl would admit that the horse is dead. I’m not sure I could afford enough ammunition to do the job. In the matter at hand, she needs to recognize and admit to herself that The Powers That Be are now ‘the powers that were’ because they are awash to the scuppers in corruption – corruption so deep, so thick, so vast it dwarfs anything smaller than the Atlantic Ocean.
If Sharyl could admit that to herself, she’d understand that no government, no corporation, no profession so utterly corrupt can solve any problem. The U.S. government may get overthrown (unlikely) or it may collapse because it is too sick to be of use to anyone (a near certainty), but pursuit of stories about the Affordable Care Act, the Boeing Dreamliner, the Haiti Earthquake, the “Arab Spring,” will neither stop nor stay the inevitable. Government and journalism being in bed together as they are, corrupt journalism assures that such stories will never be written and corrupt government assures that such stories will never be published. The public mind – corrupted by professional liars – would choke on such stories anyway.
Because the whole body of Sharyl’s
Stonewalled adds up to the fact that the horse is dead, she
should report the problem. She should realize the implications
of what she has written, go home, and write about how we the
people might go forward from here. If she can’t or won’t do
that, then I’m left with the impression that much of what
Stonewalled expresses – albeit is truth – is the proverbial
fury of the woman scorned. Maybe, too, pieces of a broken heart
rattle around in Sharyl’s book. But for so long as Sharyl
invests any faith in that old, dead horse, she will remain
frustrated and hurt.
Speaking my opinion of journalism per se:
- It has long been apparent to every thinking person that America needs a new model of press ownership. Corporations have failed our nation miserably.
- If journalism schools crank out bus-loads of twisted twits who want nothing more than a paycheck after spending a week placidly munching droplets of “information” that leak from the hindquarters of corrupt business and government, then journalism schools should be closed because they waste money and are of no benefit to America. Americans could force journalism schools to close if Americans cut federal money from any educational institution that treats “Journalism” and “Communication” as academic disciplines.
- Advertising is one big club that business wields in stemming the free flow of information. If we’re going to have a new model of press ownership, we might as well dream up a fair and equitable way to fund our new press. Perhaps those businesses who want to buy advertising could put their ad money into pools from which dollars would be doled out to needy print and broadcast news venues.
- National security is another, perhaps the biggest of all clubs used to prevent truth in journalism. So Congress could pass a law that makes it a felony for government officials to conceal information about governmental affairs from journalists and the public. Further in that direction, Congress could make a law saying that all information collected by government is paid for with tax dollars and is therefore public property, freely available to any citizen who requests a copy. The so-called ‘Freedom of Information Act’ we’ve presently got is a rude and stupid joke.
- Ninety-five years ago Walter Lippmann, surveying dangerous trends in journalism that were already apparent in his day, expressed his thoughts in a book titled Liberty and the News (1920). Lippmann foresaw the mess in which America and journalism now find themselves. He predicted then that “some day Congress, in a fit of temper, egged on by an outraged public opinion, will operate on the press with an ax.” I think the operation is way past due, but we’d have to launder our filthy Congress before any sort of useful reform could be enacted.
- Certainly America should examine ways in which the licensing of journalists could and should be implemented. Journalists who knowingly lie about public affairs should be denied press credentials, cast out of the profession, and perhaps sent to prison. Doctors can be jailed for malpractice. Lawyers can be jailed for malpractice. Why should journalists be allowed to operate beyond the law?
- Finally, it should be noted that medicine, law, and many other professions long ago adopted codes of ethics. Journalism, as a profession, has never adopted a code of ethics. Some news outfits have codes of their own that apply to employees, but the profession of journalism has no written code. Shop around a bit, readers will find that some of our “best” journalism schools don’t offer classes in Ethics. The upshot is that journalism is an amoral profession. Why, then, does America listen to people who are strangers to Ethics? How can there be malpractice in a profession that has no moral code?
Rather than sitting around beating the old, dead horse, Sharyl Attkisson and other honest practitioners must pick themselves up and start thinking about what shape reforms should take and what steps we in the United States must follow if we are to produce and enjoy the finest journalism in the world.
Summing up: I feel that Ms. Attkisson’s Stonewalled has some vision problems in that Sharyl doesn’t look ahead from where she got knocked on her keister. But her vision problems are not errors of fact. Sharyl Attkisson is a mighty fine journalist, and she put into Stonewalled all the truth experience has taught her about the shame of her chosen profession. Good American citizens will buy her book and read it.
HarperCollins, NY, 2014
422 pp. HC. $27.99
Deacon Solomon - Born and raised on a farm in Iowa, Deacon Solomon grew up as livestock. He jumped the fence in 1968, when he joined the Marines.
Today Deacon is an off-duty Marine who has also been a pot head and an acid freak, a long-haul trucker, a technical writer, public relations journalist, computer technician, auto mechanic, graduate student and freelance writer. Today he is a bum and deems it the best job he ever had. https://dekesolomon.wordpress.com .