Former CBS News investigative correspondent Sharyl Attkison joined KMOX’s Mark Reardon to talk about her new book, Stonewalled: One Reporter’s Fight for Truth Against the Forces of Obstruction, Intimidation, and Harassment in Obama’s Washington and the many controversial topics discussed in it.
Beneath the audio clip are some excerpts of Mark’s conversation with Sharyl.
MR: I’ve been so looking forward, as you know, to this book because you and I have spoken many times over the past year, and it’s finally out. So let’s talk about the impetus to write this book and to leave CBS News.
SA: It’s sort of a long story, but I guess the short version is there was really nothing meaningful left for me to do. I consider my specialty to be original investigative reporting which was long valued at CBS News. But I the past couple of years for me and other reporters in the media it’s been a very hard sell.
MR: Now why is it — here’s something you wrote in the book that I thought was interesting. You said there are exceptions, but it’s difficult to deny, but the news media as a whole seems largely disinterested in some of the most important and controversial happenings on a given day. You said it must mystify those in the public who notice such things. It certainly mystifies many of my listeners, it mystifies me. Why is that happening?
SA: I think there’s a complex set of factors including maybe one of the biggest factors — the industry that has been set up in Washington, DC around a well-financed campaign involving public relations by special interests, political interests, corporate interests who have learned how to scare us off from meaningful stories. By pushback before the stories air, partnering with surrogates and bloggers, and making social media astroturf efforts afterwards, and just making it so difficult and uncomfortable afterwards that really we’d just rather avoid those kinds of stories.
MR: Where does the current administration come into play with all of this?
SA: Well so in addition to these highly sophisticated PR strategies that are being employed that I talk about in the book, it happens to coincide also with an administration that was very popular initially among the media and I just think at first some of the media didn’t have their heart in it when it came to investigating potential problems with this administration, as it might have previous administrations. So I think we were a little bit asleep on the job for part of the time, although I would point out especially of late there is a consensus in the media that’s been expressed by journalists from the New York Times, the Washington Post, USA Today, all of them that works — the Washington Correspondents’ Association, photographers associations — that have written letters and expressed verbally that this is the most difficult transportation for transparency that we’ve ever dealt with.
MR: Yeah, we’ve seen a lot of that and I’ve covered that a lot on my show. Now you were actually one of the few people in the whole country that was actually doing some investigative journalism on the issue of Benghazi. So let’s talk about that for just a little bit because I think in following your tweets, I think you still think that there are a lot of unanswered questions there.
SA: Well I think that there’s no doubt about that. There are documents that they withheld and kept secret. There are so many changed stories that have evolved and completely contradicted one another over the years. There is video that’s not been released. There is no answer to I think a very important question I think the public has the right to know about: what was the Commander In Chief doing and what decisions did he make the night when Americans were under attack overseas on foreign soil? Why can’t we know that? Even in the general sense, what’s the big secret? Experience teaches me that when they’re working so hard not to provide answers to fairly simple questions, there must be a reason. We’re left to guess what the reason is, but it just, the instincts tell you there’s something there.
MR: Same thing for the so-called “Fast and Furious” investigation as well.
SA: Exactly. All these years later the government is now being ordered to turn over some documentation that has been held under executive privilege by the President of the United States regarding “Fast and Furious,” and I might point out some of the documents the president stepped in to withhold involve discussions they had over my Freedom of Information Act request on “Fast and Furious” and over my news reporting. Why is it that the president had to step in and block release of public officials’ discussions about my news stories? What could be so controversial and terrible that we can’t see that? Again we don’t know because they’re withholding the documents, but experience teaches you that there’s something there.
MR: I am joined right now again by Sharyl Attkisson who is formerly of CBS News. She’s written a very revealing, insightful book about the media and the Obama administration in relation to the media called Stonewalled: My Fight For Truth Against the Forces Of Obstruction, Intimidation, and Harassment in Obama’s Washington. Sharyl, let me ask you this just out of curiosity, because you worked at CBS for so long and now you’re breaking bad on the news organization just a little bit: have you lost any friends over this particular book?
SA: I don’t think so. If someone’s a true friend I don’t think anybody’s changed their mind. I do feel like people that want to stay in good with the corporation, I sense that they feel I’m a little bit kind of like kryptonite and they don’t want to be seen in public with me, maybe, but short of that, no I don’t feel like I’ve lost any good friends.
MR: That’s good.
SA: In fact, one more quick thing — I’ve received overwhelming support from all kinds of colleagues and investigative reporters not just form my group in television, but also print reporters and others. So I’ve been very heartened by that response.
MR: You have an entire chapter in the book that’s called “The Politics of Healthcare.gov (And Covering It).” Can you sum that up because obviously Obamacare and everything that happened as a result of that still a very popular subject, I think it played a role in the elections this week. What’s the story behind that?
SA: Well there’s a classic, in my opinion, manipulation of that topic once it became so obviously damaging to the Obama administration. They enlisted expert help again from their PR people, their surrogates, their bloggers to print untrue things to controversialize the reporting, to controversialize the reporters who were doing the reporting, to push back against news organizations. And you can see an almost sudden drop-off after some damaging reporting the press just kind of stopped and it happened at CBS too. They wanted those stories, they wanted those stories, I was assigned to the topic, and one day they did not want those stories anymore. And when that happened I continued digging because by now I’ve developed good sources, I think I’m on the trail of some interesting information, and you’re kind of viewed as a troublemaker when they want the story turned off, this is my opinion, and you keep coming to them with better and better stories and revelations. They don’t like it. You’re putting them on the spot and they just sort of start a whisper campaign about you and view you as a troublemaker for not going along.
MR: Did it go deeper than that? Becauase you’ve gotten a lot of attention on the issue and I think I even asked you about this at one point and you didn’t want to give an answer until the book was out — the claims that your computer was hacked.
SA: I don’t know. Hacking is a word that of implies to me sort of a single event — an in, an out. The forensics exams, three separate ones, have shown a long term monitoring and surveillance that went on both in my CBS laptop computer as well as on my home Apple computer. It’s pretty chilling when you consider the extent of the abilities they had, according to the forensics reports, to monitor my every keystroke, to activate Skype by getting the password to my account, and listen through Skype on to audio if I was talking in the room or talking on the phone. Being able to exfiltrate files using Skype, downloading and refreshing these surveillance methods periodically using something called a BGAN satellite terminal, using WiFi when I was at a Ritz Carlton at one point. I mean they left some very distinct trails because I don’t think they ever thought I would have the ability to have highly-skilled specialized forensics people be able to find what was in there. Ordinary computer analysts may be very good, but unless they know exactly where to look and they’re familiar with some of the proprietary government practices, I’m told, they will never be able to find the things that were found in my computer. But I was able to go to some very good sources.
MR: Well I appreciate you coming on here and talking about it. I’m very much looking forward to reading the entire book, I just got it. So I haven’t had a chance to read, obviously, the whole thing. And usually when there’s a big blockbuster book out, as you know, it’s featured on “60 Minutes.” I’m guessing you won’t get that invite.
SA: Well I haven’t heard from them so far, but I don’t think that’s a great loss. I think people can bite if they wish and they can make up their own minds by reading it as to what they think about it. I’m not gonna obviously tell you what to think, but I hope you find it somewhat insightful.
MR: Great to have you on, Sheryl, I appreciate it.
SA: Thank you.
To hear the entire interview with Sharyl, listen to the audio clip posted above.