WASHINGTON, D.C. — Former CBS investigative journalist Sharyl Attkisson told a roomful of conservatives and libertarians on Friday that the Obama administration is the most controlling and least transparent administration in decades.
“The White House, in my view, is used to calling the shots,” she said at the 2015 RightOnline conference sponsored by Americans for Prosperity.
Attkisson, who is also the author of Stonewalled: My Fight for Truth Against the Forces of Obstruction, Intimidation, and Harassment in Obama’s Washington, discussed the uphill battle she faced against both the White House and the media while she conducted in-depth reporting.
She also spoke about the Obama administration’s efforts to promote failing green energy schemes, such as Obama’s iniative to spend $2.4 billion on electric cars.
The government pours tax dollars into programs likely to fail, investing money into projects that were the equivalents of “junk bonds,” she said. Furthermore, the green energy-government complex fought furiously against critical news coverage, even when publicly-available documents spelled clear financial trouble for their efforts. They used a strategy called “mine and pump,” Attkisson said, where rather than answering questions, officials will try to tease out information about what the reporter knows and when the story will go to press — so they can challenge it before the ink dries.
Such tactics make it difficult for the public to learn the facts about government programs and what their taxes support. They “spinning you with your own money,” Attkisson said.
This is par for the course at the White House and its network of progressive beneficiaries and allies. Each day, officials review published news stories on the big networks to see if they conform to the White House’s narrative. If not — look out.
“They set into motion series of activities and contact allies,” including congressman and blogs like Media Matters, and even direct contacts at the networks. A story that compares a glowing press release from an energy company with SEC filings that predict it will go bankrupt in short order will launch a furious blizzard of complaints.
“Their complaints have nothing to do with accuracy,” Attkisson said. The intent, she said, was to wear down editors and “controversalize” a story to make it radioactive. Editors can be exhausted by such relentless nagging and will opt to cover the weather more than goings-on in Washington.
The frenzy results in a “soft censorship.” Editors will cast a weary eye on stories likely to give them a headache at the end of an already long and challenging news day.
Americans now “see a homogenized mix, a narrow slice of what’s happened,” Attkisson said. Networks “are using similar decision-making processes to determine what and what doesn’t become news” thanks to White House overstepping its bounds.
But Attkisson also criticized the press — mildly, at times. Reporters who objected to the Obama administration’s endless complaints and restricted access had little recourse except resigning, she said.
Both Democrats and Republicans will refuse to grant interviews to the press — then, as little as a week later, they will call reporters to ask if they can cover their new, polished statements. Or worse, a federal agency will refuse to answer questions while directing the press to a video clip they produced themselves, which more often than not will air in the place of an investigative report.
“We’re seeing advertising and propaganda masquerading as news,” Attkisson warned. “Your job is to look past the four corners of the press release and find out what the news is.”
Reporters who have reported longer than I say this is the worst administration for transparency they’ve ever covered, she said “This is not an opinion, but a consensus.” One reporter likened the White House to Soviet news press.
She recounted a story where she — a veteran reporter with a fourth-level blackbelt who has enough security clearances to approach the president — was barred from the DOJ for “security reasons” after covering the Fast and Furious scandal.
It’s up to the media to reclaim their power, but first, they must be willing.
“We’re not covering it like the news story it is,” she said. “We have allowed this balance to get out of whack.”