Sharyl Attkisson, author of The Smear: How Shady Political Operatives and Fake News Control What you See, What you Think and How You Vote, and host of Full Measure, joins the Daily Caller News Foundation for an interview. Attkisson is a former CBS investigative reporter. She discusses what lessons the media needs to learn about itself in the wake of the 2016 election, and what lessons the public has learned about the media.
She also discusses President Trump's use of socal media and quips that Obama would have been "heralded" for being "creative" if he had used Twitter more. "Because it is Trump, they are not going to say that about him. And also because of the nature of some of his tweets," she adds.
"I don't think the media has learned a lesson yet," Attkisson also said.
But: "For the public though, the lesson was already learned. When you see these narratives, and these overwhelming opinions that are being perpetuated on the news, you can not always rely on those. In fact, I would question most of them. When you see this overwhelming sentiment on one side, because it is usually an effort to try to make you think in a certain way, or a way to make you not look in a different direction at something that they don't want you to pay attention to."
DAILY CALLER NEWS FOUNDATION: You talk pretty clinically about Transactional Journalism, as you call it. But from another point of view, with a lens that I might wear, you can also see it as political warfare. An effort to undermine, delegitimize, and remove a duly elected president, using some pretty threatening tactics. What do you say to that?
SHARYL ATTKISSON: I think part of this was rooted in an ideological motive to unseat candidate Trump, and now to harm President Trump. And news agencies have admitted as much. We see news organizations, at least like I've never seen before, come forward and say this man is so dangerous, so [antithetical] to their beliefs that he is dangerous and we must suspend our normal rules of journalism, and our normal systems and processes.
Think about that! Journalists exempting themselves from their own ethical systems and standards because they say this man is such a problem, and as a result, I think that is why we have seen formerly respectable news organizations -- CNN, The Washington Post, The New York Times-- make horrible mistakes that wouldn't have been tolerated in journalism school. Reporting mistakes with errors. That is my response to that.
DAILY CALLER: Chapter six of your book, [The Smear: How Shady Political Operatives and Fake News Control What you See, What you Think and How You Vote] was rather jaw-dropping to me. Where you did name names, and you got very specific when it comes to Marc Ambinder of The Atlantic, trying to get coverage of a Hillary Clinton speech. Or David Aguilar at CPB trying to redefine corruption. And what it meant to people underneath him. Or your whistleblower on Fast and Furious John Dobson. Many of the examples you are naming. Is it hard to name these names and take the flak for doing so?
ATTKISSON: All I'm using are -- these aren't my words, these are the words of the people operating the system. I quote the smear operators themselves in my book. In the case of what I called transactional journalism -- where the journalists are making ethically inappropriate deals with the people they are reporting on. To report things a certain way, a certain percentage of your story has to discuss this and that, here is the timing, here is how it has to be done. Those are there own words with emails we have [from WikiLeaks]. It is not difficult at all for me to publish and discuss those.
DAILY CALLER: Why do you think WikiLeaks -- I can see where the FOIA lawsuits have given you some resources to check, but why do you think WikiLeaks exposed all that they did last year?
ATTKISSON: I think because the documents fell into their lap. If those had fallen into the lap of any journalism organization, or if they had been able to obtain those, you would have made stories out of those as well. WikiLeaks did what news organizations used to do, when they obtained things like that, just publish them and let you decide. You could read the whole email and make of them what you will.
I think today, if certain news organizations got a hold of those emails, through legal means, they would 't have done the stories on them. Five years ago maybe, but today WikiLeaks was maybe one of the only places that would expose that kind of material. And there was a lot of news in there. It wasn't just salacious gossip and rumors.
DAILY CALLER: Explain in your book, why you say Trump can be Kryptonite to the Smear.
ATTKISSON: I call him the anti-smear candidate, because every traditional smear tactic used against him -- very effective tactics against other people -- just kind of bounced off of him. In fact, he was able to grab it and pull it and co-opt it and turn it around in almost every case.
I argue that if he had apologized in the summer of 2015 when the first attack I noticed was after John McCain called some of his followers crazies, and Trump counterattacked by saying he wasn't a war hero in Vietnam. People were calling for him to get out of the race, they aired more of him thinking that the public would hate him if they saw more of him, but the public liked him. I think if he had apologized then, he would never have made it. But he did the opposite thing that you would intuit for politicians, but it turned out to be the right thing for him to do for his followers…
I'm not a student of Donald Trump, but maybe his business dealings, which are probably as nasty as politics can be if not nastier, prepped him for this. And him not coming up through the political system where he is surrounded by advisors saying, 'You have to apologize! You have to apologize! You have to apologize! Here's what you have to do.' Instead he was surrounded by people who were a little bit different, maybe that was responsible for him reacting differently…
On the lessons the media should learn from the election:
ATTKISSON: There are two lessons. One for us in the media, and one for the public. The lesson for the media should have been a serious reexamination of what we did. And when we got the election so wrong, we said he couldn't win/wasn't going to win/was about to collapse. I put in the book all the headlines and the narratives and they were just 180 degrees wrong.
So you would expect after the election, you would see an examination and maybe a change. But instead, I see us as having doubled down on these efforts. In fact it has gotten worse, if anything. I don't think the media has learned a lesson yet.
For the public though, the lesson was already learned. When you see these narratives, and these overwhelming opinions that are being perpetuated on the news, you can not always rely on those. In fact, I would question most of them. When you see this overwhelming sentiment on one side, because it is usually an effort to try to make you think in a certain way, or a way to make you not look in a different direction at something that they don't want you to pay attention to.
DAILY CALLER: So the Tweets are [President Trump's] fireside chats?
ATTKISSON: I think so. I don't think a president Obama or Bush would have tweeted out the same provocative things that Trump has, but if either of them had used social media in a similar way -- President Obama did, and it didn't even exist under Bush. But if they had each used it in a creative way, I think in Obama's case he would have been heralded. 'Look at the modern president using modern tools!' Because it is Trump, they are not going to say that about him. And also because of the nature of some of his tweets.
You do get news. You get the leading edge of information -- mixed in with some weird stuff. So, that's how he uses it.
(Via Daily Caller News Foundation)