In March, CBS announced that investigative journalist Sharyl Attkisson was leaving for “other endeavors.” Attkisson later clarified that they weren’t letting enough of her stories criticizing the Obama Administration see the light day. Since then, she’s written for conservative outlets such as Heritage Foundation’s The Signal and has a book, Stonewalled, due out in the fall. Last week, in an interview with NPR’s David Folkenflik, she said she thought the government might be monitoring her email, which he called “intense” despite CBS confirming the hacking. In that story, Washington Post‘s “reported” media blogger Erik Wemple took a whack at her, saying he didn’t “buy her act” claiming CBS wouldn’t run stories against Obama.
Attkisson told The Mirror that Folkenflik mischaracterized some of her reporting and left out a good deal of material that she offered him. She quickly dismissed Wemple as a gossip blogger. So he turned around and reported it, asking for juicy tips about her or any other journalist.
Attkisson said she refused to read Wemple’s story, saying she never reads him. After being told what he said, she described him as a “remora.” She says her friends refer to him as her “stalker,” and notes that he writes what he does to get clicks and boost his name recognition. (Just to jog your memory: Wemple helped drive Robert Allbritton‘s local news project TBD into the ground.)
Asked about Folkenflik describing the way Attkisson talks as “intense,” she isn’t offended. “I have no idea,” she said. “I was friendly, factual, patient and generous with my time (we spoke for more than 68 minutes for his 6 minute report). We chuckled, shared personal reflections, and I was the same way I am in pretty much all interviews. Well, I don’t see anything wrong with being viewed as intense.”
Friction breaks out during the interview
Attkisson said, “If one were to ask me what the most ‘intense” part of our conversation was, I would note that (in an exchange that didn’t make it into the story) Folkenflik implied it might be a bit strange for me to hypothesize that the left-wing blog group Media Matters—ferocious advocates for the Obama administration and Hillary Clinton—which began targeting me with false and slanderous claims during my green energy and Fast and Furious reporting, had been paid to target me. In the same breath, Folkenflik told me that Media Matters had been paid to target Rush Limbaugh and Fox News.”
Attkisson says she asked him, “Really?…What makes you sure [Media Matters is] subsidizing somebody to go after Fox and Rush?” She recalled him saying Media Matters had all but admitted as much.
“I didn’t know that,” she told Folkenflik, adding, “but, then, why is it such a stretch to ask the question [as to whether I, too, might be on such a list?]…Especially if [Media Matters], as you said, [has] acknowledged being funded to target other groups, why wouldn’t they be paid to target reporters who they feel fall in that same vein?” She also told Folkenflik, “I’ve dealt with a lot of nonprofits that are guided by paid interests, so it would be a natural question to ask.”
Attkisson also takes exception to Folkenflik’s claim that “the veracity of a well-received and well-reported story” she did on HealthCare.gov was “difficult to prove.”
Attkisson doesn’t fault Folkenflik for not understanding her reporting.
“It might be accurate to say the proof was difficult for him to understand,” she told The Mirror. “That doesn’t mean Folkenflik is not capable. It simply means that to expect anybody to quickly absorb the research I had spent many hours performing, and to ask them to immediately comprehend the jargon, background, documents and expert sources, isn’t realistic in most cases. That’s why I’m an investigative reporter: I put in the time and understanding to present the facts to others who don’t have the time or ability to do the same on a given topic. I sure couldn’t explain it all in 10 minutes, I wouldn’t be able to absorb it all in 10 minutes and I don’t think it would be easy for anybody else to. The purpose of a story isn’t to ‘prove’ a thesis, as if in court, it’s to factually report what I’ve learned through proof and evidence that I’ve studied.”
What didn’t make it into Folkenflik’s story
Nonetheless, she said, “I spent about 10 minutes of my interview with Folkenflik summarizing the relevant documents, expert sources and background regarding the story that Democrats questioned. Not a word of it made it into Folkenflik’s report. In fact, he didn’t summarize or characterize anything I said about it. Instead, he mischaracterized my reporting as if I had relied upon ‘a partial transcript’ of a witness. That’s false and entirely contrary to the content of our interview. Folkenflik’s approach forwards the narrative that the Obama administration created in response to this report (which contained factually damaging information about HealthCare.gov’s security).”
Attkisson: Are media reporters fair when writing about this?
“I find it to be less than fully fair reporting, that media reporters and bloggers such as Folkenflik fail to note the obvious: those raising objections, in each case, are those who are exposed negatively by the facts, or their surrogates. In other words, it’s a bit like giving a serious audience to a repeatedly-convicted burglar holding stolen goods in his hands as he explains that the police have him all wrong. Of course the targets of negative reporting are going to say it’s all wrong. That’s their job. These media reporters also fail to note that the very stories that critics have most attempted to controversialize have been widely recognized by neutral journalism organizations for excellence. I’m not sure why the burglar warrants more credibility than the neutral jury with this crowd. You can make up your own mind on that.”
The Mirror sought comment from Folkenflik. None was forthcoming by press time. PLEASE NOTE: Unfortunately, my gadget contained a faulty address for Folkenflik, so he did not receive my original request for comment. He has received it and said he will be commenting in due time. My sincere apologies to him for the mixup.
UPDATE: Folkenflik wrote the following in an email to me at 5:25 p.m.:
“I appreciate that you found my piece about Sharyl Attkisson of interest. Just like Attkisson, I thought our conversations were cordial on both sides, and as I told her, I appreciated her time. I termed the experience “intense” not because of any friction but due to her statements – repeated in several discussions – that her phones were monitored by “people unknown” and our discussion about the hacking of her computer, in which she hinted of government involvement.
In her remarks to you about one element of my piece, Attkisson sounds frustrated that I could not incorporate more of the specifics she offered. She appeared to anticipate that dynamic, as she introduced the relevant remarks to me this way: “This is, again, a thing you’ll never put on the radio; you couldn’t possibly. It’s too long and complicated an answer.” After her story about which the Washington Post’s Wemple raised questions, an administration official’s subsequent sworn testimony directly contradicted her findings. Attkisson told me she believes his testimony was not accurate, according to what her sources tell her. She may prove absolutely right, and, as I reported, she and CBS stand by her story. But Attkisson has not presented viewers with sustaining additional material on that matter on which to share that belief beyond her conviction.”
Attkisson: Nobody should take propaganda seriously
“It’s a bit upside down to me, as a journalist, that any media reporter would approach a gossip blogger, whose blog contains too many fabrications and fact errors to count, as if he is a fair arbiter of good journalism and facts,” she said of Wemple and his remarks about her. “For a long time I haven’t read Wemple, Media Matters or many of the other propaganda and opinion blogs. They have a job to do and I understand. I don’t try to keep up with them. Wemple is a remora—affectionately referred to by some of my colleagues as my ‘stalker’—who is trying to get clicks and have his name be known. Media Matters is serving its political masters. And the truth is almost nobody outside of a small Washington enclave knows who any of us is. It’s all a big show. What I have a more difficult time understanding is why any reporters refer to them as if they are serious players in fact. I would note that the same media reporters don’t likewise consult right-wing equivalents for opinions and ask them to judge good journalism. Why is that? You can decide for yourself.”
A remora, by the way, is type of fish that is sometimes called a suckerfish. It sucks onto the skin or larger animals. A fun fact: Remoras feed on parasites and occasionally, feces.
The Mirror blog wrote the Erik Wemple blog (yes, I’m mocking him a little) for comment. Wempleton wrote me, boasting two posts he’s done for the Pulitzer Prize-winning Dupont Current (joking about the prize).
“Well. I have indeed called and emailed her a lot, but it has always been utmostly professional outreach,” Wemple told The Mirror in an email. “If I wrote only for clicks, then I would never have done two posts on the freelance photographer for the Dupont Current or many on the ownership fight at the Philadelphia Inquirer, among many others that get very little/no traffic. And as far as clickbait is concerned, I cannot imagine that Sharyl’s barrage of Benghazi stories performed poorly at CBSNews.com. And finally, to the accusation of fame-pumping, this is an allegation from a former network news correspondent who quit after her stories stopped making the nightly news.”
What else was left on Folkenflik’s cutting room floor
“I provided Folkenflik with an extensive archive of examples of my accountability reporting of Republicans and the Bush administration, such as Halliburton, Iraq contracting fraud, waste and fraud at the Los Alamos lab, FDA scandals, questionable Republican earmarks and the TARP bait and switch. These reports include one just last year that won for an investigative Emmy award (undercover investigation on Republican freshman fundraising) and another that won an Emmy award in 2009 (a series on the Bush administration’s bank bail-out). But he didn’t have time to include any of that. Instead supported the false narrative as if I’m a conservative reporter who sees ‘conspiracies’—rather than a fair reporter. (A simple factual review of my reporting would find little to no reporting of ‘conspiracies,’ but this is yet another mantra of the propagandists.) Too often, media reporters and bloggers do none of their own research and ‘report’ by repeating rumors, opinions and what they read elsewhere on the Web. More on that in my upcoming book Stonewalled.
Attkisson asks, “Can you imagine if some of these media reporters were to question our government officials—or the propagandists—with the same vigor with which they question me for having committed the simple act of journalism? Now that would be interesting! This, I’m afraid, is probably a bit tedious to most people.”