Hey CBS, Sharyl Attkisson's Scrutiny of Powerful Politicians is a Feature, Not a Bug


Sharyl Attkisson

Sharyl Attkisson is gone from CBS News. The award-winning journalist made waves in recent years by putting the screws to the sitting administration over issues from the Fast and Furious gunwalking scandal to green subsidies to the Benghazi attack. That is, she "afflicted the powerful," as the old adage has it, which is what journalists are supposed to do unless they're polishing their resumes for a jump to public relations. But "the powerful" in recent years has meant, in part, an administration with which many journalists like to coo and play footsie. And Attkisson upset a lot of colleagues at CBS News by asking hard questions when the answers were awkward.

Acording to Politico's Dylan Byers:

Attkisson, who had been with CBS News for more than two decades, had grown frustrated with what she saw as the network's liberal bias, an outsize influence by the network's corporate partners, and a lack of dedication to investigative reporting, several sources said. She increasingly felt that her work was no longer supported and that it was a struggle to get her reporting on air.

At the same time, Attkisson's coverage of the Obama administration, which some CBS staffers characterized as agenda-driven, had led network executives to doubt the impartiality of her reporting. The bulk of Attkisson's work since 2009 has focused on the failures or perceived failures of the administration, including its troubled green-energy investments and the attack in Benghazi.

Impartiality-wise, it's worth noting that the president of CBS News is David Rhodes, the brother of White House speechwriter Ben Rhodes. But that relationship is apparently less of a problem than querying government officials on matters they'd rather gloss over.

For the record, "impartiality" in such matters would mean that Attkisson turned the bright lights on Republicans as enthusiastically as on Democrats. In fact, her CBS News bio reports that she "received an Emmy Award for Outstanding Investigative Journalism for her reporting on 'The Business of Congress,' which included a 'CBS This Morning' undercover investigation into fundraising by Republican freshmen."

But even if Attkisson is a partisan who treats conservatives with kid gloves, that just means you send her after left-leaning politicians, and one of her colleagues after right-leaning politicians. She's obviously diligent about interrogating at least some officeholders, which is more than you can say about too many other reporters. Who cares if a journalist is partial as long as you keep him or her pointed at a target?

While Attkisson's colleagues at CBS News may echo White House staff complaints that she's too mean to the president and his friends, this is an administration that has been notoriously opaque. A 2013 report from the Committee to Protect Journalists quoted David E. Sanger, veteran chief Washington correspondent of The New York Times, descibing the Obama administration as "the most closed, control freak administration I've ever covered."

That report added:

In the Obama administration's Washington, government officials are increasingly afraid to talk to the press. Those suspected of discussing with reporters anything that the government has classified as secret are subject to investigation, including lie-detector tests and scrutiny of their telephone and e-mail records. An "Insider Threat Program" being implemented in every government department requires all federal employees to help prevent unauthorized disclosures of information by monitoring the behavior of their colleagues.

You'd think a news outfit would be happy to have somebody on board who was willing to penetrate those circled wagons and dig for information. That is, after all,what journalists are supposed to do.