Tak­ing a hard look at the prac­tices and prin­ci­ples of ma­jor me­dia

The Washington Times Daily - - EDITORIAL - By John R. Coyne Jr. John R. Coyne Jr., a for­mer White House speech­writer, is co-au­thor of “Strictly Right: Wil­liam F. Buck­ley Jr. and the Amer­i­can Con­ser­va­tive Move­ment” (Wi­ley).


Sharyl At­tkisson, as The Washington Post put it, has been a “per­sis­tent voice of news-me­dia skep­ti­cism about the gov­ern­ment’s story,” as well, one might add, skep­ti­cism about the prac­tices and prin­ci­ples of ma­jor me­dia or­gans like The Washington Post.

Her ex­poses of gi­ant cor­po­ra­tions, char­i­ties and po­lit­i­cal mis­steps by both par­ties have re­ceived pres­ti­gious jour­nal­ism awards — among them, five Em­mys and an Ed­ward R. Mor­row Award, span­ning a ca­reer that has in­volved re­port­ing na­tion­ally for CBS News, PBS and CNN.

And while con­tin­u­ing to fo­cus on gov­ern­ment, she has also turned up the heat un­der her col­leagues in the na­tional me­dia, who in­creas­ingly build sto­ries around smears pro­vided by or­ga­ni­za­tions — PACs, think tanks, non­prof­its — cre­ated for just that pur­pose. (And in the process, make bun­dles of money for their cre­ators.)

One of the most prom­i­nent of these smear prof­i­teers is David Brock, who be­gan as a con­ser­va­tive jour­nal­ist, at­tack­ing Anita Hill and Hil­lary Clin­ton, had an epiphany, and ended up as one of Hil­lary Clin­ton’s most de­voted de­fend­ers.

The sin­cer­ity of this con­ver­sion can be de­bated, and has been at length. But it does ap­pear to have had a strong fi­nan­cial com­po­nent. And at any rate, with his con­ver­sion to Clin­ton­ism and found­ing of Me­dia Mat­ters, “the em­pire Brock built is a smear en­gine un­ri­valed in its or­ga­ni­za­tion, reach, and in­flu­ence.”

“In­deed,” writes Ms. At­tkisson, “Me­dia Mat­ters and Brock have proven they can shape the news and in­flu­ence the me­dia land­scape. But as the elec­tion of Don­ald Trump proved, their in­flu­ence isn’t bound­less.” In part, she be­lieves, that’s be­cause “the work of the pro­pa­gan­dists” isn’t as in­vis­i­ble as it used to be, and be­cause “Brock faces cyn­i­cism from his own side.”

That cyn­i­cism be­gan to grow dur­ing the cam­paign, when it be­came ap­par­ent to many staffers and of­fi­cials that there was some­thing very wrong with their cam­paign strat­egy, es­pe­cially as it was be­ing in­flu­enced by Mr. Brock and his min­ions.

Ms. At­tkisson quotes from an email sent by the head of the pro-Clin­ton Cen­ter for Amer­i­can Progress to the be­lea­guered Clin­ton cam­paign man­ager, John Podesta: “‘I hope Hil­lary truly un­der­stands how batsh*t crazy David Brock is.’ ”

And this from a for­mer Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion mem­ber: “‘I don’t know what the f…. [Mr. Brock’s net­work] did be­sides raise a ton of money, and I don’t think the af­ter-ac­tion re­port on 2016 says we need more David Brock. Prob­a­bly the op­po­site is true.’ ”

But signs are that with or with­out Clin­ton back­ing, we’ll be get­ting more Mr. Brock, like it or not. He and his al­lies have been suc­cess­ful in pick­ing off Fox News head­lin­ers, one by one. And his new or­ga­ni­za­tion, Share­blue, is up and run­ning, with the stated ob­jec­tive of dele­git­imiz­ing Don­ald Trump’s pres­i­dency.

Per­haps envy of the grow­ing reach of such or­ga­ni­za­tions and their in­creas­ing pop­u­lar­ity among donors, helps ex­plains the loos­en­ing of jour­nal­is­tic stan­dards among the ma­jor me­dia. As a re­sult, writes Ms. At­tkisson, as the Clin­ton cam­paign demon­strated, prac­tices such as “trans­ac­tional re­la­tion­ships with jour­nal­ists to put out a pos­i­tive mes­sage” have be­come com­mon.

Ms. At­tkisson iden­ti­fies sev­eral such jour­nal­ists, one of whom, Mag­gie Haber­man, now with The New York Times, is named by Clin­ton of­fi­cials in a memo as “a friendly jour­nal­ist,” will­ing to gen­er­ate pos­i­tive press. “We have had her tee up sto­ries for us be­fore and never been disappointed.”

Those who read The New York Times or The Washington Post to­day, with ma­jor sto­ries in each is­sue, fre­quently sus­pi­ciously sourced, de­voted to dis­cred­it­ing Don­ald Trump, may well con­clude that although the cam­paign is of­fi­cially over, it’s still be­ing waged, with “friendly jour­nal­ists” con­tin­u­ing to tee up sto­ries for the op­po­si­tion.

“We’ve be­come a will­ing re­cep­ta­cle for, and dis­trib­u­tor of, daily po­lit­i­cal pro­pa­ganda,” writes Ms. At­tkisson. “Poli­cies that once fire­walled news from opinion, that re­sisted in­ter­fer­ence from po­lit­i­cal and ad­ver­tis­ing in­ter­ests” have evap­o­rated.

“Re­la­tion­ships and prac­tices re­garded as the most egre­gious breaches of ethics a few years back are now com­monly ac­cepted.” And smears are now ac­cepted jour­nal­is­tic cur­rency.

In her three decades as a na­tional tele­vi­sion in­ves­tiga­tive re­porter, Ms. At­tkisson tells us, she has been the vic­tim of more than one smear, her ex­pe­ri­ences of which are vividly de­scribed in her ear­lier book, the best-sell­ing “Stonewalled.”

She is cur­rently the host of Sin­clair’s na­tional in­ves­tiga­tive tele­vi­sion pro­gram, “Full Mea­sure with Sharyl At­tkisson,” a pro­gram con­ducted as this book is writ­ten — a strong, in­ci­sive and fact-filled work, the sort of ef­fort we’ve al­ways ex­pected from our very best in­ves­tiga­tive re­porters.

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