Tuesday, November 04, 2014

One investigative reporter’s intriguing trials and tribulations

Sharyl Attkisson is an award winning television journalist who until recently worked for CBS News. She received two Emmy nominations in 2010 and another in 2011 for investigating members of Congress and the government’s wasting of tax dollars. Her reporting of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives’ (ATF) “Operation Fast and Furious” debacle won CBS News the Investigative Reporting Award from Accuracy in Media in 2012, and also won CBS Evening News the Radio and Television News Directors Association's National Edward R. Murrow Award for Excellence in Video Investigative Reporting.

You may remember “Operation Fast and Furious,” although it received much less coverage than it deserved. That was the name attached to the ill advised, poorly conceived, and error-ridden misadventure devised by ATF, an effort to shut down the flow of U.S. guns to Mexican drug cartels. The idea was to allow guns to be put in the hands of Mexican drug traffickers for the purpose of tracking them to cartel members and arresting them.

Not only did ATF botch tracking the weapons, but people who were armed with two of those “Gun Walking” weapons and were illegal aliens that the ATF had not arrested, killed Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry on the U.S. side of the Mexican border. While it is certainly possible to dream up a more preposterous plan than this one, “Fast and Furious” richly deserves the Dubious Achievement Award.

While working for CBS News in 2013, according to, Ms. Attkisson told a Philadelphia radio station that "[t]here has been an issue in my house and there has been an issue with my computers that's gone on for quite a long time that we're looking into.” The issues, she said, had been occurring for about two years. An investigation by CBS News confirmed that, indeed, an external third party had accessed her computer numerous times.

Further problems were outlined by Erik Wemple on “By November 2012, writes Attkisson, disruptions on her home phone line were so frequent as to render it unusable: ‘I call home from my mobile phone and it rings on my end, but not at the house. Or it rings at home once but when my husband or daughter answers, they just hear a dial tone. At the same time, on my end, it keeps ringing and then connects somewhere, just not at my house. Sometimes, when my call connects to that mystery-place-that’s-not-my-house, I hear an electronic sounding buzz,’ reads one passage in [her new book]. She also alleges that her television set ‘spontaneously jitters, mutes, and freeze-frames.’ The home alarm, too, ‘sounds at a different time every night’ and when she checks with the alarm system, it indicates that there’s ‘trouble with the phone line.’”

Who had the motive and the means to do such things?

Could it have been a competitor network? Perhaps. But would a competitor have strong enough motivation to take on such a project? How about a foreign entity, like China? China has the wherewithal, but would it be interested in the subjects Ms. Attkinsson was investigating? Probably not.

How about the CIA, FBI, NSA, DOJ or other government department? Well, given that she was looking into misbehavior of members of Congress and the “Fast and Furious” mess, yes, both motive and wherewithal exist in administrative agencies. However, the Justice Department denied any involvement, so we can just follow the lead of the mainstream news media and put that suspicion to rest, can’t we?

Ms. Attkinsson did yeoman’s work investigating and reporting on the “Fast and Furious” government screw-up, but CBS’ interest ran out before the story was over, as did the government’s interest in explaining to the American people how such a thing happened.

You would probably use more than all your fingers and toes counting the prominent media outlets that share a grand lack of curiosity for epic blunders, bungles, fiascoes and miscalculations by our government over the last few years, like the Benghazi security failure, the Solyndra financing boondoggle, the IRS targeting non-profit applicants, the NSA mass spying project, the failure to secure the southern border, and the Justice Department spying on reporters’ private communications.

Finally, however, after more than five years a few media outlets have started to notice and point out the administration’s many shortcomings, and to ask questions about these things.

Ms. Attkinsson left CBS News this year due to what she said is the network's liberal bias and lack of dedication to investigative reporting. She has written a book, Stonewalled: One Reporter's Fight for Truth Against the Forces of Obstruction, Intimidation, and Harassment in Obama's Washington, published by Harpers, and focusing on difficulties she has experienced in reporting on the Obama administration.

Sharyl Attkinsson epitomizes what the Fourth Estate is supposed to be: the people’s guardian against government misbehavior. A responsible and determined news media provides the public the information it needs to properly evaluate what its government and elected officials are doing, and as such is an indispensable tool for a free society. This function has been largely missing since January of 2009. Maybe if a Republican is elected president in 2016, the function will be revived.

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