Did executives at CBS News sit on a clip from an exclusive interview with Barack Obama to protect his election chances in 2012? Sharyl Attkisson insisted on CNN and Fox that executives had been notified by 60 Minutes that they had a clip in which Obama rejected the use of the word “terrorism” the day after the attack on the consulate in Benghazi in an unaired portion of Steve Kroft’s exclusive interview. Instead of forwarding that to CBS Evening News and the reporter working on the Benghazi story — Attkisson herself — network news execs instead directed their organizations to use another part of the interview that bolstered Obama’s case, never revealing the existence of the sound bite until after the election. Attkisson tells both Michael Smerconish and Howard Kurtz that “something very unethical was done“:
During the 2012 presidential debate, Mitt Romney had said it took Obama 14 days to admit the attack was terrorism but Obama bulked saying he did that day, but when asked the next day he is seen refusing to give a terror motive saying, “Well, it’s too early to know exactly how this came about, what group was involved. but, obviously, it was an attack on Americans.”
Attkisson said, “Let me say that that exchange should have been pulled out immediately after the debate, which would have been very newsy at the time. It was exclusive to CBS. It would have to me proven Romney’s point against Obama. But that clip was kept secret.”
“I was covering Benghazi, nobody told me we had it and directed me from the ‘Evening News’ to a different clip of the same interview to give the impression that the president had done the opposite. And it was only right before the election that somebody kind of leaked out the transcript to others of us as CBS and we were really shocked. We saw that was something very unethical done to have kept that up.”
She added, “The ‘Evening News’ people who had access to that transcript, according to the emails that I saw when it was sent from ’60 Minutes’ to ‘Evening News’ the very day it was taken, they, in my view, skipped over it, passed it up, kept it secret. And I think that was because they were trying to defend the president and they thought that would be harmful to him.”
On CNN, Smerconish questions why Kroft wouldn’t have spoken up about the clip. Attkisson emphasizes that, to her knowledge, 60 Minutes did send the whole package to CBS News HQ, including a transcript. The decision to bury the exchange took place at the higher level, and apparently without the knowledge of Kroft or his producers, who might have assumed that Attkisson got the whole package and decided not to use the clip for her own reasons.
The full transcript leaked before the election, but it didn’t really catch fire until later. Thanks to the delay, Candy Crowley stepped all over Mitt Romney’s entirely accurate criticism in the presidential debate in October 2012. Rather than speak truth to power, CBS went silent — to preserve it, perhaps, on behalf of Barack Obama? No one’s talking at Black Rock, nor will they likely do so.
Amusingly, Smerconish spends more time challenging Attkisson on her bias than discussing that of CBS News, although to be fair it might have been to allow Attkisson a chance to defend herself against critics who don’t understand that holding government accountable means doing so in Democratic administrations, too.