Attkisson: "Chilling effect" from Obama administration on journalists

Howard Kurtz interviewed recently-departed CBS News reporter, and asked her why she gave up on a 20-year career at one of the premier broadcast networks. Attkisson told Kurtz that political considerations were at play, but the bigger issue is the “chilling effect” of the Obama administration on journalists, but also “corporate interest” pressure as well, which don’t tend to balance themselves out but add together. Kurtz wondered aloud whether her growing reputation as a “conservative” journalist wasn’t an attempt to discredit Attkisson, and she agrees. When she went after the Bush administration, Attkisson noted, no one was calling her a “progressive” journalist — and her CBS bosses were delighted to run those stories (transcript via Newsbusters):

ATTKISSON: I didn’t run into that same kind of sentiment [at CBS] as I did in the Obama administration when I covered the Bush administration very aggressively, on its secrecy and lack of Freedom of Information responses, and its poor management of the Food and Drug Administration and the national laboratories, the Halliburton-Iraq questions of fraud. I mean, there was one thing after another. The bait-and-switch of TARP, the bank bailout program. All of those stories under Bush were met with a good reception. There were different managers as well, but no one accused me of being a mouthpiece for the liberals at that time.

Attkisson told Kurtz that the White House would pressure her to change or drop her reporting, and when that didn’t work, they worked her bosses instead. Kurtz asked how this differed from the “working the refs” actions that go on all the time in Washington, and Attkisson says that it went too far. “It’s just a lot of obfuscation, accusations, saying things are ‘phony scandals,’ ‘bogus,’ ‘not real,’ giving misinformation and false information. I mean, that’s provably true in some cases.”

Mediaite grabs another portion of the interview to capture Attkisson’s complaint about broadcast journalism in the age of Obama:

Now there’ve always been tensions, there have always been calls from the White House under any administration I assume, when they don’t like a particular story. But it is particularly aggressive under the Obama administration and I think it’s a campaign that’s very well organized, that’s designed to have sort of a chilling effect and to some degree has been somewhat successful in getting broadcast producers who don’t really want to deal with the headache of it — why put on these controversial stories that we’re going to have to fight people on, when we can fill the broadcast with other perfectly decent stories that don’t ruffle the same feathers?

If it’s just the “headache of it,” one would have expected that this would have also been true during the Bush administration. As Attkisson’s experience and our own shows, that’s just not the case. Perhaps the Obama administration exerts more pressure and plays Chicago sur le Potomac more than the Bush administration did — or perhaps the mandarins of journalism these days just see the Obama administration a lot more sympathetically.

By the way, Kurtz will have more from Attkisson next week, and NYU’s Jay Rosen will want to stay tuned:

Jay RT’d Howard’s response, to his credit. And yes, that will be a very interesting topic as well.

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