One out of three adult Americans have no trust in our mass media, according to a September 2020 Gallup poll. Sharyl Attkisson attempts to explain why in her new book, “Slanted: How the News Media Taught Us to Love Censorship and Hate Journalism.”
Attkisson argues that we live in an Orwellian news environment: The major media outlets carefully filter information to make sure that journalists only present the “correct” view to their audience. Attkisson says reporters are so aware of this condition that they name it The Narrative.
I wanted to see who Attkisson reveals as the formulator of The Narrative, since she asserts there is a “Big Brother constantly revising ‘facts’ to fit the government’s ever-changing story.” In this book from Attkisson, a five-time Emmy Award-winning investigative journalist and New York Times bestselling author, I was expecting a deep dive into the corporate world to find the culprits. It turns out, Attkisson says, it’s the liberals — not the billionaires.
Although she never directly points her finger at liberals, she does point to left-leaning trademarks: recognizing President Donald Trump’s statements as lies, finding systematic racial, economic and police oppression as the root cause of our social problems, and presenting new polling as spelling doom for Republicans.
Attkisson does not see news producers and editors as having evil motives so much as they believe they have a higher purpose. They do not trust the public “to process information and draw your own conclusions because you might draw the wrong ones.” She writes that editors also succumb to pressure to conform to The Narrative from outside lobbyists, lawyers, unions, ideological research organizations, other mainstream media players, etc.
In her opinion, CBS killed an investigative report of hers because it did not lead their viewers to the “right” conclusion — it was critical of President Barack Obama’s administration. She discovered that Michigan labor unions were angry that $300 million of President Obama’s green energy stimulus program was given to Korean companies and foreign Korean workers, at U.S.-based plants. The money was intended to employ U.S. workers.
In another instance described in the book, in 1996, CBS assigned Attkisson to report a story on why Republican presidential candidate Steve Forbes’ flat tax would not work. She noted that the assignment, as worded, assumed a prejudged conclusion that fit The Narrative — his flat tax would benefit the rich and hurt the poor.
It is not always a liberal bias that Attkisson illustrates, though. When Hillary Clinton, then the first lady, stumbled when descending a set of stairs, the news implied that Clinton’s stumble proved she was seriously ill. Attkisson’s point: Truthful information can qualify as a narrative when it is amplified beyond its news value in order to promote a particular bias.
So when is it the responsibility of a journalist to go beyond just repeating whatever politicians say? Attkisson says that the term “without evidence,” when applied to a politician’s statement, is an invented concept for the purpose of slanting the news. “Throughout time, few newsmakers presented ‘evidence’ when making statements,” she writes. But she does not distinguish the critically important difference between when they were expressing opinions or apparent facts.
She defends President Trump calling the media an “Enemy of the People” and providing “Fake News.” She says Trump was only talking about the dishonest press — not everybody. Curiously, she doesn’t identify which media organizations Trump considers honest. The pro-Trump, conservative Sinclair Broadcast Group would probably be an honest one. For five years, it has hosted Attkisson’s weekly investigative news program, which reaches 700,000 households on Sinclair’s network of nearly 200 television stations.
Attkisson gets credit for listing 12 publications she believes are doing honest, important work. Although two of them are left-leaning, The Intercept and The Hill, seven are right-leaning, including Judicial Watch, which has described climate science as “fraud science.”
A liberal might easily put aside the book as another one written by a Trump apologist or a blinded conservative. However, reading “Slanted” stretches your mind to consider how major networks slant the news to conform to their prejudices. Attkisson assumes that there is a rigid mindset among most major media outlets that presents and shapes the facts to conform with generally liberal beliefs. For evidence, she provides a selection of detailed and presumably accurate examples. Nevertheless, her effort ignores the strong conservative political bias that she exercises in choosing those examples. They ultimately shape her own narrative for the book’s orientation.