CBS News declined to comment on the allegations below.
In an astonishing media tour following her resignation from CBS News last spring, correspondent Sharyl Attkisson sat before interviewers ranging from radio host Chris Stigall to CNN media correspondent Brian Stelter and launched attacks on her newly former employer. Such attacks were rarely specific. Example: “With various stories, you do get the idea at some point that they want you to stop, especially if you start to dig down right into something very, very important, and it’s not just with political stories — it’s with stories that go after other interests, corporations, different things,” Attkisson told Stigall.
Perhaps Attkisson should have told her interviewers, “Sorry, you’ll have to wait for my book.” “Stonewalled,” due to be released Nov. 4, indeed supplies some specifics to join the ambiguities that Attkisson offered up earlier this year. For instance, Attkisson latched onto a story about how $300 million in stimulus funds had gone to a Korean partnership — Dow Kokam — and a Korean-owned outfit — LG Chem. “The firms used their American stimulus fund to buy Korean technology, equipment, and supplies, and they filled some of those sought-after American stimulus jobs with Korean workers,” writes Attkisson in “Stonewalled.”
“CBS This Morning” declined to air the story.
“CBS Evening News” declined to air the story. The rationale for the decision of the marquee CBS News platform isn’t perfectly clear from Attkisson’s retelling, but she provides some indirect feedback from the show’s then-executive producer, Pat Shevlin. A colleague tells Attkisson that “Shevlin really didn’t have many suggested changes; she just hated the whole thing. She doesn’t like the whole idea of the story. Shevlin feels that even if Koreans were given jobs, some Americans got jobs, too, so she doesn’t think there’s a story.”
CBS “Weekend News” at first expresses interest in the story. Then it takes a pass.
CBSNews.com publishes it. Or, as Attkisson writes in dissing the network’s Web platform, “We take the default position and publish the story on CBSNews.com.” As this blog wrote previously, Attkisson over the years morphed into CBS News’s Chief Web Reporter.
CBS News didn’t have an opportunity to decline to comment on this specific incident, but it did decline to comment on the next two.
Perhaps the most spectacular allegation against Attkisson’s former employer relates to influence by corporate interests on the news product. The way Attkisson tells it, a script that she’d written had secured approval from key executives across CBS News. The story concerns “a documented danger involving an automaker’s cars.” As the story is making its way toward airing, Attkisson gets pulled into a session with the network’s Washington bureau chief, who asks, “Why are we doing this story?”
Attkisson provides a quite compelling reason: “A lot of cars are catching fire and being recalled…”
The bureau chief allegedly responds, “But [the car company] says there’s not a problem. So why are we doing this story ???!?!”
Despite the hassles, Attkisson and her colleagues plow ahead with such stories. Until she catches wind that the bureau chief has requested to see her notes on a story about “an American Red Cross disaster response.” After Attkisson complains that it’s inappropriate to ask to see the notes, the bureau chief says, “I know. I don’t know what else to do.” Discouragement of Attkisson’s reporting, confesses the bureau chief, comes from powerful forces within CBS News. “We must do nothing to upset our corporate partners,” says the bureau chief, per “Stonewalled.”
CBS News declined to comment on these allegations. Attkisson doesn’t identify the Washington bureau chief by name. However, she does indicate that it was a woman. Janet Leissner, who worked in the job from 1998 to 2007, writes to the Erik Wemple Blog, “I never said that or anything like that. That’s my side of the story, and the truth.”
And now for another allegation upon which CBS News declines to comment: A “number of well-regarded veteran correspondents” had complained to upper management about “CBS Evening News with Scott Pelley.” “And more than one found themselves so disgusted with the state of the Evening News under Pelley and his executive producer [Pat] Shevlin that they sought to negotiate contracts under which they wouldn’t have to appear on the broadcast.”
CBS News declined to comment.