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  • In her book, Stonewalled, five-time Emmy Award winning investigative journalist Sharyl Attkisson exposes what goes on behind the scenes in the media that provides us with a “reality consensus”
  • One reason for the decline of investigative journalism is due to encroaching commercial and corporate influences, and the media’s growing acceptance of commercialization as part of the news process
  • “Astroturf” is the effort on the part of special interests to surreptitiously sway public opinion by making it appear as though it’s a grassroots effort for or against a particular agenda

Seasoned Investigative Journalist Exposes Inside Strategies to Censor News

April 26, 2015 | 287,789 views

By Dr. Mercola

According to Ayn Rand, “You can choose to ignore reality, but you can't ignore the consequences of ignoring reality.” Most of us rely heavily on the media for information, not realizing that 90 percent of it is controlled by a mere six media giants.

Sharyl Attkisson, a five-time Emmy Award winning investigative journalist whose television career spans more than three decades is one of my personal heroes. She was the reporter who, in 2009, blew the lid off the swine flu media hype, showing the hysteria was completely unfounded and manufactured.

She recently left CBS to pursue other avenues of investigative journalism, and has authored a highly praised book, Stonewalled: My Fight for Truth Against the Forces of Obstruction, Intimidation, and Harassment in Obama's Washington, which exposes what goes on behind the scenes in the media that gives you the information you come to think of as real and true.

"I left CBS about a year ago when it seemed I had met with so many dead ends in trying to continue the original investigative reporting that I've done for so many years there," Sharyl says.

"My producer and I just kept hitting brick walls in the last two years or so in trying to get this reporting on television. We certainly weren't alone. Reporters are complaining about this across the board at many print organizations and broadcast outlets...

The watchdog reporting that the government values so much is simply not desired for a variety of reasons as much as it once was at the national level. I think also this is a problem in local news...

There was no point [in staying]. I was never in a position to turn up better stories; I have more information, more sources, more whistleblowers, and more I felt might produce terrific stories than ever before after 20 years in CBS News, and yet, utterly lacked the ability to get any of it on television.

I could've stayed and done weather stories and stories of the day but that's just not where my interest was."

What Led to the Downfall of Watchdog Reporting?

Unfortunately, the trend of diluting the depth and scope of investigative journalism can even be seen in high-quality programs like CBS' 60 Minutes, which has been a favorite show of mine since its inception over four decades ago.

As noted by Sharyl, the reasons for the decline of investigative journalism are complicated. But a big part of it is due to commercial concerns; basically, commercial and corporate influences came into play, and media outlets grew to accept commercialization as part of the news process.

"I call it soft censorship," Sharyl says. "When you know you have a sponsor and you know it's important to the corporation, are you really going to offend the sponsor by going after stories that they don't like?

But I do think it's more overt than that sometimes. The sponsors explicitly complain and argue at the corporate level that certain stories and topics shouldn't be done.

We know this is true based on one anecdote I put in the book, but there are other anecdotes and experiences that reporters have had, where they've been told that this is the case.

Additionally, there are political factors. There were managers at CBS in those last two years that inserted their ideology into the reporting of producers and reporters, who by and large were very fair. That can change the whole tone of the reporting."

One of the examples in Sharyl's book that really hit home for me was when Hillary Clinton ran against Obama for president, and while on the campaign trail told reporters she had dodged sniper fire on a trip as First Lady, 12 years prior, when she visited Bosnia.

It seems like a silly thing to lie about, but lie she did. Sharyl and other journalists had been on that trip, and they all knew no one had dodged sniper fire, least of all the First Lady. Fortunately, Sharyl had archived videos of the event to prove it.

"It couldn't be farther from the truth, the idea that we had been shot up by sniper fire," Sharyl says. "There are a couple of choices – just being untruthful for her own benefit, or was she delusional, which is a little frightening. But I think the public got past that because they accepted her as the Secretary of State."

Another point Sharyl makes very effectively in her book is that there's this collaboration within the media, such that if one agency picks up a story, they all run the same story. You can watch the nightly news on every channel, and the story will be presented in virtually the same way, sometimes more or less verbatim.

"Too often, I think they don't want to cover a major controversy unless others have already covered it, like the New York Times or the Washington Post; then it's safe.

They don't want to cover certain stories for ideological reasons. They don't want to cover certain stories against corporate partners that might harm corporate relationships."

Intimidation and Harassment of Journalists

True investigative journalists, such as Sharyl, have also become targets of intimidation and harassment. For example, at one point her computer and phone lines were hacked to find out what she was working on.

"I assume there are a handful of journalists who do that sort of critical reporting on the government, and on this administration in particular, that they wanted to watch.

They never dreamed I would luck upon the resources to have the computer examined by experts that could find the software they deposited in my computer.

This software was proprietary to a government agency, either the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), National Security Agency (NSA), Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), or Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)...

They had my keystroke data... They could look at all my files. They used Skype audio – I didn't know this was possible – but they could turn it on invisibly, without you knowing it, to listen into conversations. They could also remove files using Skype... We were able to confirm these highly sophisticated long-term, remote intrusions."

Another interesting book for anyone interested or concerned about matters such as these is Future Crimes: Everything Is Connected, Everyone Is Vulnerable, and What We Can Do About It by Marc Goodman. The book discusses in great detail how this type of hacking can occur, and more importantly, what simple measures we can do to protect ourselves. It's a reality. And if they're doing it to top-notch investigative reporters, certainly everyone is a candidate.

On Astroturfing...

"Astroturf" is the effort on the part of special interests, whether corporate or political, to surreptitiously sway public opinion and make it appear as though it's a grassroots effort for or against a particular agenda, when in reality such a groundswell of public opinion might not exist. Sharyl explains:

"They turn to things like social media – Facebook and Twitter – using pseudonyms and multiple accounts to spread things around. They use their partners who blog for them, write things, and pick up on one another's work until sometimes it's been picked up in the mainstream media as if it's a fact.

It's all intended to make you feel as though if you hold a certain opinion that they don't want you to have, you're the outlier. Everybody else agrees with 'X' except you, and that may not be the truth. This is a huge business... There are actually PR firms that specialize in these sorts of tactics.

Astroturfing is now more important, I am told by lobbyists and PR firms, to many clients than the direct lobbying of Congress because it's so effective to reach out to the public. They may have someone write a letter to the editor and you don't know that person is being paid by a special interest to advance a certain opinion.

They may start as a nonprofit without saying out front that they're behind the nonprofit. The nonprofit may then look like a charity that's advancing a certain opinion, which is actually acting on behalf of the corporate interest or the special interest. Again, it's very widespread..."

Hallmark signs of astroturfing include using key language—words such as crank, crack, nutty, pseudo, conspiracy, and other language that's effective with the public to try to make you dismiss an argument they don't like. Another hallmark of an Astroturf campaign is attacking those who are questioning authority, such as reporters who are exposing the truth, whistleblowers who dare to step forward, and people asking tough questions.

It's important to be aware of these kinds of concerted efforts to distort the truth, and to understand how they're done, because these "faux concern" campaigns can have a profound influence on your perception of reality.

Astroturfing in Action

A perfect example of astroturfing just occurred when a GMO front group attacked Dr. Oz after he reported on the now scientifically established hazards of glyphosate, and the media swallowed and regurgitated the propaganda without any critical thought whatsoever. Slate magazine publicized the attack with the headline "Letter from Prominent Doctors Implies Columbia Should Fire Dr. Oz for Being a Quack."

The letter accuses Dr. Oz of repeatedly showing "disdain for science and for evidence-based medicine, as well as baseless and relentless opposition to the genetic engineering of food crops."

The letter was signed by Dr. Henry I. Miller and nine other "distinguished physicians." What the media has failed to address is that Dr. Henry Miller is hardly a concerned physician. He's actually a now well-known shill for the GMO industry.

In his capacity as its front man, he was caught misrepresenting himself during the Anti-Prop.37 campaign in 2012, pretending to be a Stanford professor opposing GMO labeling, when in fact he is not a professor at Stanford. The TV ad had to be pulled off the air because of this misrepresentation.

Aside from that, he has a long and sordid history1 of defending toxic chemicals such as DDT, in addition to defending Big Tobacco. Some of the other nine physicians are also less than distinguished. As noted by US Right to Know:2

"One was stripped of his medical license in New York and sent to federal prison camp for Medicaid fraud. Yet Dr. Gilbert Ross plays up his M.D. credentials in his role as acting president of the American Council for Science and Health (ACSH). Ross was joined on the Columbia letter by ACSH board member Dr. Jack Fisher.

So what is ACSH? Though some reporters treat it as an independent science source, the group has been heavily funded by oil, chemical, and tobacco companies, and has a long history of making inaccurate statements about science that directly benefit those industries – for example claiming that secondhand smoke isn't linked to heart attacks, fracking doesn't pollute water...

These facts are relevant in stories about scientific integrity. The scientific accuracy and motivations of the accusers matter when they are publicly challenging the scientific accuracy and motivations of somebody they are trying to get fired. We urge reporters and editors to take a closer look at the sources selling them story ideas, and to act as better watchdogs for the public interest".

Dr. Henry Miller and American Council for Science and Health Are False Fronts for the GMO Industry

Indeed, Henry Miller and ACSH are false fronts for the GMO industry, plain and simple. They are part of a PR hack strategy of astroturfing, and the mainstream media are too inept to look behind the curtain to see what's really there. The fact of the matter is that this attack on Dr. Oz is orchestrated not by concerned physicians or scientists but rather by industry shills whose job it is to attack anyone who embraces a more natural approach to health and/or raise damning questions that might hurt the industry's bottom-line.

Why Conventional Media So Rarely Tells You the Truth About Health

One industry that wields a great deal of power within the media today is the pharmaceutical industry. It's rare to sit through an evening of television without viewing several drug ads. They also advertise heavily in print and online media. The advertising dollars they spend not only generates sales, it also gives them the power to influence what's being reported in the news. Here's just one example:

"There's a story in my book about former executive producer of mine who got a phone call from the sales division, which was very inappropriate. He said the sales person from CBS was kind of screaming at him because we'd been doing a lot of stories looking at side effects and problems with the very popular and billion-dollar-selling cholesterol-lowering drugs, statins.

The advertisers didn't like that. Therefore, someone from the CBS corporate apparently didn't like that, and called down and said something like, 'If you keep doing these stories, it's going to be really, really bad for CBS...'

I think that happens more often than we know explicitly. But this time, it was followed by what I see as all of the media backing down on pharmaceutical-related stories. We were doing very aggressive coverage of problems within the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) – not just me, but all the networks and a lot of print publications – about vaccines side effects, and about other medical issues. That all has virtually stopped. You can almost point to a time period when it seems someone made a phone call and said, 'That's it fellas. There are advertisers.'

And you won't see these stories now even when there's a multi-billion-dollar criminal settlement against drug companies for mismarketing drugs that are commonly used. That's a huge story that should be leading the news in my opinion. But most people probably never heard of it because those are things that offend the sensibilities of advertisers, who now control to some degree the editorial content of networks, publications, and print publications that are advertising.

And, as you know, they have several lobbyists for every member of Congress on Capitol Hill so they can make sure certain hearings don't happen. As recently as last year, they were able to stop a planned vaccine-related hearing. The control is almost total in my view. That's just one example of a corporate influence."

What Are Some 'Big' Stories Not Being Reported Right Now?

According to Sharyl, if journalists would simply cover the news with facts and fairness, topics like vaccine side effects would receive far greater coverage. The reason it doesn't is because that topic has been deemed "untouchable." Other emerging health issues that you don't hear about in the news include the emergence of enterovirus EV-D68. It's a polio-like virus, but it's not polio.

Thousands of people were stricken with it last year, and the virus appears to be linked to cases of paralysis. At least a dozen children also died from it, yet you didn't hear about this on the news because it was not, unlike the measles vaccine, something the government was interested in promoting.

"Too often reporters wait for the government to tell them what's a story and what's not a story. They won't do the digging on their own, which I think is a very bad trend. But I tried to find out about this [enterovirus] and asked the CDC some questions, to which they replied they didn't gather certain data. I searched the web and found that the CDC had published a paper with the data that I've asked for! So it was completely false what they told me..."

Sharyl's book exposes many of the inside strategies that go on to suppress this type of information. Since leaving CBS News and finishing her book, she's been writing freelance, publishing a number of stories she would have had a hard time telling before, such as the story of how a government experiment on premature babies misled parents with an unethical consent form to enroll their premature babies in the program.

This study was conducted at prestigious research institutions by the government across the country. After some of the babies died, the study was stopped. Even the government's own ethics body concluded that the consent form was unethical because it didn't actually inform the parents that their babies were being entered into a study.

They were just told that this treatment would be good for their baby. In reality, the babies were randomly placed into high-oxygen or low-oxygen groups—not what was best for them individually. The parents were unaware that their child was being given treatment based on the flip of a coin. The parents also didn't know that their child was placed in an oxygen machine that had been disabled to give false readings.

"That story was published in Daily Signal,3 which is a heritage foundation news organization that started last year. They've done some excellent reporting and haven't tampered with my stories," Sharyl says.

What the Media Isn't Telling You about 'ObamaCare'

Another story Sharyl believes has been underreported is that of HealthCare.gov. "The US government is still hiding public documents that have been under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) for a long time," she claims. And the media simply reports whatever the government says, even though the government has been caught providing false information, including providing false statements under oath to Congress. There are still details of this health care program that we don't know anything about, and why is that?

"For millions of Americans, I think, this law is turning out to be disastrous and too expensive," she says. "There's now a new class of uninsured people who had insurance, but who've been bumped off or have gone off because they can't afford it now. The insurance isn't covering what people need.

Certainly, there are people who have benefitted, people who couldn't get insurance before. There's no doubt about that. That's going to be reported on, but what's not reported is that many people are suffering severe consequences..."

In her book she also exposes the debacle of how HealthCare.gov was developed, so if you're interested in learning more about that, please pick up a copy of Stonewalled. Sharyl has donated proceeds from Stonewalled to the University of Florida to put on a Freedom of Information forum for students and professionals, in which they brainstormed to come up with ideas for making the government more responsive to public information request; how to fix the freedom of information process, "which is entirely pointless and useless now," as Sharyl says.

So, when you buy her book, part of the proceeds are going towards ongoing efforts to help influence a more open and honest government, which is clearly something that needs work.

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