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The MRC's Sharyl Attkisson Dissonance

The Media Research Center loves the former CBS correspondent's anti-Obama reporting, but it's trying to forget that it criticized her for promoting anti-vaccine conspiracy theories.

By Terry Krepel
Posted 9/11/2014

Sharyl Attkisson

Sharyl Attkisson left CBS earlier this year after her reporting took a factually challenged anti-Obama turn and, in turn, became a darling of the right-wing media.

Earlier this year, the Media Research Center got a lot of mileage out of promoting Attkisson's media tour following her departure from CBS. Tim Graham promoted Attkisson's appearance on Fox News, in which she and Howard Kurtz commiserated about "liberal bias leading to soft coverage of Obama." Graham touted Attkisson's CNN interview as well, in which she discussed how "CBS lost interest in investigative journalism to favor Obama." NewsBusters' Tom Johnson attacked TPM's Josh Marshall for being critical of Attkisson's unsupported complaint of being targeted by Media Matters; Johnson didn't mention that Media Matters denied her claim and pointed out that it targeted Attkisson solely for her shoddy reporting.

What you won't read at the MRC, however, is any new criticism of Attkisson's embrace of anti-vaccine conspiracy theories, even though it has criticized other anti-vaxxers like Jenny McCarthy.

Author Seth Mnookin reported that Attkisson has "parroted anti-vaccine rhetoric long past the point that it’s been decisively disproved," repeatedly pushing the discredited idea that vaccines cause autism.

And the MRC certainly won't tell you that it criticized Attkisson's reporting on vaccines in the past:

  • A 2005 item criticized an Attkisson report for lending credence to claims linking vaccines to autism. A 2005 column by Dan Gainor repeated the criticism.
  • A 2008 MRC item criticized how "Attkisson reported on the plight of the parents of an autistic child and their fight to win money from a federal fund for 'vaccine damages.'"
  • Another 2008 item noted that CBS' newfound reporting that there is no link between vaccines and autism contradicts Attkisson's earlier reporting.

In one of his posts, Graham references "people who questioned [Attkisson's] reporting on autism and vaccines," but he didn't mention that one of those critics has been the MRC.

Attkisson earned the MRC's enmity before, but now she's portraying herself as a victim of liberal bias, which aligns perfectly with the MRC's anti-media agenda.

Tom Blumer puffed Attkisson in an April 30 NewsBusters post by insisting that she is a "credible" and "authoritative" source on the Benghazi so-called scandal. Indeed, the big Attkisson "scoop" that Blumer regurgitated -- that a newly released memo proves "reveal direct White House involvement in steering the public narrative about the September 11, 2012 terrorist attacks in Benghazi, Libya, toward that of a spontaneous protest that never happened" -- is quite meaningless.

As Media Matters and Slate's David Weigel noted, the memo merely shows that the White House agreed with the CIA's early assessment that an inflammatory video touched off the Benghazi attack, an assessment that's consistent with other intelligence briefings at the time, and that the memo was about the anti-American protests occurring in the region at the time, not just Benghazi.

Attkisson has a long history of shoddy reporting on Benghazi, but Blumer and the MRC won't tell you that.

Turnabout, sort of

A May 15 Media Research Center item by Sean Long did something we weren't sure the MRC was going to do -- call out Attkisson, its new BFF, for her shoddy reporting on vaccines:

More than simply covering the connection, some reporters, including former CBS reporter Sharyl Attkisson who reported anecdotes and interviewed many families convinced that vaccines caused their children’s autism.

Attkisson was particularly prone to report such anecdotes. Some segments, such as May 18, 2004, “Evening News” began and ended with minute long interviews with parent who blamed vaccines for their children’s autism. She even ended that story by asking, “How can it be wrong to err on the side of caution?”

In a similar broadcast on June 12, 2004, Attkisson included an anti-vaccination parent at a rally who claimed, “The CDC is going to become the Enron of the vaccine industry.” The Enron Corporation had recently collapsed in part due to fraudulent financial practices.

Years later, on April 21, 2014, Attkisson defended her vaccine reporting to CNN’s “Reliable Sources,” calling them “some of the most important stories I’ve done.”

But this criticism only goes so far. Not only does Long fail to reconcile his criticism of Attkisson with the MRC's earlier praise of her self-proclaimed martyrdom for her coverage of the Obama administration, the MRC has approvingly added an Attkisson quote about how her former CBS bosses were purportedly "ideologically entrenched" to its "Journalists Admitting Liberal Bias" page.

There seems to be a bit of cognitive dissonance here -- the MRC can't bash Attkisson for her shoddy vaccine reporting and at the same time praise her for her similarly shoddy reporting on the Obama administration. Shouldn't the same standard be applied to all of Attkisson's reporting?

An Aug. 27 MRC item by Geoffrey Dickens carried the headline "Sharyl Attkisson Schools ABC, CBS, NBC on How to Cover the IRS Scandal." He wrote:

Unlike her colleagues at the Big Three (ABC, CBS, NBC) networks, investigative reporter Sharyl Attkisson, on Tuesday night, actually dug into the finer points behind the big bombshells revealed in the IRS scandal this week.

Dickens appears to have let Attkisson's current mainstream-media martyr schtick blind him to the fact that the MRC's archive shows that Attkisson should not be schooling anyone about anything.

Dickens appears to think reporters at the "Big Three" networks are Attkisson's "colleagues," but that's simply not true. She left CBS earlier this year and recently signed on to work for The Daily Signal, the "news" outlet of the right-wing Heritage Foundation. An ideologically driven website is hardly the equal of a network news operation.

While Dickens noted that Attkisson issued her "schooling" on Fox Business, he didn't concede that her appearance on that channel is another sign she's moved to outlets friendly to her anti-Obama agenda.

And while Dickens was praising Attkisson's "schooling," neither he nor the MRC noted Attkisson's latest anti-vaccine reporting.

An Aug. 16 post on her website highlighted how a Centers for Disease Control researcher who debunked the alleged link between vaccines and autism "is still considered on the lam after allegedly using CDC grants of tax dollars to buy a house and cars for himself," suggesting that the alleged transgressions means his research is discredited.

Attkisson has also highlighted allegations that the CDC omitted key data in a 2004 study that would have revealed a link between autism and vaccines, and that an article making the allegation was retracted by the medical journal that published it. The Respectful Insolence blog has dismantled most of the claims made, but a Sept. 10 blog post by Attkisson failed to acknowledge thing, instead attacking the journal for pulling the article without consulting a co-author and for "receiv[ing] significant funding from vaccine makers."

If the MRC didn't trust Attkisson when she peddled faulty reporting on vaccines, why does it trust her now on her victimhood, even though her reporting on Benghazi and other Obama administration issues is just as untrustworthy? And why has it decided to hide her latest anti-vaccine advocacy?

Because Attkisson is now an indispensable part of the MRC's agenda -- a status that, like Rush Limbaugh and Mark Levin before her, earns her protection from her transgressions.

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