Sharyl Attkisson’s recent book “The Smear: How Shady Political Operatives and Fake News Control What You See, What You Think, and How You Vote” is a treasure trove of insights. The New York Times bestselling author expertly chronicles the levers of influence that carefully manipulate the public’s collective reality. Backed by a high profile and Emmy-award winning journalistic career with the major American television networks, Attkisson’s research outlines the personalities, issues, methods and money flows that contribute to the slanted reportage of the mainstream media. This type of book – provided that the information is accurate – can be used to understand and eventually shape a more sophisticated approach to a comprehensive media strategy. The conservative representation in the mainstream media is mediocre at best, with most outlets and opinions having a ‘default liberal’ status.
This paltry showing of the right in such a fundamental pillar of American culture reveals a massive area of opportunity. Most major media organizations are driven by a combination of economic, ideological and psychological factors and are as such amenable to external pressure. The high-profile firing of Bill O’Reilly and ongoing national controversies that periodically ensnare right-of-center personalities including Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck and multiple politicians can in many cases be traced back to orchestrated ‘hit-jobs’ by unseen operatives. Generally, the victim is caught off-guard and is left to fight well-organized campaigns with funds and legal representation available to them only on a personal basis. Their opponents on the other hand, employ broad contacts throughout the media world, battle-tested lawyers, corporate interests, expert private investigators, public relations firms and various activist groups to accomplish their objectives.
With her sharp investigative skills, Attkisson systematically exposes the dynamics of media outlets that have become ‘thinly veiled political operations’. A substantive analysis of David Brock and his propaganda conglomerate Media Matters is given significant attention. Attkisson takes the reader through a maze of sophisticated media manipulation, unparalleled in American history. Dedicated observers on the Right can identify David Brock and billionaire funder George Soros as nefarious influences, but Attkisson performs thorough investigative probing to these figures. Pointing out that their reach has truly blossomed throughout the Obama years, she grants Brock the dubious title of the hardest working man in the smear industry. Using tax documents and public reports, she pieces together the donor base of shadowy groups and demonstrates how financially lucrative being a smear merchant can truly be.
With fresh insight into Trump’s extraordinary electoral accomplishments, her book also takes the reader through the machinations of the Clinton-Trump-Mass Media 2016 election. The book is incisive as it demonstrates how the Left outsmarted itself by propping up a candidate who seemed much stronger that she actually was. It further outlines case studies on how controversies are systematically manufactured and disseminated throughout the country. From running polls to training liberal pundits, taking over ‘watchdog’ and fact-checking organizations, Media Matters figures prominently in the drive to promote ideology over truth. The organization is not above threatening those who do not acquiesce in their narrative with personally and professionally compromising information. Fake social media accounts, transactional journalism, selling op-eds, ghostwriters, AstroTurf, fake news websites, audience-stacking, paid-off ‘investigative’ reporting and political machinations all figure into this work.
It has always been a characteristic of the Left to make its views seem more widespread than they truly are, resulting in a sort of ‘wizard behind the curtain’ effect. Many onlookers are puzzled by the tendency of the media to cover stories and take positions so at variance with their own understanding of what is important or relevant to their lives. The gap between the average person and their media choices leaves an opening for alternative media to make its presence felt. This media confirmation bias has its own pros and cons. On the one hand, dissenting views can be ridiculed, marginalized or drummed out of the conversation altogether. However, the price paid is potential self-delusion – and psychological shock when the ‘bubble’ bursts as was the case in the unprecedented election of Donald Trump. The majority of polls showed Hillary Clinton comfortably ahead leading up to Election Day.
Sharyl Attkisson’s “The Smear” is required reading for anyone wishing to understand the inner workings of the media and smear industry. For those of us interested in strategy, Sharyl’s courage in naming names and exposing the powerful is an immeasurable contribution to our movement and will require further and more in-depth discussion.