Attkisson reveals art of ‘The Smear’

Journalists today are elitists with their own agenda, never actually practicing journalism. Only a handful can be respected, trusted, and believed: Sharyl Attkisson falls into this category. She is an author and investigative reporter who hosts the syndicated TV news series “Full Measure” (http://fullmeasure.news). Attkisson is a whistle blower of sorts in educating the public about the biased media. Her latest book, “The Smear,” reveals the tactics used to influence opinions in order to obscure the truth.

In the beginning of this book, she discusses the propaganda campaign used by the OSS, the predecessor to the CIA. They had asked the legendary Marlene Dietrich to sing “Lili Marlene” in German and English in order to make the Axis forces feel homesick and realize they were fighting for the wrong side. She contrasts this with Hitler’s chief propagandist Joseph Goebbels’ playbook, which calls for creating a big lie — the bigger the better — to get more people to believe it; repeat it often enough so it becomes the truth; and persistence is the most important requirement for success.

Today’s media and leftists seem to take a page, not out of the OSS, but out of Goebbels strategy. Attkisson wants to inform Americans on the tactics used by political operatives on both sides as well as corporate operatives. These tactics fall into categories of “Astroturf, and Transactional Journalism,” all tools of the smear campaign. Her definition of a smear, “Taking a sprinkle of truth and perverting it into a weapon of mass destruction to advance an undisclosed larger goal, often political or financial. Smear campaigns take something that many times has a grain of truth and amplifies it to accomplish the annihilation of their target.”

One of the worst smears of all is the comparison of Donald Trump and those in his administration to the Nazi regime. Take for example Ashley Judd, who said at the Women’s March, “I feel Hitler in these streets. A mustache traded for a toupee. Nazis renamed the cabinet electric conversion therapy the new gas chamber shaming the gay out of America turning rainbows into suicide notes.”

The press is no different. The Washington Post editorial board, during the heat of the Republican primary, wrote, “You don’t have to go back to history’s most famous example, Adolf Hitler to understand that authoritarian rulers can achieve power through the ballot box.”

It would be almost laughable if it were not so sad that these denouncers of Trump are themselves, hypocrites. Even liberal commentator Piers Morgan has had enough. He sarcastically said in a FOX interview, “I find this Hitler stuff with Donald Trump unbelievably offensive… Donald Trump to my knowledge has not murdered anybody. If you are not prepared in the liberal world to now say he is the new Hitler, you, yourself, then become the Devil, and that is what happened to me.”

These smear artists need to understand they have crossed a line as they suspend their normal standards and practices, and should take a history lesson to learn about the Nazis’ crimes: political opponents being thrown into prisons, with many executed; the mass slaughter of Jews and gays along with other ethnicities; Russian prisoners of war killed; forced labor camps; the Nuremberg laws of 1935; children experimented on; and the Final Solution of the Jews.
In reading this book, people will become more aware of the world of opposition research and the dirty tricks those in power use to influence opinions. They have an agenda to prop up or destroy any narrative that goes against their beliefs by using the smear tactic to create an impression of widespread support or falsehoods when the opposite is true.Even movies are not out of the realm of these smear artists.

One way the operatives do this is by Astroturf, an “idea to keep the public from ever knowing exactly who is behind a particular effort to sway opinion. I describe it in my book as a way to saturate our consciousness, where we are made to think everyone believes something. It’s similar to the bandwagon approach. If you do not agree with a narrative, you are made to believe you’re an outlier, afraid to say what you think because ‘no one’ agrees with you. The idea is to give the impression there’s widespread support for or against an issue when there may not be.”

Attkisson noted that “13 Hours,” the movie about the attack in Benghazi, was not very flattering to the Obama Administration and Hillary Clinton. “They could not directly impeach those heroes that put their life on the line; instead, they sought to ‘controversialize the movie itself,’ in an attempt to keep people from seeing it. For example, Vox put up a review that pans the movie even though the writer only saw the trailer. Many others falsely pointed out that the movie was a box office flop; yet, the true narrative is that it was the number two-grossing new movie release in the US during its opening week.”

If her book had come out earlier people might have recognized the tactics used against the movie about Chris Kyle, “American Sniper.” This Washington Post comment is a good example: “The movie also reveals a man remarkably unburdened by conscience.” Actually, this reviewer got it wrong because in the book, the movie and in interviews, Chris always pointed out how he was haunted by his sniping duties, “I definitely have my nightmares, but not for the people I killed, but for the people I could not save: my brothers who died next to me, on top of me, or in my arms. I don’t worry about what other people think of me. My only regret is not being able to save more American lives. When I try to take someone out, it’s because they are attempting to take the life of one of our soldiers.”

She explains why she considers these astroturf smear campaigns, “Whether intentional or not, the players include a familiar group of media outlets known for advancing liberal narratives and to be on the Media Matters agenda. The information put forward is misleading, and in some cases, inaccurate to further a narrative instead of the truth. Finally, some of the efforts seem disingenuous and use recognized astroturf language.”

Another tactic, transactional journalism, refers to the “friendly, mutually beneficial relationships that have developed between reporters and those on whom they report. It’s when the relationships cross a line.” Falling into that category are some political pundits. Take for example CNN’s Donna Brazile, a Democratic party operative who secretly slipped Hillary Clinton an advance question for a CNN town hall with Bernie Sanders.

Attkisson noted, “We are not keeping an adequate firewall, giving the very people access to the newsroom who are trying to sway our opinion and shape news coverage. I am often not sure what these pundits on both sides add, besides propaganda talking points. This is part of what I call the soft ‘infiltration’ of the news media. We haven’t done a good job at staying at arm’s length from the interests who seek to use us as tools.”

As an investigative reporter, she is an expert at detecting smear campaigns and warns, “One smear artist I interviewed said nearly every image you run across in daily life, whether it’s on the news, a comedian’s joke, a meme on social media or a comment on the Internet, was put there for a reason. It’s like scenes in a movie, he said. Nothing happens by accident. Sometimes people have paid a great deal of money to put those images before you. What you need to ask yourself isn’t so much ‘is it true,’ but ‘who wants me to believe it and why?’” This is why everyone should be reading “The Smear,” to find out how they do it, who is doing it, and what to look for regarding these dirty tactics.

 

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About the Author

Elise Cooper

Elise writes book reviews that always include a short author interview.