Whatever Happened to Sharyl Attkisson?


I don’t want to belabor this, but I wonder if any of Sharyl Attkisson’s friends can write something trying to explain to the rest of us what happened to her? As near as I can tell, she was a pretty good, hard-nosed investigative reporter for years. She didn’t have any Watergates to her name, but she dug for stories that weren’t widely reported and came up with angles that often embarrassed those in power. She was worth following.

And then came the age of Obama. Was this just coincidence? It’s hard to say, since her unraveling seems to have started in 2011 with some absurd reporting about the link between vaccines and autism, which has nothing to do with politics. But it was a sign of something. Writing about the vaccine/autism link might have been defensible ten years ago, but by 2011, when she took it on, it was about as well debunked as astrology. It was purely and simply crank science, but Attkisson was apparently unable to recognize this.

Next up was Attkisson’s reporting on the Fast & Furious scandal. Taken by itself, it was decent, hard-hitting stuff, if a little overwrought. But it also pulled her into the warm embrace of Obama’s right-wing media critics, and that led her on a path straight to Benghazi, the black hole of right-wing conspiracy theories. At this point she seems to have gone completely down the rabbit hole, utterly convinced that something—something!—happened in Libya that the Obama White House was desperate to cover up. Her reporting became so detached from reality that eventually she left CBS News, convinced that the network was deliberately pulling its punches on topics like Benghazi and the initial Obamacare website fiasco.

With the upcoming publication of Stonewalled, her descent seems to be complete. She’s now convinced that the Obama administration was so panicked about her Benghazi reporting that it hacked her computer, stole her passwords, and deleted her work files. Unfortunately, her claims are simply laughable. She describes problems that anyone with even a modest digital IQ recognizes as routine computer glitches. She makes claims about surveillance that suggest the NSA is less sophisticated than a bored teenager. She backs up her claims via interviews with shadowy sources who sound as if they were plucked from a bad Nicolas Cage movie. Finally, in the coup de grace, a few days ago she posted a video of her word processor going haywire. She thinks it’s retribution from government hackers for her Benghazi reporting. But it seems far more likely that it’s just a case of her Delete key getting stuck.

So what happened? Was Attkisson always on the edge? Or is this a genuinely bizarre case of Obama Derangement Syndrome taking over someone’s life? There’s a story here, but I can’t tell if it’s shameful or just sad. I’d like to know.

OUR NEW CORRUPTION PROJECT

The more we thought about how MoJo's journalism can have the most impact heading into the 2020 election, the more we realized that so many of today's stories come down to corruption: democracy and the rule of law being undermined by the wealthy and powerful for their own gain.

So we're launching a new Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption. We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We'll publish what we find as a major series in the summer of 2020, including a special issue of our magazine, a dedicated online portal, and video and podcast series so it doesn't get lost in the daily deluge of breaking news.

It's unlike anything we've done before and we've got seed funding to get started, but we're asking readers to help crowdfund this new beat with an additional $500,000 so we can go even bigger. You can read why we're taking this approach and what we want to accomplish in "Corruption Isn't Just Another Scandal. It's the Rot Beneath All of Them," and if you like how it sounds, please help fund it with a tax-deductible donation today.

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate