Sinclair stations begin show with Attkisson
Sep. 30, 2015
NEW YORK (AP) — Former CBS News reporter Sharyl Attkisson promises her new Sinclair Television show will be different than typical Sunday morning public affairs programs, but she couldn't resist having Donald Trump as her first guest.
Such are the realities of selling yourself in a competitive world, and the Republican presidential front-runner is a viewer magnet. Since Sunday's first show is largely about immigration and Trump has done more than anyone to drive that issue lately, Attkisson said the booking isn't just opportunism.
"Full Measure" is the first-ever program produced by the Sinclair Television Group, which owns 162 local TV stations, covering 38 percent of the nation's TV homes. Most stations will air it at 9:30 a.m., or later in the morning in some markets where Sinclair owns more than one station, like in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, or Syracuse, N.Y.
The program's mission is accountability reporting and investigations. Sinclair and Attkisson say "Full Measure" will come without a political agenda, although shared history makes that a pertinent question.
"My goal is to put on a compelling news program that brings to light stories and angles that other people are trying to cover up or censor or not have you see," Attkisson said. "Now there will be people who don't like what I do. There always have been."
Attkisson worked for more than two decades in CBS' Washington bureau, winning awards for investigative reporting. She's reported on the Obama administration's "fast and furious" operation where weapons landed in the hands of Mexican drug cartels; the Bush administration's bank bailout and other financial moves; Washington lobbying and money's influence on politics; and conflicts of interest in the medical industry.
Her time at CBS News turned sour, and she left last year complaining of trouble getting stories on the air. She wrote a book, "Stonewalled," about the Obama administration obstructing her work, and a general decline in investigative reporting.
She feels many news managers want certain stories and when reporters don't toe the line, their work is stifled.
"Reporting at the street level is not as welcome anymore," she said. "They're being directed from the top, as opposed to reporters on the ground who bring them stories based on our reporting and contacts and sources."
Immigration is one example she cites. She said there's more interest in positive stories about immigrants, and less interest in reporting about people with suspect backgrounds getting in to the United States illegally. That, of course, is in Trump's wheelhouse, following a summer where his comments about Mexicans getting into the United States and wanting to build a wall along the country's southern border drove the political conversation.
Angelo Carusone, executive vice president of Media Matters, a liberal media watchdog, said that "Full Measure," being launched "in partnership with another conservative media outlet, will most likely continue to reflect the political leanings that define Attkisson's brand these days." In his view, it has sullied her work.
The criticism is part of the territory when you do tough stories, Attkisson said.
"I was called liberal most of my career and I would say I started to be called conservative the past two years because I was doing stories that people thought reflected poorly on the Obama administration," she said. She describes herself as apolitical.
"It's not that I don't have thoughts and opinions, but I'm a journalist first, and what I love most is the intellectual exercise of following a story, even if it is something you disagree with, changing your mind, following the facts and reporting what you find despite what your own viewpoint might be," she said.
Attkisson said there's been no interference from Sinclair in her show, and that she was careful to get assurances there would be none.
Scott Livingston, Sinclair's vice president of news, said Attkisson's brand of watchdog reporting fits into the growing ownership group's vision of what it wants from its local newsrooms. He said hopes "Full Measure" will be fearless in its reporting, "regardless of whether someone had a 'D' or 'R' next to their name."
Sinclair, with its biggest concentration of stations in the South and Midwest, has a history of promoting conservative thought. Sinclair executive Mark Hyman distributes commentaries to its stations. The group told its ABC stations not to run a "Nightline" episode during the Iraq War because it was judged unpatriotic. Livingston said Sinclair believes most media leans to the left, "and our objective is to pull them to the center."
Attkisson's small staff is led by another CBS News refugee, executive producer Batt Humphries. She will do the main reporting piece each week, and hopes to get some help from Sinclair affiliates and some non-profit reporting services.
"Ours is not going to do the political talking head du jour," she said.