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The Smear
Sharyl Attkisson

June 27th, 2017/ ISBN 9780062468161
Non-Fiction / U.S. Politics / U.S. Media

Reviewed by Elise Cooper


Only a handful of journalists 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. ( ; 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. She told American Thinker 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.”

In reading this book people will become more aware about 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, 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.”

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.”

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. As I discuss in the book, Media Matters and its groups claim to have coached and trained hundreds of these pundits on everything from messaging to facial expressions and body language, so they can appear on television news shows and effectively distribute narratives. This is part of what I call the soft ‘infiltration’ of the news media. We haven’t done a good job at staying at arms length from the interests who seek to use us as tools.” For example, Fox News has hired one of the Obamacare architects who basically got everything wrong about Obamacare. Yet, he is now commenting on the new health care plan Attkisson wonders, “Why is he being put forth as an expert in anything?”

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.

Reviewed 2017