Sharyl Attkisson book measures Obama and U.S. against a false standard

Attkisson-BookIn a recent Occasional Planet post, Susan Cunningham writes:

“We can blame the NRA all we want, but the enemy, as Pogo said, is ourselves. We are a violent society and always have been. From the European invasion and occupation of the Americas 500 years ago to the “war on terror” around the world today, we must love violence or we would stop it.”

Just as so many people in the United States are fixated on violence, many of us are also addicted to corruption and deceit. We often try to deny it, but our lifestyle patterns clearly indicate that this is what we do. Self-dealing and cover-up by the federal government is the basic theme of Sharyl Attkisson’s new book, Stonewalled: My Fight for Truth Against the Forces of Obstruction, Intimidation, and Harassment in Obama’s Washington.

It is important to note that quite a few Americans, perhaps a majority, are not prone to violence. They prefer to live their lives peacefully and to solve conflicts in a non-violent way. Similarly, most Americans are basically honest and prefer to play by the rules. However, there are enough Americans who prefer to twist the rules and bend the truth to make it an endemic problem rather than an occasional act of malfeasance. That is the essential problem with Attkisson’s book. She is a former national correspondent for CBS News who, in recent years, was doing a considerable amount of investigative journalism. Regrettably for her, CBS became less and less interested in her stories to the point where in early 2014 she decided to leave “Black Rock” and avoid the harassment of editors and supervisors.

Her investigations cover a wide span of issues, from gun-running to drug dealers in Mexico, to Benghazi, to the initial fiasco of electric cars in the United States. Though her reporting is far more sophisticated and refined than local news, much of what she presents seems to be of the “you won’t believe what I found” variety. She tries to be fair in her bashing; including the George W. Bush Administration; the Obama Administration; corporate moguls; labor unions. However, because most of her frustration emanated from what she saw as the resistance of corporate CBS to run stories critical of agencies within and actions by the Obama administration, most of what she reports is criticism of the current administration.

My problem with her bashing of the Obama Administration is that she seems to be totally blind to the concept of “shit happens.” Yes, the Obama Administration did not do a good job of rolling out the web site for the Affordable Care Act, and the Justice Department seems to have engaged in unwarranted surveillance of the Associated Press. Bluntly, it’s true that “mistakes were made,” putting the actions in the passive voice, as is commonly done. But this is what happens when we have a body politic in which it comes so naturally for so many people to engage in and accept corruption.

ACA-Rollout-problems-aThere are two particular problems and one opportunity that occurs when the focus is put on a semi-progressive administration like the Obama one. The problems are (a) In many regards, the Obama Administration is trying to serve the needs of the people, something that sets them apart from Republicans, and (b) Republican outlets such as Rush Limbaugh or Fox News will jump all over any malfeasance on the part of a Democratic Administration without any understanding of how malfeasance is just part of who we are. The opportunity that arises from Attkisson’s reporting on the Obama Administration is that in many cases (such as with the roll-out of the Affordable Care Act) there is an intense desire of individuals and agencies within the Administration to correct the errors. Indeed, this is what has happened in the past fifteen months since the initial roll-out of the ACA. We must keep in mind that the administration is dealing with a highly imperfect law, which, in many ways was shredded by (a) Republican opposition to addressing the health care needs of the more than forty million Americans who did not have health insurance, and (b) the timidity of the Obama Administration to pursue a Medicare-for-All program that would have eliminated many of the structural problems with the law, including minimal ability to contain costs.

Attkisson operates from the perspective of a journalist who feels that the primary principle that should exist in our society is freedom of the press. Yes, the concept is a virtue and is deeply embedded in our First Amendment. But when it comes to the well-being of the American people, freedom of the press is somewhat of a neutral principle. In itself, it does not improve or damage the quality of life that we all enjoy, particularly those who are most in need of an emphasis on justice and fairness. With all its flaws, the Obama Administration has a greater commitment to the well-being of all Americans than Republicans do. Attkisson’s reporting and writing does an excellent job of pointing out missteps by the Administration. As much as I appreciate her investigatory work, I think that it does not necessarily make us a better country. We need to combine her research and presentation with a further commitment to the principles of a progressive agenda.