Jane Lindell Hughes, MD reviews Slanted by Sharyl Attkisson
In the introduction to this book, Sharyl Attkisson aptly quotes several passages from George Orwell’s 1984. Readers will recall from that book that Winston Smith is a government records editor at the Ministry of Truth, which agency is really all about lies which must be protected by depositing records of the past into the “memory hole.”
She writes, “Our ‘memory hole’ is found in growing efforts to ‘curate’ or censor information in the news, ban certain facts, declare selected viewpoints illegitimate, cleanse media of particular accounts, and judge people and events of the distant past using today’s evolving and controversial standards.” Attkisson leads the reader through the degradation of journalism, beginning with selective omission of facts and circumstances to overt “spin,” providing only that information that powerful interests see fit for the public to receive.
These actions have birthed “The Narrative.” The goal of The Narrative is to embed chosen ideas into society to the point at which those ideas are no longer questioned, and when they are, the questioner or dissident is attacked and delegitimized. As many reading this review have experienced, we have seen this in printed, televised, and social media contexts. The hydroxychloroquine controversy is a case in point.
Regardless of issue, the powerful interests behind any given Narrative share several common beliefs: that they are smarter than you, they have a higher purpose than you do, and they don’t trust you to draw your own conclusions as they might be inconsistent with The Narrative.
In a remarkable ending to her introduction, Attkisson again invokes 1984 with examples of “doublethink” and “doublespeak,” citing the Ministry of Peace conducting war, the Ministry of Love deploying cruel punishment, and the Ministry of Truth falsifying historical records. She launches into current examples: “Fact Checkers codify slanted opinion, Myth Busters dispel truth, online knowledge is shaped by agenda editors, free speech is controlled by censors, the news isn’t really the news, and you aren’t the consumer, you’re the product.”
Attkisson is an award-winning journalist who hosts the Sinclair Broadcast Group TV show “Full Measure with Sharyl Attkisson.” She resigned from CBS News in 2014 after 21 years with the network, and subsequently wrote Stonewalled, a book in which she alleges that CBS failed to properly cover President Barack Obama’s scandals or controversies. Slanted starts in the late 1990s when she was an investigative journalist and began noticing that assignments were given with a preconceived conclusion, such as “Do a story on why Steve Forbes’ flat tax won’t work.” This editorializing progressed to entire pieces, such as her in-depth research into the impact of the minimum wage rates being edited, cut, and ultimately not run, as her reporting didn’t fit The Narrative.
Central to the book are its examples of verbiage and phraseology the reader should recognize as slanted, and the desired effect they invoke. Prime examples are the words “lies” vs. “gaffes.” Attkisson quotes articles using those words when commenting on statements made by now former President Donald Trump, and now President Joe Biden. Trump tells “lies.” Biden suffers from “gaffes.” Besides “lies,” other words used in The Narrative against Trump were “without evidence,” “in spite of evidence,” “unsubstantiated” when there were supporting documents, and “in an effort to…” when leading into a report of an action.
The book has summaries of shocking examples of media malpractice, such as spinning the Russia-Trump collusion story; lack of coverage of Clinton Foundation funds, Biden’s questionable interactions with Ukraine, the Horowitz report on the FBI, and falsified use of polls in order to shape opinion.
Her conclusion is that today true journalism is hard to find, and media have devolved into “character assassinations, assaults on factual reporting, dishonesty, and attempts to silence entire lines of thought.” One can substitute the word propaganda for narrative, and the implications for an informed and free society become evident for any student of history. Orwell’s 1984 is here with increasingly bold corporate and government strokes.
Review by Jane Lindell Hughes, M.D. San Antonio, Texas