The Ronan mystery
Sharyl Attkisson vs. CBS: Reporter first tried to quit a year ago
CBS’s Sharyl Attkisson announced this week that she is leaving the network, the culmination of a series of clashes between the investigative reporter and her bosses.
But people familiar with the situation say that Attkisson actually attempted to resign one year ago, even starting to clean out her desk in the Washington bureau.
CBS News Chairman Jeff Fager talked her out of leaving last March, promising that some of the issues she had raised would be addressed.
Based on these assurances, Attkisson returned to work full time and dropped efforts to terminate her contract.
But the differences proved irreconcilable in an atmosphere that has also drawn complaints from some other reporters and producers. While Fager, a veteran newsman who is also executive producer of “60 Minutes,” commands considerable respect in the news division, there is concern among some of the rank and file about the difficulty of getting management to approve tough stories.
It was against this backdrop that Attkisson recently submitted her resignation again, and this time the network agreed to let her out of her contract early.
The departure underscores the gulf that developed between the CBS brass and the reporter who has doggedly pursued a variety of stories, including such Obama administration debacles as Benghazi and the botched Fast and Furious investigation into gun-running.
Asked Wednesday about the difficulties she faced getting airtime, Attkisson said in a brief interview: “It’s not a matter of ‘me’ being on the air, it’s the idea that so few of the incredibly interesting and important original and investigative topics I brought to the table, often exclusively, could find no home at CBS in the past three years or so.”
As for her departure from CBS News after two decades, Attkisson said, “I feel good about it.”
While media reports have focused on Attkisson’s investigations of the Obama administration, those familiar with the situation say she was stymied in getting airtime for stories beyond politics, including corporate scandals and a wide range of other subjects.
None of the investigative stories that Attkisson proposed in the past year were greenlighted for the “CBS Evening News”; in fact, most of her pitches were turned down. She wound up working on stories that the network assigned, say those familiar with the matter, including a string of investigative pieces on health care. But her output has declined significantly since 2008.
Beyond the nightly newscast, Attkisson’s work last year appeared on “CBS This Morning” and “Sunday Morning,” as well as on the web.
Attkisson is working on a book, tentatively scheduled for November, called “Stonewalled: One Reporter’s Fight for Truth in Obama’s Washington.”
“I hope to explore the unseen influences on and manipulation of the images and information the public receives in the media, whether it’s online on Wikipedia, or on social media such as Facebook and Twitter, or on television,” she told me.
CBS has said in a statement that Attkisson “is leaving the news division to pursue other endeavors. We appreciate her many contributions and we wish her well.”
The Ronan mystery
Some television critics — and even some folks at MSNBC — are trying to figure out why Ronan Farrow was hired as an afternoon host.
Other than his looks: “those limpid pools he calls eyeballs are so mesmerizing it’s easy to lose track of what he’s saying,” Variety says.
But the trade mag says he’s not the guy he is online:
“Farrow somehow manages to be a combination of funny, charming or insightful in every single tweet without the usual mistake Twitter stars make: They just plain overdo it.
“Which makes it all the more mystifying that MSNBC’s savvy move to bring him to TV has turned out to be such a dud, drawing mostly negative reviews.
“It’s an interesting test case in the tricky translation to a different platform of a star best known in social media. The logic behind making such a conversion seems as sound as it is simple: Bringing over someone with a powerful direct connection to 238,000 followers gives a TV show a running start in the ratings. But somewhere on the way to TV, Farrow’s appeal got lost …
“In his opening weeks on the air, Farrow has seemed tentative and ill at ease, prone to stumbling on his words. More to the point, he just doesn’t resemble the guy who is so dazzling on social media.”
Tweeting is fun; television is hard work!
Howard Kurtz is a Fox News analyst and the host of "MediaBuzz" (Sundays 11 a.m.). He is the author of five books and is based in Washington. Follow him at @HowardKurtz. Click here for more information on Howard Kurtz.