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Sharyl Attkisson: How Propagandists Co-Opt ‘Fact-Checkers’ & the Press to Control Information

Sharyl Attkisson: How Propagandists Co-Opted ‘Fact-Checkers’ and the Press to Control the Information Landscape

AMERICAN THOUGHT LEADERS - Jan Jekielek interview with Sharyl Attkisson (full interview transcript)

“Virtually every piece of information that can be co-opted has been, whether it’s Wikipedia online, fact-checkers, the news,” says five-time Emmy Award-winning investigative journalist Sharyl Attkisson. “This is all part of a very well-funded, well-organized landscape that dictates and slants the information they want us to have.”

Attkisson is the host of Full Measure and author of “Slanted: How the News Media Taught Us to Love Censorship and Hate Journalism.”

Below is a rush transcript of this American Thought Leaders episode from Jan 18, 2022. This transcript may not be in its final form and may be updated.

Mr. Jekielek: Sharyl Attkisson, such a pleasure to have you back on American Thought Leaders.

Ms. Attkisson: Thanks for having me.

Mr. Jekielek: Sharyl, I’ve been lately thinking about your book Slanted. You wrote this pre-COVID frankly. And the more I think… The subtitle, this is close. How the Media Taught Us to Love Censorship and Hate Journalism. I think you were seeing something very profound earlier than many were.

Ms. Attkisson: I think part of the reason it’s not that I’m so prescient, it’s that the kind of reporting I do lends itself to me seeing, or being subjected to trends in media and propaganda that later become more widespread. But I think I’m kind of on the leading edge of seeing it sometimes. And I can look at it, kind of see what’s happening in the landscape.

When I say how the media taught us to love censorship and hate journalism, it’s referring to the phenomenon that prior to 2015, 2016, and I looked at this to make sure I was on target with my memory, there was no big movement, begging big tech or third parties or fact-checkers to get between us and our open information online or on the news. Nobody would’ve thought of it at least on any broad scale.

And yet now here we are just a couple of years later, after a major campaign to control the information I believe, on the news and online, where many people embrace the notion that some know nothing third party that’s quite frankly, their strings are being pulled by some corporate or political interest that they’re inserting themselves and saying what we can and can’t see and read and what we should believe, yet people are embracing that even in the media, and begging for more of it. Never would’ve thought of that just a couple of years ago, that would be the case.

Mr. Jekielek: Well, and just some of the things that are fact-check are bizarre. I will see, I’d have to look up because I screenshot these things periodically. I’m just like, “You’re fact-checking this and then it sits on my feed for…” This is on Twitter for two days.

Ms. Attkisson: Right.

Mr. Jekielek: What are you trying to do to me here? Right? It’s a very… The whole phenomenon is strange. You’ll have these people who really, aren’t qualified fact-checking people like the example I like is Dr. Robert Malone about vaccine technology or something. It’s just kind of bizarre.

Ms. Attkisson: Well, one has to understand as I’ve tried to describe that nearly every mode of information has been co-opted if it can be co-opted by some group. Fact-checks are no different either. They’ve been co-opted in many instances or created for the purpose of distributing narratives and propaganda. And you’re common sense is accurate when it tells you that the way they chose this fact-check and how they decided to word it so they could say this thing is not true when at its heart it really is true, but the message they’re trying to send is that you shouldn’t believe it.

Your common sense is right. That’s been created as part of a propaganda effort by somebody somewhere part narrative to distribute to the public. So virtually every piece of information that can be co-opted has been, whether it’s Wikipedia online, fact-checkers, the news, Snopes, a lot of people I think used to go to Snopes and say, this is a place I can find the truth.

And they may not understand that even Snopes in many instances has been co-opted. The fact-checks I look at, which is I call a fake science group that’s used by Facebook and other big tech companies to debunk scientific things that often are actually true, but just to keep them where they’ll get pulled off your feed or someone maybe pulled off of social media on the basis of these fake fact-checkers, these people who call themselves scientists saying something is or isn’t correct. This is all part of a very well funded, well organized landscape that dictates and slants the information they want us to have.

Mr. Jekielek: You mentioned 2015, 2016 was this some estranged turning point. I mean, that’s what I remember as well. I remember thinking to myself watching sort of these kind of very, very common narratives emerge among many corporate media, where everyone was kind of speaking in unison. It reminded me of the kind of media activity and Communist China, where there’s a Xinhua news agency that tells everyone what the correct talking points are. I just never imagine some people told me, oh, this has existed before, but something changed then. Right? And what was it that changed?

Ms. Attkisson: I think that there has long been an effort of course, to shape information. And the push may pull you in the media has been with hopefully news reporters trying to push back against organized efforts to make sure some information doesn’t get out. I did notice. I would say in the early 2000s that instead of just trying to shape the information, it was a surprise to me as I covered pharmaceutical industry stories, which I was assigned to do at CBS news, along with many people in the media, that the pushback came to be more about keeping a story from airing or keeping a study from being reported on the news, not just giving the other side, not just making sure it was accurately reported, but these efforts by these large global PR firms that have been hired by the pharmaceutical industry, by government partners that work with the pharmaceutical industry to keep the story from being reported at all. Now that’s pretty common.

But at the time I remember thinking, who doesn’t want the information out there at all? And I think it really took off in a big way instead of a more subtle way in the 2015, 2016 time period with Donald Trump proving to be a unique danger perceived by both Democrats and Republicans. And by that, I mean by the interests that support and pay for them to be in office and make certain decisions.

Because Donald Trump was outside both the Democrat and Republican establishment. And I’m not saying he doesn’t have his own interests and his own strings he would try to pull, but he did not exist as a phenomenon, as a political figure, as a result of the decades of hand washing and money being paid through these organized pipelines in the political parties. So there were really strong vested interests that did not want to see a Donald Trump in office, a wild card as I called him. Who would do things outside the money interests be it Democrat or Republican.

And they organized a media campaign and exploited the changes that have been happening over the prior decade or two, where the media was becoming more conflicted and less apt to just independently report what was going on. And this all dovetailed together to create this, what I think crazy information landscape we have today, where journalists too often, I don’t even really think they’re journalists, they’re writers that are seeking to amplify whatever establishment scientists or establishment politicians want them to say uncritically and at the expense oftentimes of accuracy.

They’re just sort of blurting out what they’re told to distribute to the public. They’re acting more as propagandist than journalists and reporters. And yeah, I do think that started in that time period. There was a well funded effort that I’ve tracked in my books that shows how big tech was brought into it with a lobby campaign by some important propagandist that work behind the scenes, who met with Facebook and said, “You got how to start censoring and fact-checking information.” And it meant a certain kind of information politically at the time, but that’s how it all got started.

And if I may amplify on that just a bit, even at the time, and I say when people watch from the outside and something doesn’t make sense to them, you should listen to your cognitive dissonance. In the 2015 time period, 2016 when all of this was changing, I remember hearing a speech given by president Obama at Carnegie Mellon in September of 2016, I believe it was. And he said something like somebody needs to step in and curate information in this wild, wild West media landscape. And I remember thinking that was such a strange thing to say, because there was no big movement among the public that people needed to have their information curated, that someone needed to step in and tell us what to think and curate what was online.

But to a man after that, if you look at the media day after day, there were headlines about fake news and curation and what should and shouldn’t be reported. And I kind of worked backward and found just a couple of weeks before President Obama’s speech, there was a nonprofit called First Draft that introduced the first time I could document it, the notion of fake news in its modern context and how it had to be controlled. And I’m thinking that’s kind of interesting, who’s First Draft?

So I look up their tax records, which had not all been filed yet, it’s a fairly new nonprofit. And I called them. Because when you follow the money, you find a lot of answers. And I said, who funds you? And First Draft said that they started by the way, about the beginning of the election cycle in 2015. And they were funded by Google. Google’s parent company Alphabet was led at the time by a man named Eric Schmidt who was a top Hillary Clinton donor and was an activist working in her campaign as she’s running for president.

Is it a coincidence that a political activist right ahead of the presidential campaign starts a nonprofit that picks up the notion of fake news and if you looked at the non profit’s website, when they said fake news, they meant entirely conservative based fake news. In their viewpoint, there was no liberal version of fake news.

And then within a matter of weeks, President Obama gives this speech, the media takes off and runs with it. What happened interestingly with Donald Trump being the wild card is, every time they accused him or his side of fake news, he grabbed the ball and threw it back at them and said, “You’re fake news.” So their idea of fake news was entirely fake news made up stories on conservative sites they said that were harmful and not true.

His idea, Trump’s fake news was, “You guys are making mistakes or errors that aren’t true, that are biased. And that’s what I call fake news.” And being the master marketer that he is, within a pretty short period of time, he had co-opted the phrase so successfully that by January of 2017 after he was elected, The Washington post who had been on the bandwagon about cracking down a fake news, suddenly published an editorial that said, “We have to get rid of this term fake news.” Because it had now become something that president Trump had used successfully. And now today if you ask most people, they think Trump came up with that phrase that it’s actually well documented as an invention of political activists on the left during the time period I described.

Mr. Jekielek: Oh, that’s absolutely fascinating. And it just this… I mean, this whole fake… I try never to use the term because it’s so… Talk about words being weaponized.

Ms. Attkisson: Yeah.

Mr. Jekielek: Right? But we’re kind of in this information war where it’s very hard to tell what’s true, right? I mean today’s conspiracy theory, as we’ve seen multiple times over the last years becomes a reasonable thing like with virus origins for example, this is something that you’ve been following. And so have we for a long time. It’s hard to function in an environment like this. There’s this onslaught of information every day about what you’re supposed to think.

Ms. Attkisson: I documented in The Smear, my second book. I interviewed people who operate in this universe. They make their living distributing propaganda and narratives. And they’re pretty proud of it. Some of them let me name them in the book, some of them didn’t want me to. But they’re pretty proud of their handy work and what they do. And they explained to me that if they do nothing more than confuse the information landscape, maybe you don’t totally buy what they say, but they’ve done enough to make you not sure of anything, that still serves the purpose in many cases.

Because if they don’t want you to believe something and they can cast doubt by making you doubt everything, they’ve accomplished their goal in a way, because you still don’t believe the thing that they were trying to distract you from. And I thought that was really interesting that sometimes confusion can actually be the goal.

Mr. Jekielek: Well, and the other thing that I’ve been thinking about a lot lately is there seems to be this kind of weird feedback loop among I guess agencies, unnamed agencies, but different ones and the corporate media to the point where I kind of wonder whether it’s sort of like believing your own propaganda or your own talking points, whether or not they’re true. Maybe in some cases they’re even true. But it’s sort of… It’s fed back and it’s reinforced to the point where I wonder if it almost becomes difficult for the people involved themselves to figure out what the reality is. Kind of they start believing their own stories.

Ms. Attkisson: It’s a good point. One of my biggest criticisms of what we in the news have become compared to really not too long ago is we would never have some years ago at least the mainstream media, simply repeated what government/industry said uncritically and then tried to convince people that was the truth and not to believe certain other things. We would be playing more of an opposite role.

A reasonable but skeptical audience that would ask for justification and present other viewpoints rather than just sort of serving as a mouthpiece for them. And it’s the biggest turnaround to me to see the media willingly take an official position from people who have all kinds of conflicts of interest. That doesn’t mean what they’re saying isn’t true, but there’re certainly a lot of things to consider. But then uncritically try to convince the public to believe that viewpoint and not listen to anything else and sensor other information.

But in this way, it’s made it very hard in a confused, chaotic environment like with coronavirus to get at the truth. Well, maybe we’ve made mistakes because we didn’t know better because this thing is happening and developing and emerging, but then to get at the truth when information is closed off and we’re only hearing one side and we’re told that we can’t listen to other things or other studies or other scientists, I think it’s been a very harmful thing.

And it’s hard to know in every case where the reporters simply are complicit because they just believe this is the right thing and they haven’t been taught any other way of critically thinking about information and reporting or if they’re purposely placed there, they’re not reporters anymore. I argue in one of my books that a lot of propaganda have become part of the media. We’ve invited them into our newsrooms.

There was a point when we used to have a little bit of a firewall between the people we reported on and we the reporters, but that’s long ago gone where we’ve not just invited them to influence what we report, but we’ve hired them. And again, not even just as pundits and analysts, but they are reporters. They are editorial presences within our newsrooms. Now we are one and the same. It’s hard to say that there’s a distinctive difference in many instances between the people trying to get out a message and the messengers in the media who should be doing a more independent job of reporting accurately.

Mr. Jekielek: Well, let’s think about coronavirus here. Let’s use it as kind of a case study. We’re looking at early 2020, there’s a lot of different information flying around. We know that the Chinese regime is basically doing mass censorship preventing these whistle blowers from speaking and basically running a big information operation. And there’s this fear that this is very serious, just models being done that’s say there’s going to be mass casualties.

Lockdown policies these get instituted very quickly. But then, also very quickly there’s data being gathered that shows that it’s not nearly as bad. You were kind of in the midst of this. I know you were looking at this carefully. So when did you realize there’s something kind of a miss in how we’re thinking about this?

Ms. Attkisson: Well, like most people, I didn’t know what to believe in the beginning. And I try to be fairly careful as a reporter to forming conclusions and speaking about things. People were asking me early on what I thought about coronavirus and how bad was it and what was going to work? And I said I didn’t know.

But what happens for me anyway, the way I work, I talk to tons of people, all kinds of scientists inside and outside government, whoever I can. And over fairly short period of time you start seeing who’s right and who’s wrong, who has a better track record. And pretty quickly I could see that certain things that were being said publicly were bearing out as not true. And certain things that other scientists were telling me privately rang true. And in hindsight have actually been proven to be true. And you can start to develop, okay, which of the one who seem to have their finger more on the pulse of what’s going on.

And pretty early on, I had quite a few scientists question, including government scientists, question the advice being given by Dr. Fauci and the lead scientists that were taking charge. And I remember saying to them, these were important differences they had with policy and what we were doing. And I said, “Shouldn’t you say something? Shouldn’t you speak out and at least be a voice and an opinion that’s heard?”

And a couple of different ones said that didn’t to my knowledge even know each other, but said something similar. They said they dare not speak out for fear of being controversial and for fear of being called coronavirus deniers, because that phrase was starting to be used in the media. And secondly, they feared contradicting Dr. Fauci, who they said had been kind of lionized or canonized in the press for reasons that they couldn’t understand because they really didn’t think that his guidance that he was giving publicly was the right guidance. Now, who’s to say whether at the time he was right or they were right?

But I was simply saying certainly these esteem scientists who had differing opinions that made sense to me, certainly those opinions should be heard as well, and yet they weren’t allowed and in many cases were afraid to even speak out for fear of losing grants. I think people don’t understand how the scientific world is so driven by the money they can get for research and all of that virtually comes from the government or through the government.

And if the government doesn’t like what you say and do, that can like totally get you fired from your institution or make it where you never get a grant again. And a lot of people are afraid to talk about these things. So, that started to strike me as, this is a really dangerous environment when esteem scientists who have valuable information and opinions are afraid to give them. And instead we’re hearing a party line that many of them disagree with but won’t say so.

Mr. Jekielek: I’m just remembering that one of these scientists mentioned something like, well, it’s a huge problem where the people that are giving the grants are the same people that are setting the policy. And I think, really, could that even be possible? And sure enough, that is the case or has been the case. That’s incredible.

Ms. Attkisson: Well, and very specifically, I don’t know if this is what you meant, but the people that gave grants and this isn’t even a matter of debate despite what you may have heard in the news, public tax money was used to fund gain a function research. Maybe there are some details that are sort of in dispute or a little bit murky, but it’s well documented that our taxpayer payer money was used over a period of years to fund controversial research involving the Communist Chinese for some reason, which again, every scientist I spoke to behind the scenes thought that this partnership with the Communist Chinese was one of the most ridiculous and ill advice things they could ever think of.

And yet they didn’t want to say that publicly, but this is something that Dr. Fauci’s institute, the National Institutes of Health had approved and funded along with the USAID agency for international development. Our Defense Department is part of all of this too. This stuff seemed so ill advised and is so well documented, and yet people are unwilling to talk about it. And then the narrative is being managed another way.

I remember after reviewing the grants themselves to my satisfaction, because I didn’t know it was true till I found the documentation and then still hearing, not just public health figures, but reporters claim as if they know the truth that none of this had happened. And I’m thinking, I can hardly blame the politicians and public health figures because they have their own idea of what their job is. But we in the media are supposed to at least I think do an independent job and do our own research and not just take at face value everything one side says. And yet I’m seeing all of this information reported that I know is false saying certain things aren’t true.

And it’s like early on when reporters were saying that the idea that the virus could have come from a lab in China, was widely being said that had been debunked when as little as I knew, I knew that hadn’t even been investigated yet. I knew the Chinese hadn’t let us in the lab, I knew that we had very little information. How could reporters be saying unattributed that this whole thing has been debunked? So these are the kinds of things that early on, that’s sort of a red flag to me that says, somebody’s trying to shape the information, they’re using reporters to do it. Public health figures are involved in some instances. And that makes me want to know what’s really behind it.

Mr. Jekielek: Well, and it took the better part of a year, maybe longer to kind of get to the place where you could talk about the virus origins as being something that could have come from a lab, even theoretically as not something that was a conspiracy theory anymore. I hate that term actually. Well, the more I think about it, it seems like this pejorative term kind of designed to dismiss. Right?

Ms. Attkisson: Very smart, because I discussed that in my second book. That was a phrase that the use that you’re discussing was devised by the CIA as a response to the theories about JFK conspiracy theories about his assassination. And it was shown in documents that there was a suggestion that they, agents go out and talk to reporters and talk about these things as conspiracy theories.

And again, common sense should tell you as it does me, I’m married to a former law enforcement official who has said to me many times, the conspiracy theory phrase and its use doesn’t make sense. Nearly everything is a conspiracy. When you look at law enforcement, it simply means two or more people getting together with an idea, usually for something nefarious. So virtually any robbery that involves more than one person is a conspiracy, Bonnie and Clyde is a conspiracy, The Mob is a conspiracy. Many things and the official charges are conspiracy to commit X.

And yet, when you hear people say conspiracy theory, that’s designed to pluck this little part of your brain that says, “Well, that thing’s not true.” And I think it’s a very well studied phrase that works well on people who don’t think it out. To me, that’s often a cue that tells me that the thing may well be true. And I’m not saying it is because it’s called a conspiracy theory, but someone’s trying to debunk it, usually means a powerful interest is behind it. And it makes me want to go search for more information on that thing. And I always keep an open mind and say that crazy thing that they say is a conspiracy theory may well have some truth in it.

Mr. Jekielek: Right? And that’s the thing. There’re so many that have turned out to be true in the last few years. That’s the part that’s… It almost has lost meaning actually. Hasn’t it?

Ms. Attkisson: Yeah. That’s probably the good side of it. They’ve almost overplayed their hand, those trying to shape the information by being so transparent with certain key phrases, which I’ve used in my book and outlined when you hear debunked. Debunked was never something people used to go around saying, “Hello, I debunked something today.” This is a phrase that was invented and used specifically for this purpose as conspiracy theory, quackery anti-vaccine.

That was a phrase that was unheard of when I started covering vaccine safety issues when I was assigned to do that for CBS many years ago. That suddenly emerged on the landscape that anybody who asked a logical rational question about the safety of a medicine for an individual, was suddenly portrayed as anti-vaccine and that’s been a very effective propaganda tool that has marginalized people who certainly aren’t anti-vaccine, but kept them from wanting to even ask or dig into questions that people were starting to ask in the early 2000s.

So there’s a whole cast of propaganda phrases that I’ve outlined that I think those are cues. When you hear them, they should make you think, “I need to find out more about it.”

Mr. Jekielek: I have to mention this because I was kind of stunned to discover that the term anti-vaxer, I think it’s in the Webster dictionary was modified at some point. And this was before vaccine mandates were being imposed by federal government and so forth. It was changed to someone who is against vaccines to someone who is against vaccines or vaccine mandates.

Ms. Attkisson: Yeah.

Mr. Jekielek: Right? So-

Ms. Attkisson: And who decided that’s what it means.

Mr. Jekielek: This is the fascinating little research project for someone to do. Because apparently this was before sort of the big push. The conspiracy theory would be that it was changed to kind of facilitate the vaccine well mandate uptake and so forth.

Ms. Attkisson: And I think that’s true because remember I said that virtually every form of information and sourcing that can be co-opted has been. That includes the dictionary definitions. That includes everything, because these are important ways to influence thought, language is very powerful. People don’t want to be affiliated with certain names and labels.

It reminds me of 1984, the George Orwell story about the futuristic society, under which history was being rewritten in real time to jive with a version that the government wanted or the party wanted it to be. Definitions now are being rewritten and changed in real time to fit with the vision that whatever the establishment wants people to think. We’ve seen examples outside of coronavirus, but also related to coronavirus where websites are changed and definitions are altered a little bit to fit the facts. I remember hearing people say, when it turned out the vaccines didn’t prevent spread.

They didn’t prevent an infection. They didn’t prevent spread. They weren’t 100% effective. They didn’t prevent hospitalization necessarily. They didn’t prevent death. All these things that were said, people were trying to say, “Well, they never said that.” And I had to go back, because it’s hard to call through on the internet and do a search that takes all this out.

But I was able to with a date search to go back and find that yes, it was said in the beginning, it was claimed that the vaccines were nearly 100% effective at preventing infection. Today I’m hearing people say, “No, no one ever said the vaccines would prevent infection.” And so this definition of what made these effective vaccines were modified over time because they turned to be wholly ineffective in a traditional sense at preventing infections.

So they redefined it to, “Well, they prevent the spread.” And then when they didn’t prevent spread, they redefined it. It just again makes me think about definitions being rewritten in real time to fit with what they want you to think. A thing that I love that people at home maybe have never heard of is the Wayback Machine. Do you know about the Wayback Machine?

Mr. Jekielek: Of course. Of course.

Ms. Attkisson: This has been a really invaluable tool for reporting. If you want to see how a website has changed and prove to yourself that gosh, that didn’t say that yesterday, this public health website or this definition, you can go to,, and you can paste in that website. And many times I would say three out of five times, an old version has been captured. You can prove to yourself that you are right, that this website used to say something different or a definition has been slightly changed because the old site is captured.

And this has been a way that’s… It’s been a fascinating way to prove the effort to change our perception of how things are and the reality and what we thought we remembered from the other day, because all we really have now is the electronic record by and large. And if that can be manipulated, there could be a time when, if they get rid of the Wayback Machine for example, that we can’t ever prove that anything was any different. It’s only what we see at that moment that someone was able to show us with no record of what things used to look like.

Mr. Jekielek: There’s another site,, and I kind of use both because sometimes one is archived and Wayback Machine not other one is site. I use these all the time, especially-

Ms. Attkisson: Good to know. I didn’t know there was an alternative.

Mr. Jekielek: Especially when I see something that I think is going to get changed. I immediately go and archive it. Now the thing is, but I’m wondering myself, when will these systems be co-opted or will they be co-opted.

Ms. Attkisson: Me too. I’m surprised they’re still there because it’s been a very valuable tool to fight propaganda and narratives. I did a story on the Wayback Machine people, but one has to suspect there are a lot of people that don’t like that they exist.

Mr. Jekielek: Right. Well, so let’s talk… There’s a couple of things I want to talk about. One is to look at some of these things that I guess the mainstream or corporate media, and I guess the narrative kind of got wrong unrepentantly, because of course I don’t think it’s a problem to be wrong as long as you say, “Oh my goodness, I was wrong. Here’s the truth.” Right? So, that’s one thing.

The other thing that strikes me, as you describe how the system as I keep thinking about everything I’ve learned about woke ideology for lack of a better…. There’s multiple names for it. How it works and how it’s socially constructed. And it believes that basically the narrative is the truth or has that kind of I guess, outlook on the world. But maybe first, let’s talk about the… I know that you create these incredible lists… I mean, you did it with the Trump presidency. I remember following that list quite a bit like things that were just grossly wrong that never got corrected. What have you seen here with…

Ms. Attkisson: I’m compiling a list now of course, as a list maker. I can just start with the thing we got wrong that so early many people claim the lab theory about the release of coronavirus had been debunked when it absolutely had not been debunked. We can go to public health officials saying masks don’t work and then saying masks do work, but we didn’t want to tell you because we didn’t want you all making a run on masks and not understanding that that undermines the confidence and everything they say from that point on, admitting that they’ve misled the public.

Dr. Fauci very early on testified to Congress. And again, this is before I really knew a lot about what was going on, but I was trying to get educated. And he claimed in his congressional testimony that the death rate for coronavirus was 10 times worse than the flu, which sounded pretty serious.

And yet I came across a published article that was published in a scientific magazine about the same time authored by Dr. Fauci that said the opposite. That said it was about like a bad flu season. And I’m comparing why would he be testifying publicly to Congress that it was 10 times worse, but writing in a scientific journal that it was about the same? Didn’t make any sense to me.

One of the other was wrong, turns out that 10 times worse than flu was wrong in terms of the death rate. We were wrong to in some instances send infected people from hospitals to nursing homes of course. I think it’s widely becoming accepted that we were wrong and I was told on the front end by many scientists that this was wrong to isolate at home. We had early data from New York city that showed the vast majority of the people hospitalized with coronavirus had been isolating at home and that people outside were not getting sick.

And yet here we were telling people to go at home and isolate. We were wrong to close down the parks and beaches when we should have been telling people to go to the parks and beaches. That’s so clear now. We were wrong to tell people to wash their groceries off. We were wrong to tell people that there was a certain period of time if they breathed on somebody, they would or wouldn’t get coronavirus.

I think they were saying at some point you had to stand and talk to somebody for 15 minutes. There were just a lot of comments made about that. We were wrong to say the vaccines prevented infection. Then we were wrong to say it prevented spread. Then we were wrong to say that it prevented hospitalization and death. It may in some cases, but it certainly didn’t do what it was designed and advertised to do.

Mr. Jekielek: Well, just… And to be fair, I think the data that I’ve seen, are most robust in showing that it does prevent hospitalization and death to some degree. Right?

Ms. Attkisson: So, let me make a caveat.

Mr. Jekielek: Yeah.

Ms. Attkisson: Public health officials said at one time, some of them said 100% effective at preventing hospitalization. There is record of people saying nobody in the hospital has been vaccinated. That’s false. I don’t have issue with somebody saying there may be an improvement, statistically we see that this happens, but that’s not what we are being told. And again, I think that undermines confidence, because people see real life examples of something that contradicts what someone has stated as a fact.

Even today, I don’t doubt that the vaccines may have an impact and may help people health outcome. I don’t have any information to say one way or the other. I don’t doubt that that’s true, but it’s false to say you know it’s true in an individual instance. If somebody doesn’t get very sick who’s vaccinated, they say that’s because of the vaccine ignoring the notion that CDC says, most people won’t get very sick, whether vaccinated or not.

So how can you attribute that mild illness in a very specific case, although statistically, you may know or believe it helps. You can’t say that in that case that that’s what happened. And many times they say that. And then many times they say the converse, if someone who’s unvaccinated gets very sick, it’s because they’re unvaccinated. But if someone vaccinated gets sick, it’s because they would’ve been even worse if they hadn’t been vaccinated. So there’s just all these contradictions. And I think that’s a mistake to not give the nuance and say what we really know and what we think versus proclaiming things are true.

I think it’s accepted by many, although I don’t think it’s a consensus necessarily yet, that it was wrong to keep kids home in terms of health outcomes overall, mental health outcomes and even just in safety when it comes to coronavirus. That was a very controversial decision. So there are a lot of things I think that we could say that might have been corrected sooner. I think we were wrong to not focus more on therapeutics prior to vaccines and even post vaccine. Many scientists will tell you that. So-

Mr. Jekielek: And just not report on it.

Ms. Attkisson: Right. And to make sure that if some reporting occurred, it got controversialized. I will tell you that I talked to many scientists. I will tell you about one who was investigating some therapeutics that were made controversial. He had no vested interest in it, he works at an independent institution. He was investigating several, I guess you could say competing therapies and didn’t care which one was right or wrong. But his institution was part of these studies and he was never able to complete them because they got so controversialized that he was told by the head of institution that their study had to stop. And which was fine. He said, because they couldn’t get any more recruits for the study because the therapy had been so misrepresented in the press, nobody wanted to be in the study.

And he said, the sad thing is now we’ll never have the answer to whether this therapy works because we couldn’t even complete the study that would’ve answered the question because the narrative was so powerful. And these are scientists that really have no interest one way or the other. They certainly have no financial interest. They didn’t care which way or the other it came out, but they couldn’t even complete their study. And that’s an environment that when you can’t get basic scientific information, however it comes out. That’s pretty upsetting.

Pretty early on January last year, Congressman Thomas Massey recorded CDC saying, top officials and scientists saying something that was patently false that they acknowledged was wrong. And then caught them a couple of days later, nonetheless distributing the false information about coronavirus on a webinar from medical professionals. That should scare everybody to death. And to this day nobody been held publicly accountable.

The misinformation was about CDC claiming the original Pfizer, Moderna studies showed that even if you’ve had coronavirus, you get a benefit from getting vaccinated. The studies showed the opposite that there was no benefit. In fact, the studies weren’t designed to answer this question, but as a secondary a question, it looked even worse in some instances for people who’ve been vaccinated after having coronavirus.

The point being the studies did not show that. And for CDC scientists, their top advisory committee all signed off on this false information who knows who fabricated it in the first place. And when Congressman Massey drew that to their attention, he’s in MIT guy who knows a lot about what he is talking about when it comes to science.

They patronized him and said, “Look at you, how you found this when all of our scientists missed this information, we’re so proud of you.” And then didn’t change it and then went on again to… The same scientists he had recorded on audio. And I did a story on this admitting that the information was wrong. Went ahead and presented the misinformation again a couple of days later to medical professionals. Why? And why not hold them accountable and why let them get away with that? That’s pretty frightening.

Mr. Jekielek: No, absolutely. And the narrative that I’ve found most problematic I think of all of these is this idea that… And there’s no data to support this that I’m aware of. And I’ve looked. Okay? Because I found this so disturbing this idea that somehow unvaccinated people are responsible for perpetuating the pandemic. We’ve heard rhetoric like this before, and it’s never ended well. That was my thinking.

Ms. Attkisson: Well, just the whole idea that that was perpetrated at a very specific point in time, again, reeks to me of a propaganda campaign or an operation that somebody decided to launch. Because then all of a sudden you heard these political figures all using the phrase, public health officials. And I agree, I can’t say I’ve done comprehensive search of every corner of piece of data, but I certainly haven’t seen or talked to independent scientists who think that’s the case.

In fact, as we know, Omicron, the variant of Omicron spreads very well among the fully vaccinated, perhaps it spreads, maybe it doesn’t make them sicker, but it seems to be a very efficient spreader among the vaccinated. There’s a lot of questions still to be answered. But certainly the notion that this was a pandemic of the unvaccinated, is not supported by the scientists I talked to who’ve had a very good track record when you look back now over a year and a half of their projections and predictions versus some others.

Mr. Jekielek: Absolutely. Well, so let’s talk a little bit about how this social constructivist mentality… It’s almost like when I look at this stuff, it’s almost like we’ve given up on reality, given up on common sense. You keep mentioning common sense. Right? And common sense is actually really important right now I think, to be able to function in this environment.

Ms. Attkisson: There’s a whole generation of people who have lived in the box as I call it. By the box I mean the internet. They didn’t know a time when information was to be gathered elsewhere by looking around and seeing what you heard and seeing what you saw and talking to people around you and looking at books and research and so on.

And the people that want to control the information understand that if they can only control really a few basic sources, we’re talking about Google and Twitter and Facebook and Wikipedia, they’ve got a lock on information because we’ve all been funneled to those few sources and that’s been the goal. So if you think of it that way, there’s a whole lot of people that get pretty much everything they know through the internet. And the goal of the people trying to make a narrative is to make people live online and to think that’s reality.

I tell people a lot of times when you go online and you’re looking at social media and everybody’s saying something that you either don’t agree with, but they’re saying everybody agrees or meant to shame how you feel or think, don’t buy into it. Understand that you may actually be in the majority.

But as I wrote in The Smear, by these people who operate in the industry, the goal of what they do online is to make you think you’re an outlier when you’re not. To make you afraid to talk about your viewpoint on what you think, because you may actually be the majority opinion, but they want to control that and make you feel like you’re the one that’s crazy, you’re the one that can be the only one that thinks that way and you shouldn’t voice that opinion. You can be made to believe that if you live in the box. So I’m constantly telling people live outside the box.

Yes, you can get information there and do what you do online, but certainly trust your cognitive dissonance, talk to the people around you. If you travel, talk to the people in the places you go, you’ll get a whole different picture as I do of what’s really happening out there than if you’re looking online. That’s the only way that I predicted that Donald Trump was going to win the first election.

Now, in retrospect, maybe a lot of people are saying, yeah, but I could only find record of any national journalist of me saying repeatedly on TV early and often that I thought he was going to win. And that was not based on anything I was reading online, or seeing on the news. That was totally based on listening to people as I traveled from all walks of life that I concluded that. So, that comes with living outside the box and making sure you’re not just subjecting yourself, making it easy for the people that want to control the narrative to use you as part of that.

Mr. Jekielek: I remember. And there was Sele Zito was working out in the Heartland, so to speak and documenting, I think, I don’t know. I don’t know if she predicted that, but I remember reading some of her pieces saying, “There seems to be a lot of support for Donald Trump out here.”

Ms. Attkisson: Well, I remember I went on… Fox News had a Friday… I don’t know, they do casino gambling, put your money on a candidate. And I was sitting next to Charles Krauthammer and I put all my money on Trump. It’s not who you want to win, it’s who you think is going to win. This was my second time. And I said, all of it on Trump and no one else had said anything like that. And he kind of looked at me and scoffed at me like that was a stupid thing to do. And he said, “Not who you want, but what you think?” And I said, “Yeah, not who… I’m not giving my opinion of who I want, I’m just saying this is who I think.” So…

Mr. Jekielek: That’s interesting. You have had a good track record for noticing things.

Ms. Attkisson: Yeah. And again, I think that’s simply from putting yourself on the outside of the circle and looking in, and just using common sense and not buying into everything they’re telling you.

Mr. Jekielek: As I was reading some of your most recent writing, it reminded me of a column that I had read by Tom Harrington, who writes for Brownstone Institute these days. He said there’s been a concerted psychological campaign to effectively insert abstract and often empirically questionable paradigms of sickness between individual citizens and their understanding of their own bodies.

Ms. Attkisson: I think what’s happened with coronavirus and the public narratives, have made people act in a way they never would have normally acted. Again, if they’ve used their instincts in common sense. Some of it may be good, some of it may be necessary. Some of it may not be, but I look at the notion for example of testing. Now, it’s one thing if you have to produce a test to be able to travel or be admitted somewhere, you have to do a test.

But the idea of just testing all the time, testing tells where you are theoretically at a given point in time, but not where you’re going to be in 15 minutes. I mean, the only way to tell if you’re safe tomorrow is not to test today, because you may not be safe tomorrow. So that’s not made a lot of sense to me, but lately I’ve been hearing people with Omicron, it does not necessarily give you a positive test as early as we would like a positive result.

So people are testing negative when they know they’re sick. And I’ve talked to people who I’ve known have gotten coronavirus lately and they’ll say, “I tested negative, but I know I have it.” Next day, “Tested negative, but I know I have it.” And maybe the fourth day they say, “I tested positive I knew I had it.” And I’m thinking the purpose of the test isn’t to keep testing until the test catches up with what you know, the purpose of the test was supposedly to tell you if you were infectious or you had this coronavirus.

So it’s sort of a silly thing people are doing just testing and testing until the test comes up with the result that they agree with. And then they believe the test on that day. I just think that’s one example of us doing something that’s a weird behavior that I don’t think we would’ve done two years ago.

Mr. Jekielek: Well, on this point, this idea of mass asymptomatic testing, which is something we’ve been doing for a long time. Right? Basically there’s a lot of studies that would show that the prevalence of the virus is much greater than the awareness of the populations. The case counts were mostly driven by tests. If there were more tests, there were more case counts. Right? Basically, there’s a confounding of data here. Right? And the cases themselves don’t… Just because you test positive, doesn’t correlate super tightly with whether or not you’re getting significant symptoms or whether you’re infectious or anything like that.

Ms. Attkisson: The push for a lot of testing certainly created a sense of alarm when people were counting how many cases there were. But again, common sense wise fairly early on I thought where’s part two? Certainly nobody wants to get sick. And certainly every death that happens is terrible and we even have to say that is kind of silly, because everybody knows that.

But the flip side of that is every asymptomatic case can be seen as a potentially good development in terms of those people, weren’t they good to go back to work a long time ago, at least for some period of time because science accepts almost universally that they have better immunity than the vaccine so far providing? So why instead of using that only as cause for alarm were public health officials in the media not saying there is a flip side to the high case count.

And that is that these areas should be much safer than areas that haven’t had a lot of coronavirus running through because theoretically they’ve got more of what they call herd immunity or people who aren’t going to get coronavirus again in the very near future. That was always left out. It was only part A, the alarm and the number of cases without the part B that there is a flip side to this that could be considered a positive.

Mr. Jekielek: Right. You mentioned what I thought was outrageous kind of error and the messaging, but frankly the complete ignoring of natural immunity or immunity begotten through COVID infection, which has been shown. If there’s anything that’s been shown to be scientific fact, it’s been that natural immunity is robust, is durable, that’s effective. There’s been some quite questions about Omicron but I think it’s still coming out on that side in the body of the evidence that I’ve seen so far. And I keep looking. It’s astounding in Europe. In Europe in places where you have to be vaccinated to do many things. If you are naturally immune, if you’ve had COVID that counts, but not here.

Ms. Attkisson: Well again, common sense should tell you somethings at play because I don’t think any public health official in his right mind doesn’t understand that. It’s very basic. And the evidence on natural immunity was always ahead of the evidence on vaccines because the virus was out well before the vaccine. So we knew how long natural immunity was lasting always far ahead of how long we knew the vaccine was going to last.

So the notion that that wasn’t taken into account and discussed by public health officials has to be a conscious decision that was made on somebody’s part because you can not discuss that on purpose. That’s got to be part of the discussion unless somebody has said, we’re not going to. And again, that should make you wonder.

Mr. Jekielek: Sounds like there’re some FOIAs we got to do here.

Ms. Attkisson: Yeah. Well, that’s a whole nother story because I just… When I find my FOIAs now and they respond with something like there are 3000 requests ahead of you, we can’t meet the 20 day deadline and we can’t give you expedited processing that you’ve applied for as a member of the media because you haven’t demonstrated a need.

And the last CDC FOIA, I went to court over because that’s how you have to get them to answer. Now they won’t just give you documents. The new tactic is, and you’ve probably heard about this. We’ll produce the documents that we said we didn’t have, but now we know we have so many that you’ve taken us to court. They will produce them on a rolling basis of 500 a month for the rest of your life.

And I pointed out to one judge, they didn’t say it in those words, but that the production schedule that they had proposed would make it something like 25 years for documents for a news story I was doing within a day or two. So in 25 years, it’s not going to be very helpful. This is the new tactic on even freedom of information requests are very hard to get answered and even going to court they’re pretty difficult.

Mr. Jekielek: Well, there’s something like this with the Pfizer safety data if I recall correctly. But I believe a judge is kind of fast tracking that to what? Eight months or something? I can’t remember-

Ms. Attkisson: Again, that’s considered a fast track. Think about this. This is data gathered by the government on our behalf that we own gathered by people we pay. There’s no question that we own it. And they drag their feet and they fight it and they use our money to fight in court, having to produce it.

And then when the outcome is okay now maybe instead of 50 years or 80 years, we’ll produce it within eight months, often highly redacted so it requires more court action to go and to try to find out what’s behind the improper redactions. It’s still bought them time. It’s still allowed them to delay to get out whatever a message they want while you don’t know what’s really in the documents. It still serves their purpose.

And the interesting thing with FOIA, even when the courts come in and say, “Yes, government, you have to give the public the documents they own.” No one’s punished for that. Nobody ever says to them, “You just made them go to court.” Meaning the people or the press. “You made them spend money when you should have given them the documents in the first place, you’re going to be punished for that.” That doesn’t happen. So there’s no downside to the bureaucrats and their bosses dragging their feet or even giving dishonest information saying they don’t have documents because nothing ever happens to them even if they go to court and ultimately are ordered to turn them over someday.

Mr. Jekielek: We’re painting a pretty dire picture here. So how… I also know you’re a pretty optimistic person from having talked to you enough. What do you see as the path through this at this point?

Ms. Attkisson: I think truth finds a way to be told. That’s sort of a phrase that came to me when I was writing one of my books. The truth finds a way to be told and it may take some time and there may be a lot of people that don’t want a truth out, but we inherently as humans seek it. And so there may be a certain percentage of the population, someone told me this has even been studied. That’s happy to go along with whatever they’re told or they want to believe certain thing.

But there’s also a pretty large chunk of the population that ultimately wants what they think is the truth and accurate even if it’s not what they want to hear. I think that our search for the truth is part of us and will ultimately win out. And I also know there are three parts that are working on us solution.

There are investors who want to invest in independent news organizations more like we used to have. There are technical people trying to invent platforms that can’t be controlled and de platformed by big tech and so on. And they’re trying to figure out a way to make that happen. And there are journalists who want to work or contribute to a place like that.

I think in the next couple of years, there’ll be more ways to do that, more ways to find that, and people will seek that out. We’re doing it in a small way now, there are people having sub stack newsletters that are getting around the censorship of big tech. These are ways maybe not everybody knows about and everybody’s using, but some people are gravitating to. There’s the video platform rumble that is not taking down videos for ideological reasons.

So these things are popping up in existing and some of them will take hold. And I do think because the truth finds a way to be told and because we inherently seek the truth, that something will come of this. And again, the propaganda may have overplayed their hand by being so heavy handed and obvious about the control of information and the censorship. It’s no longer deniable, even people who want their information curated, they can’t always be happy with the notion that they’re not going to be able to get the full story or that they’re only getting one side of something. And I think that comes into play too.

Mr. Jekielek: The journalists you’re talking about, we’re looking for those journalists, for those that are watching as we speak where we’re in the process of hiring journalists, because this is actually frankly a question too, because the journalistic profession as a whole has really been degraded I feel. It’s not easy to find these people that are thinking about journalism the way that you and I think about it today.

Ms. Attkisson: Well, they’re being forced to make a choice. Let’s say you’re a journalist like I was at CBS News, that was not a political reporter try to follow the facts. Today you’ve got to make a choice. You’re going to stay at a place that’s not going to put those stories on anymore and you’re going to do the kind of reporting they want you to do, because either they tell you to, or you just understand you self censor, because you know what gets rewarded and what gets on the air. Or you’re going to make a decision to go to a place that does freer reporting, but because of that has been controversialized or portrayed as ideological in a certain way.

And quite frankly, in my industry, in our industry, it’s generally okay to go work for a left-leaning organization because that’s considered the default and you’re part of the team and no one even ever says it’s left-leaning, but God forbid you go to a place that’s in the middle or conservative-leaning, but that lets you do honest reporting because then you’re just off the rails.

And a lot of journalists don’t want to go there. They don’t want to be portrayed by their peers as conservative leaning or someone who isn’t on board because it’s okay if you’re calling me left, but I’m going to be really on the outside of my profession if you call me right of center. And it’s a decision people are having to make that’s very uncomfortable for them and it’s not a great time. And people often ask me, “What do you tell young journalists today that want to go into the profession?” And I’m talking about not just doing general reporting, but really digging and doing good fact-based reporting.

And I think it’s a tough question because as a young reporter, if you go to an outlet and they want a certain kind of reporting you don’t have the standing yet to say, “I’m not going to do that.” You’re not going to get your next job. You’re not even going to stay there if you don’t do an element of what they want, you’re going to really have to navigate some mind fields to do good, accurate reporting that doesn’t betray journalistic ideals and yet satisfy the people that are controlling a lot of these news organizations and give them what they want at the same time.

Mr. Jekielek: I often say this actually, because in marketing 101, you learn about blue ocean strategy. Right? Blue ocean is there aren’t a lot of competitors. You can just… I think there’s a huge interest in truth. Right? So, you’d imagine there’d be all these incredibly new news organizations. There are a few, there definitely are a few that are coming up. There’re some very interesting sub stack channels that have done very, very well sort of very independent individual journalism. But I still don’t see people rushing into this space. I’m thinking, “Hey, we want competitors. It’ll help us up our game.” Right? But there aren’t many.

Ms. Attkisson: Not a few months go by that I’m not contacted by somebody who wants to do something like that. An organization or a news group and they’re just not sure how to do it on a big scale. Again, technologically with investors and with the talent. All those things have to come together. You can’t just start a website because that’s not going to get supported in today’s environment financially and with the people that don’t want that stuff to be reported, they’re going to deplatform you or controversiallize you.

So I think someone will figure it out, but you’re right. There’s dearth of that sort of thing today. The best you can do now. So people have asked me at the end of my book, what are recommendations? This is a bit of a cop out because people don’t have time to do all their own research that’s why they count on us.

But today I really encourage people if it’s a topic you care about, to try to find some original sourcing. I think Epoch Times is a great place where I get all kinds of good information that I can’t get elsewhere, including great investigations with graphics that explain things in depth. I mean, good old fashioned journalism. And I listed your group in my groups of places to look for in places to watch.

But one thing I also suggest is go to C-SPAN. When you see everybody’s saying somebody said something at a hearing or a news event and it doesn’t ring true, it’s just so ridiculous, but everybody’s on the same page and everybody’s talking about. Go find the original event. And C-SPAN has a lot of them, not just congressional stuff. And I would say almost every time I’ve looked up a hearing or an event in its total context and watched it, my takeaway has been different, completely different than what was portrayed on the news.

And that’s a frightening thing to think about that a lot of people are taking something and putting it on the news and giving it a context that doesn’t seem to me like it’s right, just means there’s more than one way to interpret it anyway. But I encourage people to do that. Then you can start saying to yourself who are the reporters on the issues I care about who seem to be on target with what I know to be the truth? Then I don’t have to always do the original research because I can go to Glen Greenwald when it comes to media issues, because I think he’s spot on on that.

And some of these journalists may be left-leaning or right-leaning or not have a political leaning, but it’s not going to be the same person or the same news outlet that you go to for every topic. Probably you’re going to have to kind of hunt and pack and find the ones that you trust on the topics you care about based on the track record. It’s getting a little complicated.

Mr. Jekielek: I think we have the same philosophy here. That’s pretty much how I consume my information. I think a hint also is if people ever admit they were wrong, that that’s a good sign. Right?

Ms. Attkisson: Yeah.

Mr. Jekielek: Well, Sharyl, any final thoughts before we finish?

Ms. Attkisson: I always say, do your own research, make up your own mind, think for yourself, trust your cognitive dissonance, use your common sense. You’re going to be right more often than you think, but open up your mind and just read a lot, think a lot and don’t buy into the prevailing narrative of face value.

Mr. Jekielek: Well, Sharyl Attkisson, it’s such a pleasure to have you on.

Ms. Attkisson: Thank you.

[Narration]: The CDC, NIH and the NIAID did not immediately respond to requests for comment, while it’s documented that the US agency for international development funded bat coronavirus research at the Wuhan Institute of Virology. USAID told us that they never authorized or funded gain of function studies at the institute. We also reached out to Snopes, Wikipedia, Facebook and But we have not heard back at this time.

Mr. Jekielek: So we live in a time of weaponized information and censorship. And as you know, I try to cut through that with American Thought Leaders. You can be notified each time a new full American Thought Leaders episode comes out if you sign up at our newsletter at and there’s many selections there and American Thought Leaders as one. Again, that’s at

Source: The Epoch Times American Thought Leader Series


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