Stonewalled takes off with all the drama and suspense of a spy novel, with the surveillance of Attkisson’s home and electronic devices. Attkisson, a news correspondent at CBS for 21 years until her resignation in March of 2014, gives a chilling account of mysterious cables outside of her home, suspicious Verizon technicians, and the inexplicable, spontaneous nighttime activity of her laptop computer. For months, her computers are invaded in ways forensics experts claim only the infamous “alphabet-soup agencies” are capable of. One hacker is bold enough to seize control of Attkisson’s mouse in broad daylight while she’s using it, deleting the text of her notes on the Benghazi terrorist attacks.
After the Orwellian opening hook, *Stonewalled *breaks into three parts. The first exposes the extent to which corporate interests and the government influence the media. The second provides four in-depth, detailed examples of this disturbing trend, dedicating a chapter to each of the biggest stories Attkisson covered during her time with CBS: the Fast and Furious gunwalking fiasco, the green energy malinvestment scandals, the Benghazi terrorist attacks, and the disastrous rollout of the Healthcare.gov website. The first three stories were nominated for and/or won Emmy Awards, but every story is well-researched and chock-full of dates and sources. These help readers confirm the many contradictions Attkisson finds in government and corporate alibis. The concluding chapters of the book delve deeper into just how much clandestine interference reporters experienced before the breaking Edward Snowden revelations of 2013.
*Stonewalled *does not provide a ‘smoking gun’ for any of these scandals; those looking for ‘bombshells’ will no doubt be disappointed. After all, most facts from the book are available on Attkisson’s personal website. The book’s merit lies not in revelations heretofore inaccessible to the public, but in its compilation of government statements and the media’s subsequent coverage of these official alibis. As Attkisson lays out the facts in coherent, chronological order, readers experience an exhilarating kind of Winston Smith experience, in which they finally hold in their hands incontrovertible proof that government has, in effect, rewritten history.
Nevertheless, given the deplorable acquiescence of most of the media, many readers of *Stonewalled *will be surprised to learn, among other things, that, one: Mitt Romney was correct when he claimed President Obama did not, either in the spirit or letter of the phrase, call Benghazi a terrorist attack in the Rose Garden the day after the attacks. The media withheld critical evidence of this for weeks. Two: requests for increased security for the embassy in Benghazi were repeatedly ignored for months leading up to the attacks on September 11, 2012. Air support was also available but not called upon during the attacks. Three: top Obama Administration officials knew about healthcare.gov’s technical difficulties and potential risks to citizens’ cyber security before it went live.
Of course, arguably the most disturbing issue here is that the government repeatedly denied every one of the points above, and many more besides.
Attkisson’s writing prowess is readily manifest throughout the book, and the author maintains a brisk pace and a sharp wit. Barring an occasional sarcastic remark, the tone is very fair. No doubt due to her extensive experience in writing short news pieces, Stonewalled never stalls, though the book clocks in at a decent 407 pages. It also achieves the difficult, paradoxical effect of exciting without being all-consuming. The book jumps from one intriguing insight to the next, but the natural breaks between the different news stories permit readers to pause and complete other items on their to-do lists.
Attkisson has a lot to say about the “political industrial PR machine,” but I found one of her most salient points to be that of the role of government press offices. Attkisson emphasizes that politicians and bureaucrats are public officials, officials who work (presumably) for us. Yet, she observes, “press officials who are supposed to be responsive to the media…often behave instead as if they’re privately paid public relations officers whose job is to spin the news media and run interferences for their bosses” Instead of providing public information and documents promptly and accurately to reporters, governmental press offices frequently withhold any and all potentially damaging information until forced to release redacted bits and pieces through congressional subpoenas and Freedom of Information requests.
Stonewalled is a fascinating thriller exploring the haunting truth that today, “government, politicians, and big corporations might as well be one and the same,” and serves to remind those of all political persuasions that questioning the agenda and accuracy of their news sources is of the essence. Whether they’re searching for more balanced coverage on the scandals of the Obama Administration or they wish to analyze the effect of the surveillance state on freedom of the press, all independent thinkers will want to benefit from both *Stonewalled’s *factual content and astute commentary. Five stars.