Sinclair Chooses Sharyl Attkisson to Charge Into Sunday-News Arena

Some viewers who tune into their local CBS affiliate this Sunday may think they are seeing a familiar person return to the network’s air: Investigative reporter Sharyl Attkisson, who left CBS News in 2014 after working there more than two decades, will show up this Sunday morning in proximity to John Dickerson on “Face The Nation.”

Upon closer examination, something else will be taking place. Attkisson won’t appear alongside Dickerson, nor will she banter with Charles Osgood on “CBS Sunday Morning.” She will instead be seen on 162 TV stations operated by Sinclair Broadcast Group, the nation’s largest TV station operator, as host of a new half-hour Sunday-news program, “Full Measure.” The show will be available on Sinclair-owned affiliates of ABC, NBC, Fox and the CW as well – in 38% of the country in total – in the morning block inhabited by those popular public-affairs programs.

Her debut will sport two in-depth features looking at the effects streams of refugees have in the U.S. and abroad, as well as an interview segment with Donald Trump, who will hold forth on immigration, refugees and whether or not he would redecorate the White House. Network-TV news “is not in its heyday,” Attkisson said in an interview. “This is an unexpected model, something I never would have conceived of, but it’s going to be a great platform with a huge distribution.”

“Full Measure” will boast something the other programs don’t. Viewers won’t spot “the same six old white guys that would show up and parade around the sets Sunday mornings,” said Batt Humphreys, the executive producer of the new program. Under Attkisson’s direction, the program will focus on telling in-depth stories about government whistleblowers; investigations into how taxpayer money is wasted; and tales of corporate malfeasance. The program represents Sinclair’s bid to play a bigger role in the national news cycle –and is a signal, perhaps, that the Sunday-morning news arena, which has seen the entrance of several new hosts on to the field of play, is open to more competition.

Hearst Television recently unveiled its intention to launch a Sunday-morning political discussion program, “Matter of Fact with Fernando Espuelas,” this fall on its 30 stations. New hosts are running the discussion at CBS’ “Face the Nation and CNN’s “State of the Union.” Chuck Todd has hosted “Meet the Press” on NBC for about a year. Chris Wallace, who hosts “Fox News Sunday” and once anchored “Meet the Press,” is the veteran of the format, followed closely by ABC’s George Stephanopoulos, who has hosted “This Week” over two different tenures.

Sinclair, which already produces 2100 hours of news programming per week, wants to burnish its credentials with storytelling it feels others are not providing, said Scott Livingston, the company’s vice-president of news. “There’s a thirst for this type of reporting,” he said. “Look at the demise of newspapers. They were always revered as being that watchdog, and that’s going to be our commitment – being the watchdog and being an advocate for the taxpayer.”

Attkisson at times has been a controversial figure in the TV-news business. In her 2014 book, “Stonewalled,” she suggested she could not get stories about a slow pace of early enrollment under Obamacare or about the 2012 attack on a U.S. compound in Benghazi on the air at CBS News. She has in the past also alleged the federal government hacked into her personal computer with spyware. A lawsuit regarding those allegations is still in process, she said. And while Sinclair in the past has been associated with programming that has a conservative political bent, Attkisson maintained none of these elements would affect her reporting or the way she presents her stories.

“The way I view most of what I do is these are not political stories. They are oversight stories, inappropriate secrecy. These things persist from administration to administration,” she said, adding: “I’ve always been someone who is fairly critical of government secrecy and improper government oversight, before the lawsuit. That’s always a theme that won’t change.”

Her view of TV news is that many outlets could be doing stories of greater depth, but the corporations that own them remain leery of such stuff, and the “pushback campaigns” they generate. Big media companies can often have alliances with political parties or politicians, not to mention advertisers, all of which puts duress on the news divisions they own. “In the good old days, which weren’t that long ago, the news networks were OK with that sort of pushback and created an infrastructure that expected it and sometimes it meant you were doing a good job,” she said. “But it’s only fairly recently that they got squeamish.”

There will be little of that nervousness at “Full Measure,” she noted. The show’s title “is about soldiers who have given the full measure for their country, gave their all,” she explained. More commonly, the phrase “means you’re trying to give your best. I think it fits our program.”

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