When Revenue Streams Collide
WorldNetDaily's news coverage of Katherine Harris won't get in the way of selling her WND-published book.
By Terry Krepel
WorldNetDaily doesn't make much, if any, money from its news operation -- as a general rule, news operations by themselves aren't revenue generators. Indeed, CEO Joseph Farah has said that the vast majority of WND's revenue comes from the sale of books and videos through the site.
Thus, WND has taken the monetarily logical next step: publishing its own books in a joint venture with religious book firm Thomas Nelson Publishers. Its first title is a book by former Florida secretary of state and current Florida congressional candidate Katherine Harris, "Center of the Storm."
Released last month for sale on the WND web site and last week in general nationwide release, WND has been plugging the heck out of it -- teasing the book's release (including the spectacle of Farah blathering that "This book is certain to be a collector's item for many reasons"), bombarding the members of its mailing list with solicitations, running book excerpts, detailing Harris' media appearances plugging the book. WND has even touted the book's performance on Amazon.com's sales chart, but unlike a certain other conservative news site, WND can point to media appearances by Harris that boosted Amazon sales and notes that its own store sells the book cheaper.
All of these articles are set up to look like WND news stories and appeared on WND's news pages. As one might expect, they are pure PR -- lots of fawning over Harris and her achievements, nothing critical anywhere.
In the midst of this PR campaign, WND has also been reporting a little actual news on Harris' congressional race. And, also as one might expect, they look a lot like the PR pieces -- lots of fawning, nothing remotely critical. The news and PR are so indistingushable from each other, in fact, that WND might want to double-check those election laws on corporate support for federal candidates.
For instance, an Aug. 30 story purports to counter the alleged "spin" given by other media outlets to certain revelations in Harris' book -- this, like all the Harris stories, is unbylined -- but reads like a editorial defending its investment. It concludes: "Democrats maintain that Gore would have triumphed in a statewide recount. Perhaps the reality evidenced by Gore's attempt to block the steps necessary to get a statewide recount by stalling the certification is quite the opposite."
A Sept. 18 story touts Harris' primary victory but also glosses over one major controversy surrounding her candidacy -- whether she should even legally be on the ballot in the first place. WND dismisses it in two paragraphs, noting only in passing that her challenger in the Republican primary filed suit, contending "that Harris had failed to properly qualify as a congressional candidate by not resigning on time as Florida's secretary of state ..." Other news organizations, however, covered this issue and its Torricelli-esque implications much more thoroughly. Other WND stories tout comments about Harris' predicted victory and try to smear her Democratic opponent, Jan Schneider, for the horrible act of accepting money from Hillary Clinton's PAC without bothering to detail the sources of Harris' campaign cash.
Why bother pointing all this out? Because WorldNetDaily has tried to cultivate a reputation of being somehow "better" than other media outlets -- "fiercely independent" and all that. This may come as a surprise to Joseph Farah, but "fiercely independent" news sites don't slant supposedly objective news coverage to sell books in the manner WND has with its Harris coverage.
Then again, we've come to expect this kind of behavior from WND. Jesse Lee Peterson, for instance, gets similarly fawning coverage; he also works for WND's speakers bureau. And WND ignores allegations of distortions and misstatements in books by Ann Coulter and Sean Hannity as it sells autographed copies of said books.
On the other hand, it kinda sorta attempted some balance in another issue it has a financial interest in. It ran columnist/Fox News Channel talking head Bill O'Reilly's defense of how he handled a heavily monitored visit between Pat Roush and the daughters her ex-husband fled with to Saudi Arabia 16 years ago. O'Reilly's now-syndicated column began at WND -- which is also preparing to pubish a book by Roush on her crusade to hold someone accountable for what happened, to which WND has devoted several articles as well as creating a "support group" for people "who would like to keep up with the latest in Roush's battle, or to send her a message of encouragement, or to offer help in some way." Roush got to write her own version of the O'Reilly event that is highly critical of him, and WND linked to outside writings that were similarily critical, such as one at National Review Online.
It looks, however, like potential future revenue may be trumping past loyalty. Farah spends his Oct. 14 column denouncing O'Reilly for supporting adoption by homosexuals.
So WND has some of that old fighting spirit around after all. Just don't count on them to use it to provide any sort of balanced coverage of Katherine Harris' campaign (like her refusal to debate her opponent). It might cut into book sales. Can't have that.
The "mainstream" media has learned painful lessons about mixing advertising with news, most recently in the Los Angeles Times-Staples Center controversy. If WorldNetDaily is really so "fiercely independent" and cares about journalism as much as it says it does, it should be worried about its reputation as a news outlet if it continues to use of its news pages to aggressively push people and issues it has a financial interest in.