The 'O' Word
So, who owns WorldNetDaily? Joseph Farah is a little reluctant to answer.
By Terry Krepel
WorldNetDaily has embarked on a new crusade: getting a permanent congressional press pass.
WND has spent the past year trying to get one, and with the latest turndown, editor Joseph Farah responded in the usual manner: ranting about a "government media cabal," siccing WND readers on the group in charge of issuing permanent passes and hiring a legal group that calls itself "Your Conservative Voice in the Courts" to help it appeal the decision.
Histrionics aside, Farah has a point. If WND's articles are to be believed (we'll assume for the purpose of this argument that they are, though the slant here is pretty blatant), the reasons given by the Standing Committee of Correspondents, the organization that grants the permanent passes, are a bit on the specious side, and looking at the list of news organizations that do have permanent passes -- which Farah cheerfully reproduces at the end of his "cabal" column -- WND probably deserves a place among them, even if its Washington reporter, Paul Sperry, has a habit of harrassing presidents at casual functions where the press isn't supposed to ask questions. (Somehow it's hard to imagine Sperry doing the same thing to, say, Dick Cheney over his energy task force records.)
But that's not the point of this article.
In the midst of WND's self-reporting, an interesting issue came up. One of the reasons the Standing Committee of Correspondents allegedly turned down WND for a permanent pass is that it's owned in part by a nonprofit organization, the Western Journalism Center, which Farah co-founde and under whose auspices WND began life. Farah explains it a little further in his Feb. 13 "cabal" column: "Because of the nature of the spinoff (of WND as a for-profit company), Western Journalism Center retains a significant amount of stock in the for-profit, though it is a minority percentage, and even that is continually diminishing as more stock is sold and as the company repurchases those shares."
Which raises the question: Just who owns WND? We know Western Journalism Center had an ownership stake, but we also knew that $4.5 million was raised from unnamed investors to launch WND. Farah doesn't go into specifics. So I decided to go to the source, which prompted the following e-mail exchange:
* * *
Let's not be vague. Tell your readers exactly what percentage of WorldNetDaily is owned by the Western Journalism Center, instead of the deliberate vagueness of calling it "a significant amount ... though it is a minority percentage." And exactly who owns the rest of WND. And exactly who put up that $4.5 million in seed money to start WND.
Show your readers just how "independent" WorldNetDaily is. Don't they deserve it?
P.S. I do agree with you that WND should get the full press pass.
* * *
Don't be an idiot. What difference does it make to anyone? If it mattered to anyone, I would be asked by at least one person who actually appreciates what we do at WND. That has never happened. I don't like to bore my readers with facts that don't concern them or anyone except those who spend most of their time attacking us.
* * *
Well, media ownership was important to you in a Nov. 7, 2001, column you wrote about a Saudi prince's ownership of shares in AOL Time Warner and News Corp. You wrote that he was "a guy who wants influence and has demonstrated his desire to use it. How will that influence be manifested in western media holdings?" And back in a 1998 column, you made a big deal about a big Democratic donor being an investor in Salon.com and lamenting that "partisans" like him are "using their own presses to push their own agendas." You obviously believed that because of this, Salon as a source of news is suspect at best. Given your political history and a look at WND's original content, it's certainly easy to draw the same conclusion about WND. (Which, actually, I do here.)
Believe it or not, I have some appreciation of what you do -- you obviously love journalism as a profession, and anyone who can find a way to make money with a mostly dot-com operation deserves more than a little credit. I have a little more respect for WND than I did when I started ConWebWatch. (On the other hand, I have a lot less respect for NewsMax.) But it's also clear to me that WND is a biased source of news, which either you don't recognize or pretend doesn't exist, perhaps because of a view that there is no such thing as conservative media bias, only "balance." I believe bias is bias, no matter what side it's coming from.
>Because WND very clearly has an agenda to push, it's important for your readers (not just me) to know who's behind it -- who's behind the public face of Joseph Farah -- as it would be any organization with an agenda. Feisty newspaper guy that you are (I mean that as a compliment, by the way; there aren't nearly enough of 'em in the media these days, which I know since that's my day job), I can't imagine you would accept the answer you gave to me if you were asking a privately held "liberal" news organization the same question I asked you.
Hey, you're the one who has made such a big deal about WND being "independent." Show us. Just because someone who isn't me hasn't asked about WND's ownership doesn't mean it's not important.
* * *
Between me and the non-profit that I founded, we own the majority of stock in our company. About 75 private investors make up the other 40 percent of ownership.
* * *
It's a start.
* * *
Given the prodding it took to get Farah to say what he did, the exchange ends here; he obviously isn't interested in telling anyone who any of those private investors are. But we know more more than we did before, and that's good. More information is always good. And knowing more about who's behind the ConWeb is definitely very good.
Oh, Mr. Ruddy ....