"The editors" say they made a mistake by confusing opinion with news. Will they now confess their many other journalistic sins -- like confusing lies with truth?
By Terry Krepel
NewsMax e-mail list subscribers got something unprecedented Feb. 3 -- an apology:
With our breaking news alert today we included a headlined story -- "Shuttle Cover-up?"
The first question that comes to mind upon reading this is: Why bother apologizing at all? NewsMax has always blurred the line between news and opinion. It has, for instance, treated every negative thing anyone has ever said about the Clintons as a worthwhile news item, like this Jan. 29 piece in which the contradictory Dick Morris -- who still touts his work for the Clintons -- calls them "sociopaths." (Read "The Hunting of the President" for more on the motivations of the kind of folks who have made a career of bad-mouthing the Clintons.)
The article itself for which NewsMax is apologizing for, which was sent only to e-mail subscribers, is not that remarkable -- just your basic conspiracy-mongering about Saturday's space shuttle disaster, not much different from the tone of the typical NewsMax article. (Another typical article is the inevitable piece blaming Bill Clinton for the shuttle disaster -- as it there was any doubt that NewsMax would dream up an anti-Clinton angle here too.) Here's an excerpt:
The fact that the White House chief of staff (Andy Card) is even watching the landing of a space shuttle on a Saturday morning - while at Camp David in the middle of the Iraq crisis - raises a big red flag.
This is little different than, say, a Feb. 4 story purportedly quoting an anonymous "retired Air Force weapons engineer who worked on a number of the military's super-secret 'black budget' programs" as saying Sen. Hillary Clinton's appointment to the Senate Armed Services Committee "constitutes a national security risk." With its rampant reporting of rumors and its long-demonstrated hatred of the Clintons, NewsMax has little credibility with which readers can trust anonymous sources it quotes.
Since NewsMax is in an apologizing mood, perhaps "the editors" should move on to the next stage -- retracting falsehoods it promoted as truth.
Remember NewsMax's touting of anonymous bogus rumors from anonymous tabloid reports -- and written by CEO Christopher Ruddy himself -- that the Clintons were selling their Chappaqua, N.Y., house. NewsMax has yet to retract or apologize for that one. It's been more than two years since that story appeared, and the Clintons still own that house.
And then there's the Gold Star Mothers incident. NewsMax claimed that the newly elected Hillary Clinton "dished out her by-now-familiar rude treatment" and refused to meet with representatives of the group, which represents mothers of U.S. soliders killed in combat. "But who would have guessed that even she would disrespect and dishonor these women who lost their sons to the cause of freedom in service to the nation, the very same souls whose heroism and sacred memory we honor on Memorial Day?" fumed NewsMax in a May 2001 article.
Only one problem: it's not true. According to the Urban Legends page at Snopes.com, the Gold Star Mothers reps showed up at Clinton's office without an appointment, Clinton was out of the office, and it was the attitude of an overworked receptionist at the then-understaffed office (Clinton had been in office only a month when the alleged incident occured) that annoyed some of the mothers. The Gold Star Mothers later issued a press release to counter the NewsMax article and even more nasty e-mails that started floating around the Internet because of it.
NewsMax has never apologized for that one, either.
The problem here is that given such journalistic sins, NewsMax has never really had much in the way of journalistic standards that would make the apology it made absolutely necessary from an integrity standpoint -- consider its close affiliation with supermarket tabloids, for example. (And then there's the utterly silly claim that "NewsMax is committed to offering a diversity of opinions on the Web, even opinions we disagree with" -- somebody at NewsMax agreed with it, or else it wouldn't have been sent out to the thousands on its e-mail list.) The most likely explanation for doing this at all is that a few readers got upset for NewsMax's casting doubt on NASA so soon in the face of such a tragedy, which would explain the backpedaling and groveling tone of the apology not normally associated with NewsMax and its taking the Geoff Metcalf piece at the end of it.
If NewsMax is really in an apologizing mood, this is only the beginning.
* * *
Yet another possible apology NewsMax should consider soon has to do with overstating its role at the recent Conservative Political Action Conference.
The second paragraph of a Jan. 30 article promoting its presence at CPAC begins: "The conference, which NewsMax.com sponsors ..." Not true. As its organizers clearly state, CPAC is "sponsored by the American Conservative Union Foundation, in association with Young America's Foundation and Human Events."
There are, however, 78 co-sponsors of CPAC -- featuring all the usual conservative-type organizations, like the Washington Times -- and NewsMax is actually one of those. Given the fact that there's 78 of 'em, being a co-sponsor is perhaps not all that big a thing. NewsMax did correctly identify itself as a "co-sponsor" in a Jan. 31 story.
If NewsMax can't even report on itself accurately, why would anyone trust anything else it has to say?