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Update: Stories That Dare Not Speak Their Names

There are reasons WorldNetDaily is running so many unbylined stories, and plagiarism is just one of them. WND scoops on an MRC-related controversy, and NewsMax is tight with the tabloids once again.

By Terry Krepel
Posted 1/3/2003

There are many reasons a news organization doesn't put a reporter's name on a story. Some are practical -- a story isn't long enough to warrant one, for instance -- but usually, it's a way to hide certain flaws. One flaw is that the story was ordered to fit an editor or publisher's agenda, such as a Pittsburgh Tribune-Review smear piece on David Brock reportedly pushed by publisher Richard Mellon Scaife. The main thing being hidden, though, is that a reporter didn't do enough original work on it to merit a byline, or that the material in the story comes from elsewhere.

WorldNetDaily has been running a lot of unbylined stories lately. There seems to be a push there of late to get breaking news stories into its database instead of its usual practice using outside links that can't be archived. The vast majority of those breaking-news stories are unbylined, and there's a reason for that -- WND is cobbling them together from other sources.

For instance, WND posted a unbylined story Dec. 27 on North Korea's expelling of United Nations inspectors. It can be safely assumed that WND doesn't have a reporter in Pyongyang, which means this story had to come from someone else. The story cites two sources, the North Korean news agency and the London Times.

It can probably also be safely assumed that WND did not compensate the London Times for appropriating its work. WND does not subscribe to any outside news-gathering organizations such as the Associated Press or Reuters. Is that illegal to reuse others' content in this manner? Maybe, maybe not. Most journalists and news organizations are happy just to get some sort of credit and would probably not mind its use by someone else as long as the original source is acknowledged. The fact remains, though, that WND is reaping the benefits of something it had no hand in creating and is apparently not offering compensation for. Some might call that theft.

The line is much more clearer, however, when the work of others is used without giving credit. That is plagiarism. And that is what WND did on a Dec. 6 story on the U.S. Senate election in Louisiana. Fully half of the story is taken word-for-word from an Associated Press story the same day, but no attribution to the AP is given. (For easier comparison, a version of the WND story with the plagiarized sections highlighted can be found here.) AP affiliates -- which include just about every daily newspaper in the United States and a number of major Web news sites, but not WND -- have much more leeway in repurposing content they are paying for, but most of the time they will give proper credit to the AP's work.

If WND is going to continue "borrowing" from other news organizations for its own stories, it needs to give the proper credit. Or maybe pursue the radical idea of paying for the outside content it uses -- you know, like most other news organizations.

* * *

On the other hand, WorldNetDaily does engage in the occasional bit of solid, unbiased reporting (well, at least less biased than it usually is). It even scooped on a story it should have owned.

That's because it involved the Parents Television Council, which like CNS is part of Brent Bozell's empire. As WND reported, Dennis Mansfield says he was fired as head of the PTC because he invited a minister to lead a prayer for Bozell (who is recovering from a heart attack) during a PTC fund-raiser and awards ceremony. The problem, Mansfield said, is that PTC doesn't want to be pigeonholed as a right-wing Christian group and are "trying to pander to non-Christian donors." Two donors reportedly withdrew more than $100,000 from PTC after the prayer, he said.

The story says that PTC -- which receives between $15,000 and $20,000 a day in donations -- was planning to host an annual "Pro-Family Forum" of what's known as the "D.C. group," a collection of Christian conservative groups including the Family Research Council and Concerned Women for America.

Mansfield is threatening to sue the PTC over his dismissal. The PTC is keeping quiet, leaving it to its PR firm and attorneys to deny the allegations.

And if the PTC is quiet, is quiet, too. Not a word of this controversy can be found there.

It's been something of a bad year for PTC, which has not only this to deal with but $3.5 million to shell out to World Wrestling Entertainment for because Bozell was caught spreading falsehoods about the company's link to the death of a 6-year-old girl at the hands of a 12-year-old boy. That actually calmed Bozell down for a while, but as ConWebWatch has noted, he's back to his old tricks, such as lying to make a point.

* * *

NewsMax is tight with the tabloids again. That would be the most logical reason behind a sycophantic Dec. 2 story on American Media Inc.'s acquisiton of fitness-magazine publisher Weider Publications that is a marked deviation from typical NewsMax fare. The subject matter, that is, not the style -- it reads like the press release American Media likely sent out. NewsMax, you'll recall, has had no previous qualms about running press releases as news stories.

American Media, of course, is the publisher of supermarket tabloids like the National Enquirer and Weekly World News, and its Florida offices are located not that far from NewsMax's offices. NewsMax has largely emulated the tabloid style, right down to its sensational and misleading aspects, even as it has criticized them on occasion for going after Republicans.

It was a mere couple years ago that NewsMax was offended that American Media was (and still is) owned by a pertnership headed by former Clinton administration official Roger Altman and bashing its tabloids for reporting (absolutely true) allegations that the future wife of President George W. Bush killed a man in a traffic accident as a teenager. It decried "the liberal media food chain at work. ... Smear stories in tabloids that bounce up to the networks." NewsMax also kept unusually quiet about a tabloid story on Bush's hard-drinking National Guard days.

But NewsMax has also gleefully repeated tabloid stories unflattering to the Clintons, such as the (unproven) allegation that he fathered a black child out of wedlock and stories of other alleged affairs, and used tabloid reports on Chelsea Clinton to defuse other tabloid reports of the Bush twins' illegal alcoholic adventures.

Even after the tabs fed NewsMax false information about the Clintons allegedly selling their Chappaqua, N.Y., house -- a story Christopher Ruddy loved so much he put his own byline on it but has refused to correct or apologize for -- NewsMax has managed to keep a mostly close relationship with the tabloids.

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