Update: Counting the ConWeb
WorldNetDaily and NewsMax each have numbers that make them look good. Plus: NewsMax dumps UPI, Bill Clinton comes up short in comparison to Jesus, dubious assertions at CNSNews.com and more.
By Terry Krepel
Everybody wants to count numbers in ways that make themselves look good, and the ConWeb is not immune.
Both NewsMax and WorldNetDaily claim various degrees of popularity. The methods by which they claim that, unsurprisingly, put one site ahead of the other, depending on who's talking.
WorldNetDaily relies on Alexa.com, which records popularity through a user-installed toolbar in their browser. WND breathlessly touts its Alexa ranking, plugging the latest numbers low in the left bar on its front page, and it's' mentioned in at least 18 WND stories, according to a search of its archives.
Oddly enough, a WND columnist has detailed the shortcomings of the Alexa counting method that WND so loves. Ilana Mercer correctly noted in June that only users with the Alexa toolbar are counted as traffic in Alexa's eyes: "your Alexa web site rank begins like magic to improve in leaps and bounds, even when your site's traffic remains constant ... " (though she makes sure to first reassure readers that "WorldNetDaily's cyberspace status is indisputable"). One WND story encouraged readers to install the Alexa toolbar, though it failed to mention that installing it would boost WND's Alexa ranking.
WND also used to make a big deal about being the "most popular web site in the world" as ranked by a now-defunct counter called Global100.com. (I remember checking that ranking out once, and I noticed among Global100's other "top" sites was one dedicated to the '80s pop group a-ha.)
NewsMax, needless to say, isn't touting its Alexa numbers. Instead, it has served up statistics from Nielsen NetRatings. It made a big play of these numbers back in April, first showing that "growth outpaced even CNN, Fox News, Yahoo! News, NPR, Drudgereport, New York Post Holdings, Google, MSNBC and many other top news sources. NewsMax’s internal logs show that its Web traffic increased even more significantly than Nielsen indicates." CEO Christopher Ruddy added in that same article that "NewsMax has become the leading conservative news agency in America."
That was followed in July with a claim that "NewsMax.com is the online giant for news with a conservative perspective." It served up some additional Nielsen numbers from June, which claim that NewsMax had 1.7 million unique visitors -- while WND had 700,000.
The story also revives a dubious claim -- that NewsMax's magazine "has a paid readership of more than 300,000." NewsMax was making similar claims last year, around the time it filed for an IPO last year (since abandoned), but the prospectus it filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission listed a circulation of just under 60,000.
So, who to believe? WND's are undeniably skewed, while NewsMax hasn't said a peep about ratings since July.
In a surprise move, NewsMax has apparently dumped United Press International as its wire service -- you know, the one that is now operated by the Moonie-controlled News World Communications, owner of the Washington Times, and formerly run by current NewsMax board member Arnaud de Borchgrave.
Even more surprising is what replaced it -- the venerable Associated Press.
It's hard to tell at first glance whether NewsMax is actually paying to use the AP wire (AP doesn't make a list of clients public), but given the frequency of stories and the unavoidable AP copyright tag at the end of each story, one may logically assume that it is.
Just as amazing as NewsMax's apparent bid for respectability -- WorldNetDaily, meanwhile, is feuding with AP about who's stealing whose stories, where WND so far is the clear winner -- is the fact that NewsMax has thus far mostly resisted the urge to rewrite AP stories in NewsMax's conservative image, something it did with UPI copy.
The key word there, however, is "mostly." NewsMax likes to add little editorializing subheads to stories, and AP stories have not been immune, such as this Nov. 13 story about judicial nominations in which a subhead makes reference to "'KKK' Byrd" that almost certainly wasn't in the original copy.
Another judicial-nomination story the next day includes the subhead "Only Pro-abortion Women Need Apply," which not only doesn't appear anywhere in the story but violates one of the few style rules NewsMax claims to have.
In an Oct. 25 e-mail-only "news alert" that discussed the then-raging congressional debate over "partial-birth" abortion, NewsMax declared: "When we refer to groups against abortion, we call them 'pro-life.' When we refer to groups for abortion rights, we call them 'pro-choice.' This is the only fair and balanced way to do it."
So why isn't NewsMax actually doing it?
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Most people would come up short in comparison to Jesus Christ. That doesn't stop Brent Bozell from contrasting the Son of God with Bill Clinton, and to no one's surprise, the former president comes up wanting.
What brought this fit of ludicrousness on was an ABC TV program looking at the life of Jesus through the best-selling speculative novel "The DaVinci Code. "A 'news' special based on a novel?" Bozell complains in his Nov. 4 column. "There’s not enough evidence in this special for a two-minute E! channel news story, let alone a 60-minute ABC broadcast." Then, we get to the gratuitous Clinton reference:
Doesn't it seem amazing that ABC is more nervous about investigating potentially nasty stories about Bill Clinton than they do about potentially nasty stories about Jesus Christ? ABC would not accept Bill Clinton was an adulterer until all the DNA testing was complete. ABC absolutely refused to make any attempt to broadcast the extraordinary claims of Juanita Broaddrick that she had been raped by President Clinton before he ascended to the White House. But the Jesus-bashers get an hour in prime time to bash the Son of God. Talk about confusing the sacred and the profane!
This from an organization whose news division, CNSNews.com, is nervous about writing anything potentially nasty about anyone who has criticized Democrats in general or the Clintons in particular. Nothing about, for instance, the problems with Kathleen Willey's accusations against Bill Clinton -- or Juanita Broaddrick's, for that matter. Then there's CNS' serving as a willing lapdog for the musings of Otto Reich or John Lott, or pretending it has no political slant when it most indisputibly does.
If journalism is a religion of sorts, CNS, and by extension Bozell, is doing its own rendition of bellowing f-words in the sanctuary by its continual sins of omission.
* * *
Speaking of CNSNews.com, another example of the bias found there is assertions stated as fact but which are clearly opinions.
A Nov. 4 story by Jeff Johnson on Roy Moore, the Alabama Supreme Court chief justice whose efforts to display a two-ton monument listing the Ten Commandments on public property is a conservative cause celebre, turns into a lesson on the First Amendment with Johnson eager to disprove the "establishment clause" most judges who aren't Alabama Supreme Court chief justices accept as the reason not to put two-ton monuments depicting the Ten Commandments on government property.
"Liberal activists, opposed mostly to the involvement of conservative Christians and Jews in public discourse, have used the First Amendment's Establishment Clause in their attempts to bar acknowledgement of religion on public property or in official speeches or writings," Johnson writes. He offers no evidence of this.
Johnson goes on to assert that the establishment clause is "allegedly derived from the First Amendment," then offers the view of one scholar in reinterpreting Thomas Jefferson's statement about "building a wall of separation between Church & State" -- which, needless to say, puts a conservative-friendly spin on it by saying in essence that Jefferson didn't really mean it.
* * *
ConWeb writers responded to the latest accusation of conservative bias at Fox News Channel in the usual way -- by dismissing or equivocating it.
This allegation came from someone who should know -- a former Fox News producer named Charlie Reina, who discussed it in a letter to the Romanesko media news weblog. According to Reina, a memo is issued by management each day "addressing what stories will be covered and, often, suggesting how they should be covered."
The first reaction was from a Fox News spokesperson, who immediately dismissed Reina as "a former, disgruntled employee" with "an ax to grind," but doesn't disprove anything he said.
Then, it was the ConWeb's turn. Rich Tucker, who has the interesting title of "media trainer" at the conservative Heritage Foundation, wrote in a CNSNews.com commentary that Fox News' bias doesn't matter because of all that evil liberal bias out there: "Fox News may well lean somewhat to the right. Or it may simply seem to, when compared with all the other news outlets that lean toward the left." He dismisses Reina's alleged warning from Fox News brass on a program on the environment that he should "make sure the pro-environmentalists don't get the last word" by citing one example of Time magazine being allegedly "less than fair and balanced when it comes to covering environmental stories," but he doesn't say why it's biased.
NewsMax's response was to shoot the messenger. A Nov. 1 article attacks the Romanesko site as "an online meeting place for liberal journalists who complain that the media are not liberal enough. Conservatives get a fair shake on Romenesko’s page the same way they might in the New York Times."
NewsMax goes on to complain that "The Reina story would have remained nothing more than a letter to the editor had it not been picked up by the Los Angeles Times. Could it be that the Times’ coverage of this story is just payback to Fox for its coverage of how the Times tried to smear Arnold Schwarzenegger in the closing days of the recent California election?"
NewsMax is silent on why the groping allegations against Schwarzenegger are "smears" when NewsMax has made much more graphic (and dubious) allegations against the Clintons, which presumably are not "smears."
Then again, NewsMax also doesn't disprove that Fox News is biased.
* * *
Somebody at WorldNetDaily came up with a monster story on the recent Massachusetts Supreme Court decision that homosexual couples are legally entitled to wed under the state constitution. It's a huge story -- 51 paragraphs.
Yet there is no byline. Why? Perhaps because in all of those 51 paragraphs, only one side of the story is given. Save for one paragraph quoting from the decision and a couple of others on procedural issues, the entire story is dedicated to detractors of the ruling. Nobody in those 51 paragraphs is on record as supporting the decision.
Meanwhile, in a possibly related development, the byline of Jon Dougherty -- WND's king of the one-source, one-sided "news" story -- has all but disappeared from WND's news pages. He still, however, writes a weekly column.
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Everything you need to know about WorldNetDaily's bias on the Terri Schiavo case is in two stories (even though ConWebWatch has documented it previously):
When Michael Schiavo appeared on CNN's "Larry King Live" to plead his case, reporter Diana Lynne ran to Terri's relatives, the Schindlers, to get their rebuttal. When the Schindlers appeared on "Oprah" to give their side of the case, Lynne made no effort to contact Michael Schiavo for a rebuttal.
In that last story, though, Lynne did slip up and call her Terri Schiavo instead of Terri Schindler-Schiavo, as has been regular WND practice.
* * *
In its coverage of last week's 40-hour talkathon held by Senate Republicans to highlight Democrats' blocking of certain federal judicial nominees, the ConWeb has generally steered clear of the fact that Republicans during the Clinton administration blocked far more of his judicial nominees than Democrats have of Bush nominees. It's something even conservatives admit, however quietly; the JudicialSelection.org Web site, run by the Free Congress Foundation, points out in bold, italic type that "the Republican-led Senate left 102 Clinton nominees unconfirmed."
The Media Research Center does take a shot at it, though, trying to declare there's a difference between then and now, according to a Nov. 14 CyberAlert:
After repeating one reporter's take that "Democrats say they’ve held up only a small percentage of the President’s choices, and that Republicans blocked far more during the Clinton administration," Brent Baker countered: "But when Republicans blocked nominees they were in the majority, something Democrats also did with Republican nominees when Democrats were in the majority. What is new now is that the minority party in the Senate is using the demand for a 60 vote cloture motion, to allow a floor vote, to block nominees who would win a majority vote approval. That Senate maneuver has never before been used on judicial nominees."
Hey, Baker didn't say it was an meaningful difference.