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ConWeb CEOs Say the Darndest Things

WND should be proud of spreading rumors about John Kerry? NewsMax doesn't traffic in rumors at all? That's what Joseph Farah and Christopher Ruddy want you to believe.

By Terry Krepel
Posted 2/23/2004

Sometimes, the folks within the ConWeb just can't help themselves -- even the bigwigs. Sometimes, they will say something so monumentally stupid or monumentally wrong that the mind boggles. And we have been graced with two such statements on the same day -- by two ConWeb editor-CEOs, no less.

First up is WorldNetDaily's Joseph Farah. His Feb. 19 column is on one of his favorite subjects -- how the Internet is the future of news and newspapers are behind the times. In the middle of this little piece, he drops this statement:

Take the John Kerry story last week. I don't have to explain which John Kerry story I mean. You know. Yet, it was a story virtually untouched by the corporate, establishment press in the U.S.

That's all he says about it. He can't even say the words of what the story was about. That's probably a smart move on his part, since there's a good reason the "corporate establishment press" didn't touch the story -- it was a conservative-driven rumor about Kerry's sex life that contained no independently verifiable facts and died a rather quick death a few days later when the alleged other person denied everything.

WND, however, has lower standards. Though none of it could be verified (and, in the end, was not), WND printed every word of it, including the stuff peddled by Rupert Murdoch-owned, boobie-infested British tabloids.

Yet Farah trots out this story that dare not speak its name as a example of something Internet news organizations like WND should be proud of. And spreading anonymous rumors about someone's sex life faster than a newspaper can doesn't even have anything to do with the larger point Farah was trying to make in his column -- that journalists should be a watchdog of government.

Speaking of which, the "watchdog" role WND claims for itself has turned into something of a joke. The kind of government-bashing stories it published during the Clinton years have all but disappeared during the Bush administration. And when it has published articles critical of Bush policies, it's either because they aren't conservative enough or it's to sell books. Or it's so committed to its ideology that trivial things like the truth -- which ought to matter to a news organization -- are disposed of, such as the seven-part series devoted to proving James Kopp innocent of murdering an abortion doctor only to virtually ignore Kopp's admission of guilt a few months later.

If there was any doubt that WND has a clear mission to smear Kerry as much as it can, a Feb. 19 story helps seal the deal. The unbylined (of course) story quotes the Los Angeles Times as saying that Kerry, "who claims he is not beholden to campaign contributors, wrote 28 letters on behalf of a San Diego defense contractor who has pleaded guilty to illegally funneling cash to the senator's campaign." It's all accusation and tsk-tsking, which raises the suspicion that only half the story is being told. What WND doesn't tell you is that the defense contractor in question, Parthasarathi Majumder, also gave $95,000 in illegal donations to four other congressmen, three of whom were Republicans and one of whom was Joe Scarborough, currently the house conservative on MSNBC. Also, while it may look bad, no lawmaker or staff member was charged with any wrongdoing in the case. WND also declined to report Kerry's defense of trying to help a small business in his home state.

Like the nonprofit group from which it sprung, WND has an unmistakable bias it refuses to even admit it has, hoping that it will throw critics off the trail if it throws the word "independent" around enough.

Farah complains about the "government-media complex" and proclaims to be its savior:

It was with the recognition of this fundamental flaw in the institution of the press that I set out to correct the course of the news media – not by criticizing my colleagues, not by throwing stones, not by educating them through seminars, but by doing the job better – leading by example.

You're lookin' at it.

How, exactly, is publishing anonymous, unverified sex rumors "leading by example"? Does Farah really believe that being a rumor mill is the best use of a Internet news site? Is he planning to turn WND into a bigger, better (if not any more reliable) Drudge Report? It's not like it does that much original reporting anymore. And considering that WND's news page is more and more about selling the books it publishes instead of that "watchdog" role Farah claims to be proud of, that might not be a bad move.

Farah, though, sounds relatively sane compared to NewsMax's Christopher Ruddy. In a column the same day on the presidential race, he sneaks in this whopper: "Let it be noted that NewsMax is not in the business of spreading rumors or even reporting stories that deny them."

Say what? Rumors are the lifeblood of NewsMax's existence. The surprise is that it actually stayed away from the Kerry story; it appears be part of Ruddy's strategy to make NewsMax more respectable by doing things like dumping Moonie-owned UPI as its news wire in favor of the decidedly more credible Associated Press. (Yet it still runs the bile-filled Norman Liebmann regularly, so there's apparently a limit to how respectable it wants to become.)

After all, what is NewsMax, really, but a giant repository of every scurrilous accusation ever made against the Clintons? Surely Ruddy cannot say with a straight face that everything that has appeared on NewsMax has been scrupulously vetted.

A quick jaunt through the NewsMax archives shows that it has quite a history of advancing any and every nasty rumor about the Clintons, true and (mostly) otherwise:

  • A 2000 story -- written by Ruddy himself -- claiming that the Clintons were moving out of their New York house, citing only anonymous tabloid sources.
  • Crotch-sniffing by Carl Limbacher in search of Bill Clinton's alleged black love child.
  • For years, NewsMax sold tapes of a former Arkansas state trooper, Larry Patterson, spinning all sorts of tales about the Clintons, for which NewsMax undoubtedly paid him handsomely for. Not a word can be found on NewsMax about Patterson's personal grudge against the Clintons, which ought to have made anything he had to say a tad suspect.
  • That alleged affair between Hillary Clinton and Vince Foster, for which NewsMax's best witness is ... Larry Patterson.
  • Rumors that Chelsea Clinton had plastic surgery.

We could go on. Ruddy ought to be embarrassed enough by this stuff (though we suspect not). Would Ruddy have us think he wouldn't touch these Clinton "stories" today? Somehow, we doubt that -- and we also suspect he would have run with those Kerry rumors had they come to light a little closer to November.

Still, Ruddy admonishes Bush supporters to "stick with the issues and not meddle in the private lives of political candidates." Then, he seems to sort of admit that his focus on anything salacious about the Clintons was not a good idea: "Clearly, such activities during the Clinton years not only backfired, they also were ultimately a diversion to the real scandals of those times." He doesn't go further, refusing to offer a full mea culpa and identify himself as a leading source of said activities.

Ruddy does go on, however, to defend Bush against those who would accuse him of shirking his National Guard service. "Shamefully, leading Democrats have described George Bush as having been “AWOL” or having “deserted” his post in wartime," he writes. "President Bush has answered those questions to my satisfaction. News reports and accounts of the men who served with Bush demonstrate that he fulfilled his Guard duty during the Vietnam conflict."

How would he know, since NewsMax has never done a full investigation of the charges but merely reported only the exculpatory evidence?

Ruddy also claims that "While it is true that most of these have clearly emanated from Democratic sources ... Republicans and conservatives have been tarred with spreading the Kerry rumors." But he offers no evidence of that, either, ignroing the fact that conservative talk-show hosts and conservative sites like WND did indeed spread those rumors.

Attempts at respectability and AP wire copy aside, NewsMax, like WND, still occupies the same slanted journalistic fringe it always has.

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