Left Behind: The ConWeb Edition
A remnant of facts, balance and overall journalistic integrity fail to ascend in stories by WorldNetDaily, CNSNews.com, NewsMax and The Washington Times.
By Terry Krepel
Perhaps the biggest recent success in the Christian book world has been the "Left Behind" series of books the quasi-biblical series of books co-written by conservative icon Tim LaHaye. The ConWeb seems to taken that title to heart -- things like balance and relevant facts tend to get left behind when ConWeb stories go to press.
Let's take a look a few recent examples of what could be called a remnant of truth that the ConWeb fails to supply to its readers.
The offender: WorldNetDaily
The story: A Nov. 23 story claims that a California court case is "dealing with whether it's unconstitutional to read the Declaration of Independence in public school." The story goes on to note that a school district in Cupertino, Calif., has allegedly stopped a teacher from "providing supplemental handouts to students about American history because the historical documents contain some references to God and religion," including "[e]xcerpts from the Declaration of Independence, the diaries of George Washington and John Adams, the writings of William Penn, and various state constitutions."
What got left behind: Any sense of balance. WND merely posted a mildly edited press release from the conservative Alliance Defense Fund, which is defending the teacher, and no attempt is made to seek comment from the school district. The Alliance Defense Fund was founded by more than 30 ministers, including James Dobson of Focus on the Family and D. James Kennedy.
Also missing, because the Alliance Defense Fund failed to include it in its press release, is what was in those excerpts the teacher handed out. So we must go to a real news organization for that. According to the newspaper where the school district is located, among the handouts the teacher gave to his students were:
Not quite as benign as the Alliance Defense Fund wants you to believe, are they?
* * *
The offender: CNSNews.com, WorldNetDaily, NewsMax and The Washington Times
The story: A stronger warning label for the "abortion pill" RU-486 (mifepristone). A Nov. 16 CNSNews.com story, a Nov. 17 WorldNetDaily story, and a Nov. 18 Washington Times story all play up the death of one woman connected with the drug and/or promote calls by the conservative group Concerned Women for America for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to ban the drug. CNS has previously promoted the woman's death as a reason to ban RU-486 and even published a letter by the woman's parents urging the same thing; NewsMax ran a September 2003 column by conservative Paul Weyrich on the woman's death.
What got left behind: Any context of the alleged risk, let alone that any of the three deaths associated with RU-486 were even directly related to the drug. An FDA official is quoted as saying of the deaths: "We have not been able to link any of them in terms of the drug causing the event."
Those three deaths came among 360,000 women who have taken RU-486. The Association of Reproductive Health Professionals has noted (as has Media Matters for America) that, by way of comparison, the anti-impotence drug Viagra has a higher death rate, killing five people per 100,000 prescriptions, and that 150 people die each year from liver failure induced by taking acetaminophen, better known as Tylenol.
If Concerned Women for America was truly concerned about saving lives, why isn't it going after these drugs?
The offender: WorldNetDaily
The story: A Nov. 23 article quoting the Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson stating the NBA players who brawled with fans during a game "should be banned from the NBA for good."
What got left behind: Full disclosure. As ConWebWatch has repeatedly noted, WorldNetDaily has a business arrangement with Peterson, publishing a book he wrote under the WND Books imprint and booking personal appearances through WND's speakers bureau, but WND rarely notes that relationship in its articles that quote Peterson. There is precedent for this; a WND story earlier this year noted that were "ethical concerns" because Viacom-owned CBS didn't disclose during a "60 Minutes" interview of ex-Bush counterterrorism official Richard Clarke that Clarke's book was published by another Viacom division, Simon & Schuster.
Is it too much to expect WorldNetDaily to adhere to the ethics it demands others follow? Apparently so.
* * *
The offender: WorldNetDaily
The story: A Nov. 22 story on the opening weekend of the movie "Kinsey," a biopic about sex researcher Alfred Kinsey.
What got left behind: Any attempt at balance. The second paragraph states without evidence that "Kinsey" is a movie "many critics are calling a puff piece on the man some consider a fraud and a pervert"; movie critics are implied here, but none are cited. Statements to that effect later in the story are more accurately attributed to "Christian groups and defenders of the traditional family."
Kinsey has been one of WND's favorite targets, and it is not interested in presenting a balanced view of the man. Over the years, WND has featured the writings and statements of Judith Reisman; a search of "kinsey and reisman" in WND's database turns up 63 stories. Reisman is president of something called the Institute for Media Education, which judging from Reisman's web site, seems to be little more than Reisman herself. Reisman's statements have never been contradicted by WND -- after all, like Peterson, WND is in business with her, booking appearance through WND's speakers bureau and selling her Kinsey-bashing book. And like it does with Peterson, WND rarely, if ever, mentions this business relationship when it quotes Reisman.
So, we must go to sources not trying to make money off Reisman to get a fuller picture. A Nov. 11 Associated Press story on those opposing the "Kinsey" movie quotes one anti-Kinsey watchdog as saying "- AIDS, abortion, the high divorce rate, pornography" are "part of Kinsey's legacy," but also quotes a spokesperson with the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States as saying that "the sexual revolution of the 1960s would have happened even without Kinsey" and the movies director as saying: "Their real aim, by maligning him and destroying his reputation, is to pretend that the last 50 years didn't happen." A Nov. 21 Washington Post story quotes Reisman but also a Kinsey biographer who says that Kinsey "was 'a rigorous scientist to his fingertips,' and there is no evidence that he was a pedophile or that he knowingly cooked his books," as Reisman has alleged.
Unfortunately, it's clear that WorldNetDaily has cooked its journalistic books.