Five Years of ConWebWatch
The Web's watchdog of conservative Internet media looks back ... and forward.
By Terry Krepel
Five years -- who'da thunk it?
It was five years ago -- April 14, 2000, to be precise -- that I launched ConWebWatch and posted the first two articles. They involved two issues that I have written about many times since: conservatives changing a stand on an issue because continued support of said stand would benefit a liberal (the Elian Gonzalez case), and conservatives making distorted or outright false statements (Accuracy in Media attacking Al Gore).
In fact, these problems have gotten worse over the years. WorldNetDaily has demonstrated its disregard for accuracy and fairness in its coverage of John Kerry and the Terri Schiavo case; NewsMax offers fawning coverage about a politician to whom its editor and CEO donated money; the Media Research Center won't subject Fox News to the same standards of bias and fairness it applies to other TV networks; and Accuracy in Media is still making distorted and false statements.
When I started ConWebWatch, the original idea was to skewer conservative hypocrisy. That focus shifted quickly shifted to exposing the distortions and lies promulgated by conservative "news" web sites. It's a rich vein to mine, and one which the ConWeb not only remains highly vulnerable but has shown little inclination to do anything about.
After five years of doing ConWebWatch, one question probably could bear to be answered. Namely: Why bother? Why spend a significant portion of my free time doing something that I make no money at? After all, the ConWeb makes no bones about catering to a certain audience and delivering the type of news it wants, heavy on lionizing conservatives and demonizing liberals.
The key word here is "news." Calling oneself as a "news" organization carries with it a responsibility to adhere to certain journalistic standards of fairness and honesty -- telling the whole story and telling it in a factual manner. The ConWeb fails at this simple task time after time.
I worked in newspaper newsrooms as a reporter and editor for 17 years -- not in the so-called "elite" media of New York and Washington, but mostly in small-town, red-state newspapers that most of the conservatives who love to bash the "liberal media" would not be able to find, let alone tolerate working for -- so I have plenty of practical experience in how a news operation should be run. More importantly, I know what properly telling a story means to readers. The ConWeb, however, is too busy pushing its political views to bother with such trivial concepts as accuracy and fairness; this was demonstrated most recently when WorldNetDaily wanted so much to perpetuate the myth of Terri Schiavo's husband as a bad guy that it fell for a blog's April fool's joke about a TV movie about the case, further suggesting that the husband had callously sold the film rights.
The fact that the ConWeb can't get basic journalism right is one reason I continue to do this after five years. Another reason is what the ConWeb portends for the future of journalism in America.
A favorite conservative pastime, especially after the CBS memo controversy, is touting how the "new media" of conservative-slanted web sites, blogs and talk radio are supposedly running rings around the "old media" of allegedly liberal New York- and Washington-based newspapers and TV networks. But the conservative "new media," as ConWebWatch has repeatedly demonstrated, is more slanted than the "old media" conservatives love to complain about. As much as conservatives demand "fairness" from the "old media," it's clear that the only way they would offering anything resembling fairness non-conservatives in their own "news" media is either by accident or if they were backed into a corner and had no other choice.
So dedicated is the conservative media to partisanship over journalistic principles -- much more so that the so-called "liberal media" it claims to despise -- that one has to wonder if the ultimate goal of conservatives is to dismantle the entire concept of fairness in journalism. As columnist William Raspberry noted in his recent criticism of Fox News, such polarization and hyper-partisanship in news reports "threatens to destroy public confidence in all news." That cannot be allowed to happen.
The ConWeb may not care about basic journalistic principles, but I do. But I don't believe in censorship or boycotts; I believe in sunshine. That's what ConWebWatch is a little ray of sunshine that sheds light on the dubious journalism practices of the ConWeb. As the saying goes (paraphrased from an anime called "His and Her Circumstances," or "Kare Kano" for all you otaku out there), light shows you where the darkness is.
Has ConWebWatch had an effect in five years of watchdog work? It's hard to say, and the ConWeb would certainly never admit it. But I have noticed a few things: Much of NewsMax's copy now comes from the Associated Press and remains in its original form, a change from its previous practice of slanting UPI wire copy to make it more conservative; the MRC has cut back on its catty, Democrat-bashing remarks; and a letter from ConWebWatch to WorldNetDaily resulted in WND's so-called "whole story" of Terri Schiavo coming somewhat closer to living up to its name.
What's in the future for ConWebWatch? Again, it's hard to say, since five years ago I could not have predicted that I would write close to 400 articles for the site, that ConWebWatch would generate well over a million page views and that it would help get me a job with media watchdog group Media Matters for America. (For the record: Media Matters has no editorial input into ConWebWatch, nor does Media Matters fund ConWebWatch's operation; I have complete editorial control as I have always had, and the money to run it continues to come out of my own pocket, advertising sales and the occasional book purchase. Have I mentioned that there is cool stuff for sale in ConWebWatch's CafePress store?) But I am in Washington now, which presents opportunities not available in my previous location of rural Arkansas. ConWebWatch will continue doing what it's been doing -- and, hopefully, a little more.
After five years, ConWebWatch remains the only web site dedicated to detailing the biases, errors and distortions of the conservative web-based news media and conservative media watchdogs. I thank all who have supported me in this endeavor, especially you, the reader. I am grateful that you find something worth reading here.
As long as the ConWeb continues to fail in its journalistic mission, ConWebWatch will be there.