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A Good Story vs. the Truth, Part 2

WorldNetDaily reported all the rumors about a bombing in Oklahoma. But when the facts emerged, that wasn't worth a story.

By Terry Krepel
Posted 10/26/2005

"When the legend becomes fact, print the legend."

-- from the film "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance"

WorldNetDaily went with its own implementation of that adage in its coverage of Joel Hinrichs III; it went straight for the legend -- or, more accurately, rumors -- much of which, unfortunately for WND, never became fact. Fine if you're a fiction writer, but bad if you're supposedly trying to report the news.

Related article on ConWebWatch:

A Good Story vs. the Truth

Hinrichs is the 21-year-old college student who blew himself up near a packed University of Oklahoma football stadium Oct. 1. Conservative bloggers have tried to build a conspiracy theory that Hinrichs' death was somehow a Islamic-influenced suicide bombing gone awry.

Joining the bloggers in this endeavor was WorldNetDaily, led by Jon Dougherty. Yes, that Jon Dougherty, the Slantie winner and single-source-oriented former WND reporter who, after a stint at NewsMax, is sorta back in the WND fold, resuming his column and writing the occasional "news" article while running his own Web site, Voices Magazine.

Dougherty, unfortunately, has not lost any of the reporting skills we've come to know him for. As ConWebWatch noted back in September, the same day that Dougherty was complaining that the U.S. received "exactly two offers of assistance" in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, others were reporting that more than 20 countries had offered assistance.

An Oct. 4 article by Dougherty called Hinrichs "a 'suicide bomber' in possession of 'Islamic jihad' materials." Two days later, Dougherty wrote that "Hinrichs was a roommate of a Pakistani student," which indicates "at least a tenuous connection between the suicide bomber and Middle East Muslims"; he also cited an anonymous investigator as suggesting that "tighter-than-usual security" before the football game outside of which Hinrichs killed himself, which "suggested authorities may have known some sort of attack was coming." An Oct. 7 article by Dougherty and Jayna Davis -- whose book "The Third Terrorist," which tried to link the 1995 Oklahoma City federal building bombing to Middle Eastern terrorists, was published by WND -- tried to put a sinister slant on the sealing of the warrant to search Hinrichs' apartment.

WND columnist Craige McMillan joined in the conspiratorial fun in an Oct. 6 column: "Of course, we shouldn't jump to conclusions. Lots of people commit suicide by strapping explosives around their waists and blowing themselves to bits outside crowded athletic stadiums during packed games at our nation's universities, right?" Syndicated columnist Michelle Malkin soon followed suit with the same tone as McMillan in an Oct. 12 column published by WND: "Nothing to see here. Move along. Islam is a peaceful religion. Stop asking so many damned questions."

And an unbylined Oct. 14 article noted that the athletic conference to which OU belongs had increased security at one football game. It cited blogger Robert Spencer likening the Hinrichs incident to a reported plot in Britain to stage suicide bombings at a soccer game. It also repeated a claim that Hinrichs "attended a mosque near his university-owned apartment – the same one attended by Zacharias Moussaoui, the only person charged in connection with the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks."

For WND, however, the trail of the Hinrichs bombing ends here; it has provided no further original coverage.

Why? It appears that the Islamic conspiracy that Dougherty and WND were hoping to uncover is not turning out like they hoped.

The Wall Street Journal reported on Oct. 13 that Hinrichs' father said that his son suffered from depression, and the FBI has ruled that the explosion was an isolated event and not linked to terrorism.

WND, however, has not reported this to its readers as a statement of fact; the Oct. 14 article described it only as a "reported claim" without noting that the FBI and Hinrichs' family -- normally considered credible sources in such a case -- are the ones claiming it. Additionally, University of Oklahoma president David Boren has denied claims by WND and others that Hinrichs attended a mosque.

That sort of conspiracy-laden writing is par for the course at WND, yet it has offered no further coverage of the case. Why? Because WND quickly loses an interest in a story once it stops serving its agenda -- in this case, its longstanding anti-Muslim agenda. As ConWebWatch detailed earlier this year, WND heavily hyped the killings of a Coptic Christian family in New Jersey as being the work of Islamic terrorists upset with the family's alleged proselytizing, aided and abetted by -- you guessed it -- Robert Spencer and Craige McMillan. But when it turned out that the family was in fact the victim of a robbery and not being persecuted for their faith, WND couldn't run from the story fast enough, even though there were still issues to report, such as a rift in the mixed Christian-Muslim community where the killings took place, caused by the now-discredited accusations blaming Muslims for the deaths.

The same thing appears to be happening in the Hinrichs case. Even the thus-far-unexplained reports of Hinrichs' attempt to purchase ammonium nitrate (a component in bombs such as the on used in Oklahoma City) and the removal of an apparently large cache of explosives from Hinrichs' apartment hasn't been alluring enough for WND to continue its drum-beating.

Apparently, WND has decided that given the choice between a good story and the truth, it would rather go with a good story -- and when the story ceases to be good, leaving it with nothing to report but the truth, WND won't report it at all. Again, a bad thing to do if you claim to be a news organization.

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