Love (and U.N.-Bashing) for Sale?
Between the news stories that read suspiciously like ads and the promotion of people it hasn't told its readers it's doing business with, where does news end and advertising begin at WorldNetDaily?
By Terry Krepel
"WorldNetDaily not for sale" reads the headline of WND editor Joseph Farah's Jan. 27 column about revelations that some conservative pundits have been paid by the Bush administration to promote policies without publicly disclosing those payments. But Farah narrows down that statement: "Least of all would I permit myself or my news organization from accepting taxpayer funds to promote government or any government program."
OK, so he won't take government money to promote a policy. How about money from a political group? Or a book publisher? Or a someone with a pricey newsletter? (And we're not referring to Farah's own pricey, and factually challenged, newsletter.)
During the time this ad has appeared on WND's front page, WND has run four original news stories featuring Move America Forward's accusations critical of the U.N.: a Jan. 20 story about the ad itself; another Jan. 20 story accusing former president Jimmy Carter of having links to U.N. oil-for-food scandal figure Samir Vincent (which neglects to mention similar accusations against Republican Jack Kemp); a Jan. 26 follow-up on the Carter allegations that mentions Kemp -- instead of condemning him for his association with a major figure in the scandal, Move America Forward co-chair Howard Kaloogian praises Kemp because he "has stepped forward and spoken candidly about his relationship with Samir Vincent. Kemp obviously feels he has nothing to hide" -- and a Jan. 31 story that quotes an MAF official calling U.N. officials "vampire-like in their fear of the light of truth."
At the end of each of these stories is a lengthy promotion for the latest issue of WND's Whistleblower magazine. This month's theme is "ENEMIES WITHIN: How the United Nations supports terrorists and fuels global chaos," which includes an article by Kaloogian titled "Let the U.N. leave and take terrorism with it."
WND has promoted MAF's anti-U.N. allegations prior the ad -- a Jan. 17 story advances MAF's suggestion that Steve Forbes be named the next U.N. ambassador from the U.S., documented MAF's efforts to stop the U.N. from constructing a new building in New York and publicized previous MAF ads. and Farah urged readers in a Dec. 29 column to sign an MAF petition (also promoted with a "related special offer" link at the bottom of some of WND's U.N.-bashing stories).
There are definitely some mutual U.N.-bashing interests merging here. But where is the dividing line between Move America Forward, the advocacy group, and WorldNetDaily, the alleged "news organization"? Is WND doing this out of the goodness of its heart, or is MAF paying WND to have its point of view presented as news articles, a la Jack Wheeler? The Wheeler promotion is still going on; the latest news story-cum-promo describes how "shares how a gift of vodka and a little ingenuity helped Ukraine's Orange Revolution succeed, bringing the former Russian satellite onto President Bush's list of new democracies."
This ad-as-news-story idea seems to be growing at WND: A Feb. 1 article, looking for all the world like a news story, is all about a "unique book that purports to explain the past existence of giant beings referred to in the Bible as the Nephilim." The rather longish article has no news value but is merely a puff piece about the book. Not only does it include a purchase link -- to Amazon, not WND's store -- a WND poll of the day is dedicated to it, and there's an animated link on the WND front page like those used for WND Books titles, also linked to Amazon. Additionally, a link to the story has remained on WND's front page since it was introduced.
While WND has not been forthcoming about telling its readers exactly where the news stops and the ad begins, WND is not always so completely obfuscating. A Feb. 3 story about the weakening of the U.S. dollar leads off with a quote by Craig Smith of Swiss America Trading -- which gets its very own hyperlink. The story describes as a company that "specializes in tangible assets." How did Smith and his company rate such a prominent mention? The first clue is at the end of the story, which includes another one of those "related offers": Smith's book is for sale at WND's store. (and promoted in a December 2004 WND story). The book happens to be all about investing in gold -- which happens to be the business that Swiss America Trading is in, and which, by implication, a story about a weakening dollar would encourage readers to do.
But that's not all. Smith is not only an occasional columnist for WND -- writing not just about investing, as you might imagine, but throwing in his two cents on politics, like a Jan. 25 article accusing senators who dared to ask non-fawning questions of Condoleezza Rice during her confirmation hearing for secretary of state of being "bulimic Democrats" who "have the insatiable need to puke before the public on anything or anyone who is connected to the current administration." (Like conservatives like Farah behaved any differently during the Clinton administration.) According to an Oct. 14, 2004, WND story by Aaron Klein, "Middle East Expert" Smith has written the introduction to "the forthcoming Atomic Islam book." We assume Klein is referring to "Atomic Iran," the new book by discredited bigot Jerome Corsi to be published in March by the 2.0 version of WND's book division.
Well, that's merely your usual undisclosed conflict of interest that WND does all too often. Where's the money? As a Jan. 26 WND story reveals, Smith is involved in the new company that will syndicate Joseph Farah's radio show following it was dumped from conservative-foundation-funded syndicator Radio America in favor of G. Gordon Liddy (today is Farah's last day at Radio America). As the story states: "Craig Smith, president and founder of Swiss America Trading Company, the country's premiere gold dealer, has lent his support to the program and network as an adviser and founding sponsor."
So, is all of this checkbook journalism, or is WND, a for-profit business, giving voice to right-wing causes it likes out of the goodness of its heart? Back to Farah's column, in which he chastised Gallagher for her behavior:
You didn't just violate journalistic ethics, you blew them up. You destroyed them. You rewrote the textbook. You are off the map of journalistic ethics. You have helped to ensure that the phrase "journalistic ethics" is considered an oxymoron something like "trial lawyer ethics" or "snake-oil salesmen ethics." You have lowered not just yourself to professional prostitution, but you have impugned the character of your colleagues as well as those who came before you and those who will with any good fortune replace you.
Um, not completely. Farah seems to be talking about only government money here; as the above examples demonstrate, bending "journalistic ethics" for manna from the right non-governmental source doesn't appear to budge the needle on his outrage-o-meter. Farah then descends into his usual blather about how the role of a free press is "to serve as a watchdog on government. It is our special duty to expose corruption, fraud, waste and abuse in government. That's our No. 1 job." Never mind that, as we saw during the 2004 presidential election, Farah's implementation of this principle doesn't apply to the Bush administration.
Perhaps Farah needs to elaborate a bit more about what exactly at WND is for sale and how his journalistic ethics justify it so his readers can make informed judgements about whether they should buy anything that appears on his "news" pages.