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Implications Have Consequences

WorldNetDaily's Aaron Klein implies that Fox News paid a $2 million ransom for two kidnapped journalists -- then denies that he implied it.

By Terry Krepel
Posted 11/22/2006

Saying something without actually saying it is an issue we all face. The words one uses -- or doesn't use -- can have meaning beyond their declared meaning.

In journalism, words used or not used have even greater meaning because the target of those words is a mass audience. And if those words don't speak the truth, or if they imply something other than their intended meaning, there can be legal consequences.

WorldNetDaily learned the power of words -- or, at least, the lack of certain ones -- when it published a Nov. 14 article by Aaron Klein. In it, he claimed that a ransom of $2 million was paid for the release of Fox News journalists Steve Centanni and Olaf Wiig, who were kidnapped in Gaza last summer. Klein's main source for this claim was someone who he described as "a senior leader of one of the groups suspected of the abductions"; not only did Klein apparently accede to the alleged abudctor's request to remain anonymous, he refused to admit to Klein that the group he allegedly represents -- which Klein described as "the Popular Resistance Committees, an umbrella of Palestinian terror groups which previously carried out anti-U.S. attacks" -- would not even admit to playing a role in Centanni and Wiig's kidnapping. That's not exactly a credibility-inspiring source.

In fact, Klein's claims over who exactly was responsible for the kidnappings has been ever-shifting. An Aug. 14 article claimed that "leaders of the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades terror group" kidnapped Centanni and Wiig, though he qualified that by later claiming that " 'independent Palestinian gunmen' affiliated with their group carried out the kidnapping 'completely on their own.' " An Aug. 24 article, however, claimed that "[a] clan from the Gaza Strip with members involved in major terror organizations are lead suspects in the kidnapping" with no mention of the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades at all, adding that "Abu Abir, spokesman for the [Popular Resistance] Committees, denied to WorldNetDaily his group was behind the kidnappings." That denial appears nowhere in his Nov. 14 article, just Klein allowing the anonymous Popular Resistance Committees "senior leader" to evade answering the question.

That murkiness extends to the source of the alleged ransom. Klein quoted the anonymous "senior leader" as saying "he 'knows' the money came from the U.S. as part of a deal to free Centanni and Wiig but could not identify exactly which organization or government entity transferred the cash." He then stated the following:

A spokeswoman for Fox News Channel told WND she could not provide an official statement about whether Fox was aware of money paid to free its two employees.

A source at Fox told WND many parties were involved with the freedom of Centanni and Wiig, including the U.S. government, and that it was possible money was paid.

A State Department spokesman said his agency did not pay for the release of the Fox News employees.

The article leaves the impression that Fox News itself paid the ransom; while it doesn't explicitly say so, it also doesn't explicitly state that Fox didn't pay the ransom.

It is that omission that got WND and Klein into trouble -- and into aggressive denial mode.

An internal Fox News memo -- in which Fox News chief Roger Ailes called Klein's story " absolutely 100% false" and that "Not a cent of hostage money was paid, and it was never considered" -- was leaked to the Drudge Report. WND quickly put out a Nov. 15 article attempting to clarify things and defending Klein's article:

Here is a statement by WND Editor Joseph Farah in response:

"We stand 100 percent behind Aaron Klein's story today about the release of kidnap victims Steve Centanni and Olaf Wiig.

"The statement by Roger Ailes completely distorts what our story carefully reported. Nowhere in our story did we ever allege, as Ailes' statement said, that Fox News paid $2 million for release of the terrorist hostages."


"In fact," said Farah, "what we reported is 100 percent accurate – that some of those believed to be involved with the kidnappings say they received money. Period. No one in the story even suggested the money originated with Fox.

"Roger Ailes says the story is 100 percent false. But he is alleging it says something it clearly does not say.

But Farah very carefully danced around the issue; while Klein's article didn't "allege" Fox News paid the ransom, it most certainly did suggest it by not explicitly saying that Fox didn't pay it.

This was followed by a Nov. 20 column by Klein in which he proceeded to take even further refuge in what he wrote, as opposed to what he should have written, professing to be "horrified" that his article was widely interpreted to mean that Fox News itself paid the ransom. "My report made very clear the sources did not know where the money originated. No source stated or implied the money came from Fox News," Klein wrote, insisting his report was "carefully and accurately reported" and adding:

Unfortunately, many used my article to claim Fox News paid the ransom – a contention I never made or implied. As the researcher of this piece, I can state categorically I don't believe Fox News paid any money or knew any money was paid. As outlined in my article, the indications are the exchange was brokered by a government or political party since certain quid pro quos were reportedly made, such as assurances against further kidnappings of Americans.

The problem, of course, is that, his purported caveats notwithstanding, Klein did not "make it clear." Further, his article never stated that "the exchange was brokered by a government or political party."

Klein also stated that "Off the record, Fox News sources admitted it was possible the terror gangs were paid off by an entity involved in the negotiations and that the news channel did not know about it." But, again, Klein never told his readers that "the news channel did not know about" the ransom. And while Klein repeatedly claimed in his column that the source of the ransom money was "unknown," the word "unknown" does not appear in his original article.

Klein then switched to suck-up mode, claiming, "I am horrified people have falsified and misrepresented my article to attack Fox News," and adding that "I have enormous respect for Ailes." He lamented that "Unfortunately, many used my article to claim Fox News paid the ransom – a contention I never made or implied." Klein concluded:

I was not asked by WND nor Fox News Channel to print this clarification. In fact, both news organizations seem to have largely moved on. But as a reporter, I cannot stand idly by while others misrepresent and falsify my words to wrongly smear America's best cable news network.

Is Klein bucking for a job with Fox News someday? He might have a better chance if he would just stop being so defensive and admit that his article suggested that Fox News paid the ransom. If he had actually explained the apparent lack of a connection between Fox News and the alleged ransom as clearly as he is now insisting that he made it in the first place, he and his employer would not be in the position that they are in now.

Both Klein and Farah are missing the point of, or deliberately denying the obvious about, the criticism of Klein's article. Farah and Klein could plausibly contend that they didn't intend for the article to imply that Fox News paid the ransom; to deny that it wasn't implied is absurd. If it didn't, Roger Ailes wouldn't be complaining.

After all, readers also know what's not said is as important, if not more so, than what is said. Klein and Farah should acknowledge that.

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