Who's On the Payroll?
ConWeb writers promote their (Republican) candidates so much, they may as well be employed by the campaign.
By Terry Krepel
In the 2000 and 2004 presidential elections, the ConWeb was clearly in the tank for George W. Bush. By ConWebWatch's calculations, NewsMax and WorldNetDaily's pro-Bush, anti-John Kerry efforts were worth at least $71 million in free advertising for Bush's 2004 re-election campaign alone.
For the 2006 elections, the ConWeb is, of course, in the tank once again for the GOP. But this time, instead of being merely a group effort, individual writers have staked out beats that promote specific candidates -- with the exception of Joe Lieberman, all Republican -- and attack their opponents.
They're not drawing a paycheck directly from the campaigns their work is benefiting, as far as we know, but they might as well be. Let's look at a few of them.
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The writer: Jack Cashill of WorldNetDaily
His candidate: Curt Weldon
His nemesis: Joe Sestak (and Bill Clinton)
Best known around these parts for writing a seven-part WorldNetDaily series falsely claming that anti-abortion extremist James Kopp was framed in the shooting death of an abortion doctor -- written a few months before Kopp pleaded guilty to the doctor's death -- Cashill is a longtime Clinton conspiracy theorist. He even made a 2004 film, "Mega Fix," that served as a sort of grand unification conspiracy theory, claiming that "the Clintons and their operatives -- Richard Clarke, Sandy Berger, Jamie Gorelick among others -- finessed or fixed all terrorist investigations to enhance Clinton's reelection," "turned Ron Brown into Martin Luther King while suppressing the investigation into his death" and "transformed the shoot-down of TWA Flight 800 into a mechanical failure." (Clinton also supposedly "ignored all Islamic trails to the Olympic Park bombing," which seems logical since Islamists weren't involved in it at all; anti-abortion extremist Eric Rudolph was the perpetrator.)
When it was revealed that Weldon was the target of an FBI investigation probing allegations that he used his congressional influence to steer government contracts to his lobbyist daughter -- which prompted him to channel Cashill's conspiracy theories -- Cashill wrote an Oct. 19 column that never contradicts the allegations against Weldon but, rather, claims -- surprise! -- the investigation was politically motivated:
The FBI investigation, by the way, was inspired by a story in the Los Angeles Times two years ago. If there were ever a textbook case of how a liberal media can drive a political agenda, this is it.
Cashill doesn't explain the diabolical machinations that resulted in a newspaper story being so perfectly timed as to spur a federal investigation that would be made public two years later, a few weeks before an election. Maybe those folks at the Los Angeles Times are too crafty for him.
Cashill also claims that "When I met with Weldon in late July, he expressed interest in going deeper still, but he conceded too that the Clinton shadow government (CSG) was working hard to bring him down." That raises the question: Who was feeding conspiracy theories to whom?
The writer: Randy Hall of CNSNews.com
His candidate: Diana Irey
His nemesis: John Murtha
Hall's anti-Murtha campaign began in January, when he co-authored a piece that quoted disgruntled and dead political opponents to accuse the Democratic Pennsylvania congressman of not earning his Purple Hearts in Vietnam (and, as a sidebar, revived 25-year-old scandal allegations in which he was never charged) -- stories that CNS managing editor David Thibault admitted were run as a political attack, "because the congressman has really put himself in the forefront of the antiwar movement."
(Hall did get an assist from fellow CNS reporter Jeff Johnson, whose Jan. 20 article suggested that Murtha supports the anti-war group Code Pink, reviled by conservatives for its pickets outside the Walter Reed Medical Center in Washington, though the only hard evidence Johnson supplied was a picture of Murtha with members of the group.)
Since then, Hall has given lots of play to anti-Murtha groups. An Aug. 3 article by Hall reported that Sen. Max Cleland was scheduled to attend a rally for Murtha "condemning what they call 'Swift Boat' attacks against Murtha." But Hall minimzed his own role in issuing politically motivated attacks against Murtha: He failed to note that his January articles are featured on the website of the group Vets for the Truth (aka BootMurtha.com), whose president, Larry Bailey, he quotes in his article as further attacking Murtha.
A Sept. 29 article by Hall went after a Murtha supporter who has criticized the attack on Murtha's record, particularly his Purple Hearts, by saying that "it matters not whether it's a broken toenail or a slug to the brain" that earns a soldier a Purple Heart. Hall actually serves up a little honesty here, admitting that the attack on Murtha in his previous article was done by "several political opponents," though we suspect Hall refused to count himself among them, even though that's essentially what he is. That was joined the same day by a commentary from Thibault, who is much more explicit about his partisan agenda than Hall, calling him "Mad-Dog Murtha." In it, Thibault makes it clear that he and Hall are using CNS to bash Murtha for daring to criticize President Bush and the Iraq war, calling him "crass" and "selfish" for doing so and insisting that "politics is behind every word Murtha utters." As if politics was not behind the actions of Thibault and Hall.
Through their attacks on Murtha, Hall and CNS are trying to benefit Murtha's opponent, Diana Irey -- who, as last check, was 27 points behind Murtha in polls.
The writer: Christopher Ruddy of NewsMax
His candidate: Joe Lieberman
His nemesis: Ned Lamont
Ruddy went the contrarian route here by declaring his bias up front: In an Aug. 9 column, NewsMax editor and CEO Ruddy declared that he was "making a donation" to the re-election campaign of Lieberman, who is running as an independent after losing the Democratic primary to Lamont. Ruddy declared is stance in favor of the Iraq war "gutsy" and complained that "the rise of the Internet has empowered the far left and dethroned the wise men of the Democratic Party." The irony, of course, that the Internet also empowered right-wing sites like NewsMax, so perhaps Ruddy doth not protest too much.
Such a declaration would normally foreshadow lots of pro-Lieberman, anti-Lamont coverage coming from NewsMax. After all, when Ruddy donated $1,000 to the campaign of now-disgraced Florida Rep. Mark Foley (but didn't disclose it to his readers), this engendered much positive coverage for Foley on NewsMax, including an article published just two days after Ruddy's donation, as ConWebWatch has documented.
But surprisingly, NewsMax's pro-Lieberman coverage has been muted. One of the few overt examples has been an Oct. 23 article by Dave Eberhart playing up Lieberman's Republican support. The article also noted that Lieberman was 17 points ahead of Lamont in recent polling.
What has been ignored is the actual Republican in the race, Alan Schlesinger. As with the rest of the ConWeb, NewsMax barely acknowledges Schlesinger's existence, doing so almost exclusively in passing.