A Highly Compromised Disseminator
WorldNetDaily, self-proclaimed exposer of government corruption, has been all but silent about two big government corruption cases -- Duke Cunningham and Jack Abramoff. Is it because they're Republicans?
By Terry Krepel
WorldNetDaily makes a big deal about being claiming to be journalistically pure. Its mission statement proclaims its alleged role "to reinvigorate and revitalize the role of the free press as a guardian of liberty, an exponent of truth and justice, an uncompromising disseminator of news." It pontificates that WND is "remaining faithful to the central role of a free press in a free society: as a watchdog exposing government waste, fraud, corruption and abuse of power -- the mission envisioned by our founders and protected in the First Amendment of the Constitution." To which it adds: "Indeed, WorldNetDaily.com is a fiercely independent newssite committed to hard-hitting investigative reporting of government waste, fraud and abuse."
Of course, WND is anything but "fiercely independent," regularly distorting facts to fit its conservative world view and refusing to disclose its conflicts of interest and business arrangements with the people it covers, as ConWebWatch has repeatedly documented. And the proclaimed heart of its journalistic mission -- "hard-hitting investigative reporting of government waste, fraud and abuse" -- is turning out to be a sham as well.
Take the case of Randy "Duke" Cunningham, the congressman forced to resign his seat after pleading guilty to accepting millions of dollars in bribes. Pretty clear-cut case of corruption, right? WND even had a ready-made source of articles for its brand of cut-and-paste journalism: the San Diego Union-Tribune has been the leader in reporting on the case, regularly making new discoveries about Cunningham's corruption.
Yet WND ran no original articles on the Cunningham case before he resigned. It's not for ignorance of Cunningham's existence. In five articles starting in November 2004 (here, here, here, here and here) -- with the last article coming just three weeks before his resignation -- WND touted Cunningham's work in getting a large cross on public land declared a national veterans memorial.
The first WND article to address Cunningham's corruption didn't appear until five days after his resignation. The Dec. 2 article noted other members of Congress with ties to the Cunningham scandal, but it failed to disclose WND's business links to two of them, California Rep. Richard Pombo and Florida Rep. Katherine Harris. WND published Harris' (ghostwritten) book, and WND editor Joseph Farah co-wrote a book with Pombo.
WND's original coverage of the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal isn't much better. WND's first mention of Abramoff came pre-scandal in July 2002, when he was noted as an advisory board member of the American Alliance of Jews and Christians, formed by rabbi Daniel Lapin and conservative activist Gary Bauer. Two years later, as the scandal started to percolate, WND ran to the defense of another conservative activist, Ralph Reed; a July 2004 article by Sherrie Gossett gave Reed a forum to deny charges made by the "leftist publication" The Nation that Reed "had been secretly taking funds from one Indian tribe with a casino monopoly as payment to launch a moral crusade against a competitive tribe that wanted to start up its own casino."
WND never bothered to follow up on the charges even as evidence against Reed continued to mount, though Reed's connection to Abramoff was mentioned in two commentaries: an August 2005 attack on Grover Norquist by Frank Gaffney, and an October 2005 column by now-retired teen columnist Kyle Williams. Gossett (who now writes for CNSNews.com), however, wrote on her personal blog in October 2005 that Reed's statements to her for WND were a "$elf-serving and manipulative denial" and that "Reed should've apologized long ago to Jack Newfield of The Nation for slandering him." Never mind that Gossett appeared to be trying to discredit The Nation's allegations because they were made by a "leftist publication."
While Abramoff has been mentioned by several WND columnists, WND has run no original news article, other than Gossett's Reed article, devoted exclusively to Abramoff's misdeeds. A May 2005 article bashing Democratic National Committee chairman Howard Dean for purportedly giving Osama bin Laden a greater presumption of innocence than former House majority leader Tom DeLay, who at that point had "neither been indicted nor convicted." A Jan. 17 article played up Human Events' endorsement of Rep. John Shadegg to replace DeLay, who relinquished his position for good due to his "alleged involvement in the influence-buying scandal on Capitol Hill surrounding lobbyist Jack Abramoff."
In other words, WND, the self-proclaimed "government waste, fraud, corruption and abuse of power," has been essentially AWOL on the two biggest government corruption cases of the past year.
Is WND planning to do anything about it? Maybe. In early January, showed a little initiative by doing a few articles on Republican-linked scandals -- but even those seemed to have an ulterior motive. A Jan. 13 article detailed the "close relationship" between Rep. John Boehner, competing with Shadegg for the House majority leader position, and "banks that benefit from federal student-loan programs something over which the congressman wields considerable influence."
A series of three articles, on Jan. 9, 10, and 11, detailed an alleged "pay to profit" scandal in Ohio allegedly involving Republicans seeking the governorship there. But all three articles have a similar secondary theme: They also make sure to point out that candidate Ken Blackwell is not linked to the scandal. Conservatives love Blackwell; an Jan. 21 WND commentary by Dave Daubenmire notes that "Blackwell has boldly championed true conservative issues in Ohio" and "has publicly supported and in some instances led the battle to reclaim Ohio's Republican Party from the rapidly left-drifting inner circle." (Blogger Richard Bartholomew has detailed Daubenmire's history of wingnuttery.)
So WND's apparent motivation in writing about the Ohio scandal is to boost Blackwell and tarnish the "left-drifting" segment of Republicans. That, coupled with its disinterest in the Cunningham and Abramoff scandals, would seem to blow away any claim that WND has to being a "watchdog on government" or being "credible, fearless, independent."
WND will likely offer in its defense that it supplied outside links to those stories and that it has covered other alleged scandals, but linking to the work or others is not exactly "hard-hitting investigative reporting." Its "Scoops" pages listing the stories it has claimed to break stops at 2002 and are heavy on Clinton-era scandal allegations.
WND could have applied its normal copy-and-paste approach to the Cunningham and Abramoff scandals -- but it didn't. And WND's mission statement says nothing about limiting itself to covering government corruption and fraud that can be blamed on Democrats or non-conservatives.
The "Scoops" page also makes a big deal out of how WND's articles have been "picked up by the rest of the press, sometimes with credit, but more often -- especially when picked up by big media -- without credit." But ConWebWatch has detailed how WND regularly reprints others' work without offering proper credit, or simply plagiarizes it. Meanwhile, Gossett detailed on her blog how a WND article hewed suspiciously close to an article she had written for CNS the previous day, adding that WND did the same thing with another CNS article she had written.
Looks like it's time to the folks at WorldNetDaily make a choice: Live up to their mission statement or write a new one that reflects its highly biased reality.