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Underreported, Indeed

Why did it take so long for WorldNetDaily to tell the full story of two imprisoned Border Patrol agents? And, now that it has finally told the other side, why is WND trying to bury it?

By Terry Krepel
Posted 1/30/2007
Updated 2/4/2007

One of WorldNetDaily's current causes du jour is seeking its brand of "justice" for two imprisoned Border Patrol agents. But WND has been very unenthusiastic in telling the entire story of these agents to its readers -- when it bothers to tell it at all.

WND's first involvement in the story came in an Aug. 7, 2006, unbylined article about the trial of Ignacio Ramos and Jose Alonso Compean, who faced numerous charges following an incident in which the two fired 15 shots at a fleeing "illegal alien" and "drug smuggler," Osbaldo Aldrete-Davila, on the U.S.-Mexico border. The agents' side of the story is described in detail, portrayed as self-defense against a suspect they believed to be armed. Out of the 29-paragraph article, only six paragraphs were used to sum up the prosecution's side of the case -- that the agents covered up their involvement by picking up their shell casings and failing to file an incident report, that pursuing fleeing suspects violates Border Patrol policy, that the agents violated Aldrete-Davila's Fourth Amendment rights.

And that -- save for an Oct. 20, 2006, article on the sentencing of the agents that copied-and-pasted those same six paragraphs out of the August article -- stood as the most WND told its readers about the case against Ramos and Compean for five months. WND was too busy portraying the case as, in the words of one person it quoted about it, "the greatest miscarriage of justice I have ever seen."

In an Aug. 9 column on the case, WND editor Joseph Farah wrote, "Are you outraged? I am"; he was not referring to his news organization's lack of balance in reporting on the case. Barbara Simpson added in an Oct. 23 column, "In this travesty, the drug-smuggler gets immunity and his bills paid and two of the federal officers involved in an attempt to apprehend the criminal stood trial and face hard time."

An Oct. 24 article detailed White House press secretary Tony Snow's response to Les Kinsolving's question to him asking whether President Bush would pardon the agents: "That's an unanswerable question, Les. The president is the person who is responsible for pardons. You can tell the network, which made you ask that question, that it is nonsensical." Three days later, an article claimed that Snow "apologized for any misunderstanding" for calling Kinsolving's question "nonsensical," though all Snow did was point out that he is "not permitted even to discuss pardons – to comment on them. This is the president's call alone." That same day, Kinsolving followed up again with Snow, who told him, "As you recall the other day when I tried to give you an answer about why we don't answer those questions, it was used provocatively by your editors." Neither Kinsolving's question to Snow nor the these articles based on it mention the prosecution's case at all. Nor did a Dec. 9 article based on another Kinsolving question to Snow regarding the case.

Articles on Oct. 25 and Oct. 27 made no mention of the case against them. A Dec. 20 article by Art Moore included a mere two paragraphs (out of a 25-paragraph article) excerpted a statement from the prosecutor's office, paragraphs copied-and-pasted into articles on Jan. 10 and Jan. 13. A Jan. 17 column by Farah declared that "he fact that the agents retrieved spent shells at the scene" was merely "a violation of procedure in what was perceived as a cover-up of the incident" -- never mind that he would not know that, since his news organization had at that point reported the prosecution's case in the same detail as the defendants'. A Jan. 17 article by Moore repeated those two paragraphs again, adding a comment from Snow referencing how the agents "disposed of" the shell casings.

WND even put the case on its annual "Operation Spike" list of "unreported or underreported news events of the year." Unstated was that by downplaying or ignoring the prosecution's side of the story, WND itself had underreported it as well.

Then Jerome Corsi arrived on the scene. While Corsi has a history of inflammatory rhetoric and slanted writing, as ConWebWatch has detailed, his appearance actually moved WND's reporting on this story much closer to fairness than it had been previously.

For a Jan. 18 article, his first on the story, Corsi did what no previous WND writer reporting on the case did: contact the federal attorney's office that prosecuted the agents for a response. Granted, it doesn't come until the 22nd paragraph of his article and not until the agents are portrayed as "two innocent men doing their job, trying to secure our borders," but it is an improvement over WND's previous coverage.

A Jan. 19 article actually led with a U.S. attorney involved with the case defending his office's prosecution of the agents.

And on Jan. 20, WND did something even more extraordinary: published a lengthy Q&A between Corsi and the U.S. attorney, Johnny Sutton, that is not spun to one side or the other.

This raises the issue: Why didn't WND do that at the beginning? Why it take WND more than five months to tell the full story?

Much of the problem is an institutional issue -- WND frequently refuses to tell both sides of a story when telling it would not suit their biases. The Terri Schiavo case and "war on Christmas" crusade are just two examples.

But now that Corsi had performed his duty by letting Sutton tell the prosecution's side of the story, he proceeded to attack Sutton -- and move away from the fairness he had brought.

Two days after the interview, Corsi wrote a lengthy column in which he claimed that the agents were charged under an inappropriate statute and that Sutton "cleverly reframed the issue to bias the trial in the government's favor," further suggesting that Sutton was not an "unbiased prosecutor." Yet, while Corsi selectively quotes from his interview with Sutton to support his own view, he ignored one statement by Sutton that seems to explain while Sutton went for a criminal charge rather than the administrative route Corsi favors:

Sutton: The behavior is egregious. I think once people find out the facts that you have two agents who shot at an unarmed guy running away who they knew was unarmed, and lied, covered up the evidence, threw away the shell casings, and filed false reports – I think most people will say, "Yeah, that's outrageous. That needs to be prosecuted."

In a Jan. 23 article, Corsi was back to WND's default mode of not telling the full story. He trumpeted how one agent, according to one relative, was "being held in solitary confinement treated as if he were Charles Manson." But nowhere does Corsi note that it is standard procedure for law enforcement agents convicted of crimes to be held separately from other inmates for their own protection. A Fox News article the next day noted that the agent is "isolated from a prison community that likely would do him harm" and quoted another relative as saying, "It's for his own safety from, you know, [from] the general population. Considering they were Border Patrol agents, you never know" what would happen if they were thrown in with other prisoners.

Corsi has also resumed the WND practice of giving short shrift to the prosecution's side of the story. In that Jan. 23 article, Corsi distills it down to a single paragraph, devoting the vast majority of the article's other 14 paragraphs to the misleading description of the agent's "solitary confinement." That same paragraph appears in another Jan. 23 article as well as a Jan. 24 article.

Some Corsi articles don't even bother to make any apparent attempt to tell the other side. A Jan. 25 article featuring a congressman accusing the Department of Homeland Security of "stonewalling" by not handing over to him "promised internal reports purportedly substantiating agency claims" regarding the conviction of the agents showed no apparent effort by Corsi to contact DHS for a response. A Jan. 26 article on the subject similarly failed to note any attempt by Corsi to contact DHS.

A Jan. 28 article featured claims by the chairman of a group called Friends of the Border Patrol that Sutton and his office "are guilty of malicious prosecution" because they purportedly "lied to the jury and he twisted evidence to make it fit his case." The only response permitted to it in this 50-paragraph article was banished to a single short paragraph:

Sutton told WND that as far as he in [sic] concerned, the issue was settled at the trial. Both defendants and their attorneys stipulated the bullet that struck the drug smuggler came from Ramos' gun.

It's not clear from Corsi's writing whether this is a direct response to the claims or if Corsi is recycling an earlier claim.

A Jan. 29 article, by Art Moore, diminished the full story even more, stating only that "U.S. Attorney Johnny Sutton defended his prosecution in an interview with WND" and linking to the previous Sutton interview.

So, we're back to where we started: standard WND operating procedure. If Corsi was going to ignore and attack and smear Sutton anyway, why did he bother doing a lengthy interview with him in the first place? Corsi might as well not have talked to him at all.

(Update: A Jan. 31 article by Corsi recycled previous statements on the case by Sutton but makes no apparent attempt to obtain a response from Sutton or his office to the new allegations in the article. In a Feb. 1 article, Corsi did obtain a response from Sutton's office, but that was restricted to only a single paragraph of the 27-paragraph article. A Feb. 2 article by Corsi further attacking prosecutors noted that "Despite repeated attempts, Sutton's office did not return WND phone calls to comment on this story" -- that appears in the fourth paragraph, perhaps the most prominent placement of such a statement we've seen in a Corsi article on the issue.)

By contrast, a Jan. 29 NewsMax article by Dave Eberhart, while it tilts toward Republican Rep. Duncan Hunter's efforts to seek a pardon for the agents, does include several paragraphs detailing the actions the agents are alleged to have taken that led to their conviction.

And on Jan. 26 featured two articles by Fred Lucas that adequately balance criticism of Sutton with Sutton's explanation of the case. A Jan. 17 article by Randy Hall led with criticism of the prosecution of the agents, but it included Snow's description of the prosecution's side of the case.

If NewsMax and CNS can find room for a comprehensive summary of why Ramos and Compean were prosecuted, why are WND and Corsi content with dismissing any challenge to their activism with a mere token paragraph and a link to the Sutton interview? That's the lazy -- and biased -- writer's way out.

But as we've seen, WND is nothing if not lazy and biased.

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