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NewsBusted: The Huston File

NewsBusters' Warner Todd Huston goes above and beyond to peddle misinformation and shill for Fred Thompson.

By Terry Krepel
Posted 12/7/2007

NewsBusters has its fair share, if not more, of misleading writers, such as Noel Sheppard and Mark Finkelstein. But it also has its resident purveyor of whacked-out rants as well.

Ladies and gentlemen, meet Warner Todd Huston.

It's not clear from his NewsBusters bio exactly what, if anything, he does for a living; he's a contributing writer for NewsBusters, and the bio lists only other places -- mostly right-wing websites -- that have published his work, which can't be very lucrative. He's also described as "the owner and operator of," which also does not scream "filthy lucre."

What we do know is that he writes a lot, and NewsBusters thinks enough of him to run his stuff -- which is riddled with misleading claims, sycohantic defenses, mean-spirited invective, and the aforementioned whacked-out-ness.

Thompson sycophancy

Huston has been NewsBusters' leading advocate for Republican presidential candidate for Fred Thompson, with an enthusiasm for defense that approaches -- and then surpasses -- the sycophantic.

When speculation about Thompson's campaign first surfaced, Huston was quick to accuse the "MSM" of attacking Thompson while ignoring the that that Thompson's fellow conservatives were, in fact, the first to do so. A June 4 post by Warner Todd Huston speculated how "the MSM" will attack Fred Thompson's presidential campaign, noting that "Newsweek has come out full bore on Thompson's supposed 'laziness'." But the June 2 Newsweek article Huston cited -- which quoted David Keene of the American Conservative Union saying, "The book on him is he's lazy" -- appeared four days after a May 30 NewsMax article by Ronald Kessler in which he repeated several claims regarding Thompson's laziness. Huston followed with a June 7 post declaring, "Well, it didn't take long for the MSM to start their attacks on Fred Thompson now that he is in the race" -- again failing to note that it was conservatives who first attacked Thompson.

A July 7 post called a claim that Thompson worked as a lobbyist for a family-planning group in the early 1990s "hearsay" and "an unproven (and maybe unprovable) claim." Huston further asserted that there's "no real proof by anyone here. A casual reading easily makes the "evidence" against Thompson seem stronger than that in his favor... even though both are just a she-said/he-said claim." In fact, the Los Angeles Times article that reported the claim cited "the minutes of a 1991 board meeting of the National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Assn." as evidence and names five people as corroborating the claim. When The New York Times provided further evidence that billing records support the claim that Thompson did some lobbying work for an abortion-rights group, Huston made no effort to correct the record or apologize.

In a July 29 post, Huston played interference for Thompson's campaign over its hiring of former congressman Spencer Abraham, who had been accused of being "anti-Israel," an unpopular Republican stance. Described in some news reports as a "campaign manager," Huston declares that "Spence" (as Huston affectionately calls him -- interesting that he feels close enough to Abraham to call him that) "will be a mere campaign advisor and 'ambassador' to Washington, NOT the campaign manager," adding "Abraham is not in the decision making position that other news media is assuming he is going to be." While Huston acknowledged the issue, he took pains to avoid hanging Abraham's views around Thompson's neck -- in stark contrast to the treatment by his fellow MRC writers of two bloggers for John Edwards' campaign, whose views critical of religion the MRC was more than eager to depict as representative of Edwards' own views.

A Sept. 10 post served up another double standard: In it, Huston bashed the media's coverage of Thompson's reference to an "al Qaeda enforced smoking ban in Iraq" without investigating "what Thompson meant, or could have meant." Huston insisted that it was "just another attempt to destroy Thompson. ... Even Ron Paul is treated with more respect by the media." Of course, Huston offered no such deference to John Kerry when he similarly mangled a statement; after Kerry said in October 2006 that if you don't successfully navigate the educational system, "you get stuck in Iraq" -- meant as criticism of President Bush that he later described as a "botched joke" -- Huston immediately declared: "Obviously, Kerry feels that all our soldiers are uneducated louts with no other opportunities." Huston made no apparent effort to figure out "what he meant, or could have meant."

The height of Huston's Thompson sycophancy, though, was an Oct. 8 post in which he was offended that Thompson's supporters in the "spin room" following a Republican debate were being described as, uh, spinning:

MSNBC's Chuck Todd posted a blog post today on his First Read blog titled "George Allen, Liz Cheney to Spin for Thompson." So, any takers to wonder if Chuck Todd would have posted a blog post titled "Sandy Berger to Spin for Clinton," or "Oprah to Spin for Obama"? Does anyone think that Chuck Todd would have used such a negative word as "spin" to describe the assistance a high profile supporter would give a Democrat candidate?


So no candidate's supporter could ever come on to offer post debate commentary without it being "spin"? No one could possibly be honestly supporting their candidate? Is that how Chuck Todd sees the situation? 

Now, politics fanatics would know that the post debate media pit is called the "spin room." But the headline doesn't explain that at all and certainly leaves the feel that Chuck Todd is saying "George Allen, Liz Cheney to Lie for Thompson." Leaving off the "room" to spin room materially changes the feel of the headline for most people who are not as plugged into the media and politics.

There's little doubt this could have been an accident.

No wonder the MSM can't report anything right! After all, they think everyone around them are liars, so they must imagine that they can put their "spin" on the news. After all, everyone else is doing it and all that.

Is Huston really saying that Thompson's supporters are so above politics and so sincere in their support that it's inaccurate to describe them as "spinning" for their candidate? It appears so.

Huston has also sent misleading defenses President Bush's way. In a July 25 post attacking a newspaper article that "[f]ollow[ed] the left's playbook of claiming Bush has illicitly linked Saddam's Iraq to 9/11," Huston asserted that "there is no speech in which Bush claimed that Saddam was responsible for 9/11 ... This is a lie that the left has promulgated since Bush announced we were going into Iraq," but he failed to note that other Bush administration officials and supporters have, in fact, made that claim. Huston then writes: "What Bush really did was link al Qaeda, the al Qaeda that is in Iraq today, to the same network controlled by Osamma bin Ladden [sic], the very same bin Ladden that did take credit for perpetrating 9/11," adding, "What he did was say that the al Qaeda that planned 9/11 has a branch in Iraq and always has had one in Iraq." Nowhere does Huston note that the claim that al-Qaeda in Iraq is the same thing as, or is controlled by, Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda is highly disputed by Bush's own officials.

Judge of conservatism

Huston has put himself in the weird position of bashing conservative newspapers for not being conservative enough:

A Nov. 1 post by Huston attacked the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, owned by conservative billionaire (and donor of nearly $2 million in the past decade to NewsBusters' parent, the Media Research Center) Richard Mellon Scaife, for "sympathetically portray[ing] Hugo Chavez, the America hating dictator of Venezuela, as a victim attacked by mean American boycotters," in an article about local effects of a conservative boycott of the Venezuelan-owned oil company Citgo. Asserting that "the Trib-Review wants to help Chavez advertise his propaganda program of selling cheap heating oil to American citizens," Huston goes on to berate a local Citgo dealer who reminded customers that "they're dealing with local people": "Sorry Mikey, but a real American would hope you lose every penny and have to close your business down...unless you want to buy your oil from a company that is not one of our biggest enemies, of course. It's called patriotism, Mikey. But apparently that is a word that you don't know the meaning of." Huston was too busy hurling insults to get the guy's name right -- it's Mark.

A March 8 post criticized "the MSM's attack dogs" for going after Rudy Giuliani. This time the target was the Boston Herald, which Huston asserted was "going after [Giuliani's] bigoted and obviously stupid potential Conservative voters -- stupid at least as far as the Herald is concerned." Huston failed to mention that the Boston Herald is a conservative paper, and the author of the article Huston criticizes, Jay Ambrose, is a conservative syndicated columnist.

In an Aug. 27 post, Huston lambasted UPI for "shilling for their favored candidate; Hillary Clinton" by writing about "Hillary haters." Given that UPI is owned by the Moonies, it's highly unlikely that a Democrat is any UPI employee's "favored candidate." He then asserted that "you will not find cursing, foul language, or wishes for Hillary to die in baneful language like you do for conservatives and other GOP candidates on those other sites." But a quick visit to Free Republic will, for instance, uncover numerous instances of Hillary Clinton being called "Hitlery." Apparently Huston doesn't consider that offensive.

Misguided claims

A Nov. 16, 2006, post repeatedly insisted that Rep. John Murtha is "extremist," but Huston never said exactly what made Murtha one, beyond his urging of a withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq -- hardly an "extreme" position. Huston complains that the media, unlike himself, aren't calling Murtha "extremist" (despite his own lack of support for the term), at one point comparing Murtha to Sen. Trent Lott by attacking a newspaper for "resurrecting Trent Lott's troubles from 2002." But Huston declined to elaborate on what exactly Lott's "troubles from 2002" were. That, of course, would be Lott's praise of Strom Thurmond's 1948 segregationist Dixiecrat presidential run -- a much more "extreme" position to take than withdrawal of troops from Iraq.

A Jan. 1 post touted a New York Post article claiming that Iraq was "fast becoming one of the most desirable places to do so with the stability and friendliness to business the US has offered potential investors." Huston concluded: "At least, once in a great while, we do get a story here and there that tells us some truth. Good going New York Post." But this wasn't a news article by the Post; it was a Dec. 26, 2006, column by Amir Taheri. As ConWebWatch detailed, Taheri was the source for a claim reported by Canada's National Post that the Iranian parliament passed a law that would require the country's Jews and Christians to wear colored badges to identify them and other religious minorities as non-Muslims." But that claim could not be substantiated, and the National Post was forced to retract the article. NewsBusters had promoted Taheri's claim, then buried the retraction where nobody would see it.

A Nov. 24 post tries to downplay the humanity of immigrants by bashing a California sheriff who had praised an illegal immigrant who had stayed with a pair of accident victims until help arrived. "[T]hat this one illegal did something morally right even while he was breaking our laws, does not erase all the illegalities and law breaking that every other illegal immigrant has done over the last 30 years," Huston snarled. "Nor does it erase the fact that this particular illegal was breaking the law even as he was nice enough to help the little boy and his mother." He tried to temper his hate a bit, agreeing with the idea that "illegals are sometimes overly 'demonized,'" then added: "But, like I said, even if they are basically good people, that inherent goodness does not absolve them of their lawbreaking."

In a Nov. 10 post, Huston selectively quoted from a New York Times article about Keith Olbermann's ratings relative to those of Bill O'Reilly to paint the article as false when it wasn't. Huston pulled a quote from the article that "Mr. Olbermann has even come tantalizingly close to surpassing the ratings of the host he describes as his nemesis, Bill O’Reilly on Fox News... " but lopped off the rest of that sentence: " least among viewers ages 25 to 54, which is the demographic cable news advertisers prefer." Huston does go on to admit that the Times article states that "O'Reilly beats Olbie by '1.5 million viewers over all,'" but he then adds, "and what other REAL measurement is there?" Well, as the article states, if you're buying ads and are not interested in reaching the geratric-leaning audience that O'Reilly draws, the 25-54 demographic is a very real measurement.

A Sept. 5 post rehashed unsubstantiated accusations by screenwriter Cyrus Nowrasteh that ABC is blocking the DVD release of his ABC miniseries, "The Path to 9/11," because of purported pressure by Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign. Huston happily played along: "It sure seems like just another Clinton dirty trick to which a compliant media is happy to lend an assist," adding, "It looks like a certain political candidate's future is more important than either the truth or artistic integrity to the execs at ABC." Actually, "the truth" is not an issue because Nowrasteh's miniseries didn't tell it. As ConWebWatch has detailed (and as Media Matters has also noted), Nowrasteh used "The Path to 9/11" to portray the Clinton administration's reaction to terrorism much more negatively than actual events, and the Bush administration's reaction much more positively than actual events.

A May 14 post asserted that a Washington Times op-ed column was "filled with lies because it "ignored all the evidence that says more armed people in a given area actually lowers gun violence." In support of his claim, Huston linked to an interview with researcher John R. Lott Jr., who wrote the book "More Guns, Less Crime." But Lott's thesis has been criticized for alleged flaws in his methodology and unsubstantiated claims, which Huston fails to note. (And that's not addressing the whole Mary Rosh thing.) Huston also attacked the writer for "get[ting] in such high dudgeon over 15,000 some murders a year, but they don't bother their self-righteous selves about the 39,189 auto deaths in the US. ... How are guns more dangerous than autos at this rate?" Has Huston never heard of safety improvements in autos or anti-drunk driving campaigns, signs that people have in fact been in "high dudgeon" over vehicle fatalities? Indeed, the auto accident statistics to which Huston links shows definite improvement over the years; while the number of fatalities have increased, the rate of deaths per capita and per miles traveled has decreased.

Rants galore

No accounting of Huston's work would be complete without noting his history of unhinged rants and out-there claims.

A Jan. 22 post unloaded on Keith Olbermann, calling him an"unhinged sports guy" and "one of the most shrill purveyors of mean in the media today," concluding:

Olbermann is proof that one need not be worthy of what we term "fame" today. In days gone by he would have been scorned as "infamous" and would not be celebrated as a celebrity or be awarded any measure of "fame." No one would want to be like him and no one would admit to watching him, either.

A Nov. 7 post appears to have something do with insisting that any declared Republican who supports Barack Obama was never a real Republican in the first place. His evidence? The two supporters in question had apparently not donated money to any Republican, and one looked a little too young: "At his age how much time could he really have vested in that 'lifelong' Republican claim, anyway? The average person rarely pays much attention to politics before their thirties, for instance."

An Aug. 28 post attacked an news article featuring "partisan, hack 'historians'" (who are "part of the far left University system we are saddled with") who ranked President Bush among the worst presidents. By contrast, a historian quoted in the article who said that history has yet to judge Bush is praised by Huston as a "reputable and brilliant historian." An extra added bonus was a rant against Franklin Roosevelt, whom Huston claimed "made the Great Depression last decades longer than it had to," "lied our way into WWII," and left an "unconstitutional social security system" as his legacy.

Huston's rant de resistance, though, was a massive Nov. 5 diatribe against the first new Eagles album in 28 years. It began:

The new album from The Eagles, Long Road Out of Eden, is just one long, sustained attack on the integrity of the United States and is as bad as any loud-mouthed Dixie Chicks diatribe. With songs prosaically about Global Warming and the evil American “empire,” seemingly the only one of the band who just wanted to entertain the fans was Joe Walsh, the others too puffed up with their own sense of superiority to bother. Unfortunately, what we have here just another exclamation from pampered rock stars that they are smarter, more environmentally friendly and more caring than the rest of us... but be sure and buy more albums for gifts folks!

And it pretty much goes from there, at one point complaining of the lyrics:

Not a word about Islamofascists trying to blow us all up, though. Nothing about bin Laddenists cutting off people’s heads, women being stoned, young girls being murdered with “honor killings,” or homosexuals being summarily executed from our pals the Eagles! I guess they have forgotten about 9/11 and our enemies in radical Islam like so many of their ilk.

Time magazine's Ana Marie Cox suggested that Huston's rant was "the product of some kind of meth-and-Doritos rage binge."

Maybe not. But maybe it's because of whacked-out stuff like that NewsBusters keeps Huston around. It certainly isn't is record of fairness and accuracy.

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