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NewsBusted: The Sheppard File

NewsBusters blogger Noel Sheppard has a history of double standards, incomplete reporting, misleading claims and nasty attacks.

By Terry Krepel
Posted 6/21/2007

One of NewsBusters' most prolific bloggers -- and most prolific purveyors of bias and misinformation -- is Noel Sheppard.

ConWebWatch has documented his hand in promulgating or botching various issues, from promoting dubious claims about Iran then refusing to retract them when they proved to be false, to attacking critics for pointing out the flaws of the TV movie "The Path to 9/11," to telling a biased account of the controversy between conservative radio host Melanie Morgan, along with her fellow hosts on San Francisco station KSFO, and a blogger named Spocko.

In addition to his MRC writings at NewsBusters and the Business and Media Institute, Sheppard calls himself "an economist, business owner, and a featured writer at the prestigious American Thinker." But his NewsBusters writings tend to be so flawed that they don't reflect well on his other work.

While Sheppard has done the occasional good thing -- in late January, he engaged in an unprecedented (for NewsBusters, at least) dialogue with liberal activist Mike Stark over the Spocko/KSFO story -- the bad has outweighed the good. We'll break it down into a few major categories. (Sheppard's misinformation on global warming can be found here.)

Incomplete reporting

A May 8 NewsBusters post by Sheppard began this way: "If Democrats had accused former House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Illinois) last year of earmarking funds that could help real estate investments owned by his wife, would the media have reported it?" He continued: "Well, the Associated Press published a story Monday about current House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-California) possibly earmarking funds that would benefit her husband's investments around the San Francisco Bay."

Note the weasel words above -- which we've italicized -- showing that Sheppard has no actual evidence that the earmarked money actually does benefit Pelosi's husband's investments. And in a fit of censorship, Sheppard reprinted a news article on the subject but chopped out comments from Pelosi's office that put the situation in context, quoting aides to Pelosi "noting that the waterfront improvements were requested by the Port of San Francisco and the four rental properties in question are at least a mile away." Indeed, given that a mile typically comprises 12 to 16 city blocks, that's a long walk from Pelosi's investments to the port, making it unlikely that Pelosi would benefit.

Sheppard performed more censorship in quoting from a New York Post article about the earmark, repeating Republican congressman Jeb Hensarling's statement, "The appearance is obviously not good, and she needs to be forthcoming about how this impacts her financial interest," but deleting the next paragraph in which the Post writes, "He didn't offer proof that Pelosi would benefit." Sheppard also excised a statement from Pelosi's spokesman, who pointed out that "1.1 miles is a long way in San Francisco. ... This isn't stuff that she pushed, this is what the port came to her with."

Further, Sheppard quoted from a Congressional Quarterly article in which an anonymous "senior Republican aide" says, "If Tiger Woods teed a ball up at Pelosi’s million-dollar rental property, he could easily hit the earmark in two strokes, with a slight draw to avoid the water." That's an absurd claim, which Sheppard should know since he, again, censored the part stating that that the property is more than a mile away. Do any golf courses have a par-2, 1,800-yard green, a feat beyond even Tiger's abilities? Perhaps Sheppard knows of one.

Another example: In a May 22 NewsBusters post on John Edwards receiving a $55,000 fee to give a college commencement speech, Sheppard wrote, "If a Republican presidential candidate like Rudy Giuliani or John McCain charged a $55,000 fee to speak at a major university about poverty, would the media be all over it like white on rice?" In fact, as Media Matters noted, Giuliani received nearly double that to give a commencement speech: He reportedly charged Oklahoma State University $100,000 for a speech he delivered in 2006 and an additional $47,000 for the use of a private Gulfstream jet. The Chicago Tribune added that his visit "essentially wiped out the student speakers annual fund." Additionally, according to the Tribune, Giuliani's speech deal at Oklahoma State "also required a sedan and an SUV, restrictions on news coverage and control over whom Giuliani would meet, how he would be photographed and what questions he might be asked." The Tribune added:
Like other high-priced speakers in the private sector, Giuliani routinely travels in style. Besides the Gulfstream, which is a standard perk on the big-time speakers circuit, his contract calls for up to five hotel rooms for his entourage, including his own two-bedroom suite with a preferred balcony view and king-size bed, in the event of an overnight stay.

In a Sept. 25, 2006, NewsBusters post, Sheppard wrote that when Bill Clinton launched an attack on Sudan in 1998 at the height of the Monica Lewinsky scandal, "the press was abuzz with the possibility that Clinton had performed these attacks to distract the American people from his extracurricular activities much as in the movie Wag the Dog." Sheppard was quick to do some quote-mining to dismiss the claim: "Were there high-ranking Republicans that piled on this assertion? Hardly."

A check of the MRC archives, though, would haver revealed that Sheppard's employer piled on the "Wag the Dog" assertion by criticizing media outlets who dismissed it:

  • In an Aug. 21, 1998, CyberAlert, Brent Baker noted that "every network did raise the 'Wag the Dog' scenario" in their coverage of the Sudan bombing strike. But Baker seemed unhappy that "CBS questioned the lack of 'bipartisan patriotism.' "
  • A Sept. 7, 1998, MRC MediaWatch headlined "Reporters Recoil at Thought of Missiles as Scandal Scuttlers" began: "Three days after admitting a sexual affair with Monica Lewinsky, Bill Clinton authorized cruise-missile attacks on suspected terrorist sites in Afghanistan and Sudan. Was this attack intended to divert attention from Monicagate?" The MRC seemed to concur: "If the timing had been a cynical damage control strategy, it surely worked in the short run: From Thursday to Sunday, the evening shows on ABC, CBS, NBC, and CNN carried 78 stories on the attack to just six Lewinsky pieces."
  • In an Aug. 10, 1999, MagazineWatch item, Tim Graham beat up on a U.S. News & World Report writer who claimed that a "reporter who demanded to know if Defense Secretary William Cohen had seen the movie Wag the Dog" was a sign of "the reliable inanity of the Washington press corps." Graham responded by suggesting that dismissing the "Wag the Dog" claim meant dismissing any questions about the Sudan strike: "Reporters who lapped up Peter Arnett's tales of bombing Iraqi baby-milk factories found it somehow suddenly unpatriotic to follow up on this still largely unknown story."
Misleading about polls

In an Oct. 10, 2006, NewsBusters post, Sheppard was apoplectic that in a Washington Post/ABC News poll, in his words, "41 percent more Democrats were questioned for this survey than Republicans," claiming that it is "absolutely shameful that any polling organization would do such a poor job of evenly distributing respondents by political affiliation." Nine days later, Sheppard attacked another poll for the sin of having a similar political breakdown of respondents. Sheppard wrote the following about it:

For example, as is typical these days, news organizations don’t like to share the political affiliations of those questioned. Certainly, you can’t blame them, for this might give the public some pause to trust the veracity of the data. This instance was no exception, for those that were either “strong Democrat,” “Not very strong Democrat,” or “Independent/lean Democrat” totaled 43 percent of the respondents. The tally for “Strong Republican,” “Not very strong Republican,” and “Independent/lean Republican” was only 37 percent. As such, 16 percent more Democrats or those who leaned Democrat were polled versus Republicans and those who leaned Republican. Color me not surprised.

In fact, poll samples that include more Democrats than Republicans accurately reflects reality. Even Republican strategist (and, not insignificantly, columnist for the MRC's Rich Galen admits that "[i]n the general population, those who claim to be Democrats outweigh those who claim to be Republicans by 7 to 9 percentage points." It skews the poll to have an even number of Democrats and Republicans, as Sheppard demands. While having an equal number of Democrats and Republicans in a poll sample would reflect registered voters, it does not reflect the public at large, from which most polls draw.

(This misleading line of reasoning may be an MRC thing; a March 2, 2006, "Media Reality Check" by Tim Graham made a similar claim about "weighted" polls.)

Double standards

An April 15 NewsBusters post complained that "when the New Black Panther Party leader Malik Shabazz called Fox News contributor Michelle Malkin a 'political prostitute' on Thursday's 'O'Reilly Factor,' the media largely ignored the event." Sheppard made no mention of the lack of coverage given when Glenn Beck called Cindy Sheehan "a pretty big prostitute." Or when Michael Savage called Barbara Walters a "double-talking slut." Or when Savage called Diane Sawyer a "lying whore." In fact, Sheppard himself didn't criticize those remarks either.

In an April 6 NewsBusters post suggesting that Nancy Pelosi's visit to Syria violated federal law, Sheppard asked: "Do you think the media would have been as forgiving of Speaker Gingrich if he had so behaved when Clinton was president?" In fact, In March 1997, then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich went to China without the authorization of the Clinton administration, where he warned China's top leaders that the United States would intervene militarily if Taiwan was attacked -- a position presumably not authorized by Clinton. As blogger Glenn Greenwald noted, the media didn't get particularly worked up about that. Further, as Greg Sargent added, conservatives such as Pat Buchanan and John Boehner who criticized Pelosi's visit endorsed Gingrich's trip to China.

In a Jan. 27 NewsBusters post, Sheppard took up the cause of Peter Paul, the corrupt businessman who's suing Hillary Clinton over alleged "campaign finance fraud." But Sheppard made no mention of the fact that Paul is a convicted felon awaiting sentencing for stock fraud. Perhaps that's because Sheppard used WorldNetDaily as a source for his post; WND has repeatedly whitewashed Paul's long criminal record.

In a Jan. 24 NewsBusters post, Sheppard wrote, "Here’s something you don’t see every day: a columnist at a liberal newspaper saying bad things about Democrats." But the columnist in question, the Boston Globe's Jeff Jacoby, is a conservative and has been for years. Nevertheless, Sheppard continued: "No, folks. This isn’t from the National Review, the Weekly Standard, or the Washington Times. This really is an article by Jeff Jacoby, who writes for a paper owned by The New York Times Company." In fact, Jacoby has written for the Globe since 1994. It would be more shocking to see a weekly liberal columnist at NewsBusters' MRC sister site,

In a Jan. 21 NewsBusters post, Noel Sheppard claimed it was "shocking" that Chris Matthews referred to Hillary Clinton as "Dukakis in a dress" -- thus calling her "a female incarnation of one of the biggest left-wing failures in decades" -- despite the fact that Matthews had called Clinton that at least four times previously. 

In a Nov. 7, 2006, NewsBusters post, Sheppard claimed that "the media have been wrongly depicting" the use of "robo-calls" by political candidates "as exclusively being a Republican strategy, while ignoring the Democrat campaigns that are doing exactly the same thing." But Sheppard conflated the general use of robo-calls -- a strategy both parties use -- with the debate is over certain tactics used in them. The only relevant counter-example Sheppard cites in response to a CNN report claiming that the National Republican Congressional Committee was making robo-calls in which the message didn't identify the caller at the top of the call and include a phone number -- both required by the FCC -- is a robo-call against Montana Sen. Conrad Burns made by "the international firefighters union’s political action committee." But an independent PAC is not the same thing as a direct party operation, which the NRCC is. Further, the CNN report Sheppard cited also noted the deceptive tactic of making the listener think at the start of the call that it's from one candidate when in fact it's from the other, and of making multiple calls to residences. Sheppard offered no examples of Democrats being accused of those tactics.

A Nov. 1, 2006, NewsBusters post by Sheppard purported to complain about "the media’s double-standard" regarding coverage of John Kerry's remark that those unable to navigate the country's education system "get stuck in Iraq" compared with Trent Lott's 2002 comment that if the country had voted for segregationist Strom Thurmond in 1948, "we wouldn't have had all these problems over all these years." But Sheppard had his own double standard. While he claimed both remarks were "botched jokes," that's not how he depicted them; he called Kerry's comments "insensitive remarks," while Lott is described as making an "innocent comment."

A July 28, 2006, post complained that in a outdoor segment of "Hardball" during which Ann Coulter made an appearance, MSNBC "decided to film the segment with an audience conveniently stocked with Ann Coulter haters," purportedly believing that "the challenger in the left corner, host Chris Matthews, was going to be outmatched by the challenger in the right corner." Sheppard offered no evidence to support his claims, nor for his later claim that the "people standing behind Coulter [were] strategically placed to always be shaking their heads in disgust on virtually every one of her words." Escaping Sheppard's notice, meanwhile, were that during this appearance, Coulter called Al Gore a "total fag" and got her facts wrong on a South Dakota abortion ban.


In a Jan. 12 post, Sheppard called Keith Olbermann "a disgrace, and the idea that any major media outlet would give him a daily platform to spew his vitriol from is similarly so." A Jan. 24 post declared Olbermann to be "irrelevant" and a "gross caricature of a newsman," and expressed glee that a Fox News spokesman "deliciously disparaged" CNN's Anderson Cooper as "the Paris Hilton of television news."

Sheppard's Feb. 5 NewsBusters post approvingly linked to a lengthy screed by New York radio host Mark Levin against Olbermann, claiming that "Levin went after Olbermann with guns blazing." We learn who Sheppard was apparently taking his Olbermann-bashing from: Levin called Olbermann "Keith Overbite," "a mental case and a pervert" a "mental patient pervert type," a "jerk," "fruitcake," "nitwit," "moron," "dummy," a "sick bastard," "hung like a thumbtack," he most impotent person in the world, or maybe the biggest pervert in the world," and "a punk, a predator and a pervert. No wonder he loves Bill Clinton."

A Jan. 18 post took Olbermann to task for his criticism of "24" and specifically for the show starting off the latest season by having terrorists level Los Angeles with a nuclear bomb, asserting that Olbermann is suffering from "obvious paranoia" and suggesting that he is "formulating these opinions without all of the pertinent information available." But when Sheppard went on to cite a "conservative writer" who "wonder[ed] how many people in the media understand how possible what was depicted [in Tuesday’s ‘24' episode] is," he left out some pertinent information of his own: the "conservative writer" he was citing was Sheppard himself.

(Indeed, Sheppard spent that post rhapsodizing about the show; four hours later, he criticized Time magazine for raising the question of whether "24" is "a conservative show.")

In a Feb. 22 NewsBusters post, Noel Sheppard declared it "completely disgusting," "disgraceful," "despicabl[e]," "tripe," "nonsense," and "unmitigated audacity" that a GQ article would call for the impeachment of Vice President Dick Cheney. Nowhere did Sheppard address any of the claims the article made in support of its assertion.

A Feb. 18 post by Noel Sheppard called Rep. John Murtha a "despicable caricature of a grossly-corrupt and has-been legislator" and cheered on Brit Hume's similar insult of Murtha. (Ironically, a day earlier, Sheppard was lambasting actor Tim Robbins for hurling "childish epithets" at President Bush.)

In a Jan. 25 post, Sheppard bizarrely suggested that stating certain facts in a CNN report "appeared to be rather anti-Semitic potentially in an attempt to deflect criticism" from former President Jimmy Carter for allegedly "expressing anti-Semitic views" in his controversial book "Palestine Peace Not Apartheid." Sheppard's evidence: the CNN report called Brandeis University, where Carter spoke to defend his book, "historically Jewish," which Sheppard called "not completely accurate" (because "only 50 percent of Brandeis students are Jewish") adding that "some might say" that description of Brandeis is "anti-Semitic." But Brandeis describes itself as "under the sponsorship of the American Jewish community"; further, few would argue that, say, Baylor University is not a "historically Baptist" university because less than half of its student body is currently Baptist.

In a Sept. 27, 2006, post, Sheppard called Bill Clinton "Billary" throughout and called the Clintons "a couple that has done a better job of conning Americans than any other since Bonnie and Clyde."

An Aug. 4, 2006, post played the Godwin's Law card, accusing the media of following "a number of Goebbels' principles" in reporting "highly classified espionage strategies" and "the existence of secret terrorist detention centers."

In a Sept. 30, 2006, post, Sheppard claimed that a dustup between conservative William Kristol and Fox News host Shepard Smith "perfectly demonstrated just how wrong folks like Paul Begala and James Carville are when they suggest that Fox News is just a propaganda arm of the Republican Party." Similarly, an Oct. 2, 2006, post complained that a New York Times "consistently suggested that FNC was a biased, propaganda arm of the Republican Party without recognizing that the overwhelming majority of Americans see the Times as a biased, propaganda arm of the Democrat [sic] Party"; in a Nov. 19, 2006, post, Sheppard called it a "slur" that Dan Rather claimed that Fox News gets talking points from the White House. In fact, there's plenty of evidence to support that claim of Fox News' reliance on Republican talking points.

When MSNBC's Keith Olbermann put on his nightly "Worst Person in the World" list Michael Savage -- who claimed that "the American left" are "the Nazis of our time" and are "cheer[ing] that Jews are dying" -- and Ann Coulter -- who responded to the news that someone mailed an envelope of suspicious powder to the New York Times by saying, "So glad to hear that the New York Times got my letter" -- Sheppard declared in a July 19, 2006, post that "Olbermann chose to virulently attack two of America’s most prominent conservatives in his Worst Person in the World segment: radio host Michael Savage, and author Ann Coulter." Why were Olbermann's remarks a "virulent attack" and Coulter's and Savage's weren't? Sheppard didn't say.

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