Stop the Mendacity!
WorldNetDaily doesn't practice what its founder, Joseph Farah, preaches in his hagiographic book. Instead, he hides behind his Christianity as an excuse to practice crappy journalism.
By Terry Krepel
In May 2007, WorldNetDaily's book division published WND founder and editor Joseph Farah's book "Stop the Presses!" described in subtitle as "The Inside Story of the New Media Revolution." It purports to describe, according the the dust jacket copy, "how Farah created one of America's most important news organizations, and provides a first-hand account of his interaction with other key figures, including Rush Limbaugh and Matt Drudge. ... Farah leaves no stone unturned in examining the media revolution and predicting what comes next."
In reality, though, the book is largely a hagiography of Farah's career in journalism, puffing up his importance as a leader of the "new media," downplaying his failures, and repeating numerous misleading or outright false claims along the way. Even more surprisingly, the overall tone of the book is how Farah hides behind his Christian beliefs -- of the reconstructionist/dominionist bent, as ConWebWatch has previously noted -- to justify bad journalism.
Farah's hagiography starts with the very first chapter, in which he recounts his time as editor of the Sacramento Union. He declared:
You want to know what was different about the Sacramento Union than any daily newspaper you've ever read? That was it. It was edited, from the top, by a Christian executive who wasn't ashamed or bashful or timid about using his Christian worldview and his Christian convictions as the guideposts for doing his job as a newspaperman.
Which is a convoluted way of saying that he infused the paper with a heavy conservative bias, even heavier than it was under a previous owner, conservative billionaire Richard Mellon Scaife -- though he's not honest enough to come out and actually say the C-word. As ConWebWatch detailed, a former employee of the Union under Farah told the Columbia Journalism Review: "If I didn't find a story the way (Farah) wanted, I was told he wouldn't give it time or space. He was telling anybody who disagreed with him that they were bad reporters." Another, Kathleen Salamon, said: "I had seen the news tampered with at even the most basic of levels to reflect the owners' and editors' religious and political biases." Salamon continued:
One of the first things Farah did was to issue memos prohibiting reporters from using the words "gay," assault rifles," and "women's health center." These were replaced by "homosexual," semi-automatic rifles," and "abortion clinics." He edited a story by one of the paper's state bureau reporters so that the National Organization for Women was defined as a "radical feminist group" and former Supreme Court Justice William J. Brennan, Jr., was described as having "consistently struck down all legal protections of the unborn."
A May 16, 1991, Los Angeles Times article reported that the editor of the paper's book review section quit after Farah sharply criticized her for running a favorable review of a book about Jane Fonda: "He said Jane Fonda was a traitor to our country and we shouldn't have reviewed the book." Farah responded that he objected to the review because "it was a defense of Jane Fonda and Jane Fonda's politics. It would be suicidal for this newspaper to run exclusively that kind of material over a long period of time. We've got a readership that's totally at odds with that point of view."
What Farah is saying here is that because Farah doesn't agree with Fonda, Fonda's point of view would not appear in his newspaper unless it could be attacked.
Farah also bragged how his approach brought "many thousands of people who wanted to subscribe to this new Sacramento Union," though he added that many of them "lived far out from the city." He wrote that he left the paper in 1992 because he "realized we could not turn the paper around with the resources the owners could provide." Farah conveniently ignores the fact that, as the Los Angeles Times reported in Oct. 17, 1991, brief detailing Farah's departure "effective immediately," Union circulation circulation declined nearly 30 percent during his 15-month tenure as Union editor, from 72,000 to 52,000. It would seem that, rather than allowing a liberal viewpoint into the Union, it was Farah's own practices that were, to use his word, suicidal.
The larger point Farah seems to be making is that slanted reporting and loaded terms are somehow the Christian way of journalism. Indeed, in his response to the CJR article, Farah said that "it is simply untrue ... that our strong point of view has destroyed the standards of balance and fairness in our news columns" and insisted that the "handful of examples of alleged bias ... pale in comparison with the excesses of subjectivity in the pages of our liberal counterparts and competitors."
In his book, though, Farah denies that fairness and balance are important at all. He implores "all of us" to ask such "ultimate questions" as "Do you believe in God," "Is truth knowable" and "Is it possible to know truth without the Bible?" then concludes, "But fundamentally, isn't real journalism about a search for the truth? Isn't that a higher calling than 'fair and balanced'?"
Well, telling the truth is important for journalists, but that is predicated on the idea that a news organization tells its readers the entire story so that the readers has everything he or she needs to make genuinely informed decisions -- and that is where Farah and WND fail miserably.
ConWebWatch has documented numerous examples of how WND has misled its readers by withholding important information:
Is Farah endorsing a brand of journalism in which critical information is withheld and opposing views are expunged -- which is the opposite of good journalism? It appears so.
This arrogance that it's OK to deliberately ignore journalistic precepts such as balance and fairness in the name of advancing a "Christian worldview" would continue into his WorldNetDaily days.
Farah moves on to touting the work of his Western Journalism Center, under the aegis of which Farah created WND. Farah founded the WJC, he writes, "to fill a growing void in my industry's commitment to investigative reporting, especially the kind that holds government accountable to the people and the Constitution," insisting that "[t]he center's mission was not ideological." In fact, the WJC didn't do all that much actual investigating; its main purpose was to attack the Clinton administration, and it went dormant as soon as Clinton left office.
Farah is similarly squeamish about discussing the money behind WND. Though he repeated in the book his 2001 column bashing Salon.com for having "a major Democratic donor" as one of its funders (ConWebWatch cited that as a way to get Farah to talk about where WND's money came from, which he wouldn't really do at the time), but there's no mention of the people who have funded WND, which has almost exclusively consisted of conservative activists (and a guy who's on the lam for tax evasion). Even though Farah refers to "the long and expensive and arduous process of spinning off WND" as a for-profit entity, he doesn't tell his readers where the money came from.
Farah further states that "[w]e made arrangements to lease a 250-acre ranch with cabins we converted into office" in "beautiful southern Oregon" without once mentioning Roy Masters, radio host (and accused cult leader) with whom WND has had a synergistic relationship over the years, as ConWebWatch detailed. Did Farah lease that ranch from Masters -- who, by sheer coincidence, operates a ranch of similar size in the same area? He doesn't say. (One blog commenter claims that "WND used to be headquartered in the house on Roy's Tall Timber Ranch retreat near Grants Pass Oregon.") Nor does he explain why a fledgling news organization needs a 250-acre ranch.
For all of Farah's blather about how WND was founded in 1997 "to fill a growing void in my industry's commitment to investigative reporting," its first and foremost mission, in reality, was to attack the Clinton administration. After all, Farah's very first WND column attacked President Clinton. And when Clinton left office, WND's commitment to "investigative reporting" waned considerably. Today, it's websites like Talking Points Memo -- particularly its Muckraker division -- that have trounced WND in the investigative reporting department. While liberal-leaning, TPM has not ignored Democratic corruption (such as Rep. William Jefferson and the cash in his freezer) the way WND has conservative corruption. One would expect that if a Democrat moves into the White House in 2009, WND will suddenly rediscover the investigative reporting skills that have atrophied for the past seven years. Indeed, WND has repeatedly attacked Democrats Hillary Clinton (through unreliable sources like Kathleen Willey and Peter Paul) and Barack Obama (through guilt-by-association attacks) -- a tone it has not applied to Republican John McCain.
(On a related subject: Farah devotes an entire chapter to WND's battle to obtain a permanent Senate press pass, but he fails to mention that WND hasn't had a Washington-based reporter for years, since Paul Sperry left in 2004. (ConWebWatch has previously detailed WND's behavior during that fight.) WND has piggybacked onto Les Kinsolving, a Baltimore radio host who has been hanging out in the White House briefing room long before WND was a glimmer in Farah's eye, so it's a safe bet he's not making use of that press pass.)
Farah goes on to devote another entire chapter to "How WND Defeated Gore in 2000" -- that is, in Farah's words, "an exhaustive, eighteen-part series of investigative reports detailing [Al] Gore's involvement in and interference with criminal investigations liked to his uncle .... and top campaign officials like Clark Jones of Savannah, Tennessee." This leads to the $165 million lawsuit Jones filed against WND and others. This then leads to Farah's usual ranting about it -- "This is not a case about the reputation of one man. It's clearly about revenge for Al Gore losing the presidency" -- and the purported "disgraceful attack on the First Amendment" that it represents. Farah claimed that when Jones first demanded a retraction of claims regarding him, "we address them seriously and forthrightly as we are trained to do in the news business." He offers no evidence of him having done so, however. But as ConWebWatch detailed, WND has never reported to its readers the parts of Clark's lawsuit that make WND look bad, such as Clark's expert witnesses who document the bias and questionable reporting contained in the series. Nor has WND mentioned that it didn't do any of the actual reporting on it all; the authors of the series wrote it under the auspices of the Center for Public Integrity, and WND purchased the rights to print it when CPI dropped out of the project.
And, of course, all of this leads to an extended attack on Gore -- page after page of Gore-bashing. Remember, in its response to Jones' lawsuit, WND (misleadingly) claimed that it "expressed no corporate editorial opinion with respect to whether Albert Gore, Jr. or George W. Bush was the more suitable candidate to hold the office of President." But Farah did have opinions about Gore then -- "truly evil" being one choice epithet -- and he has them now, among them "a traitor to his country," "an enemy of the American people," and "one coconut short of a piña colada."
That entire Gore-bashing chapter has since been demonstrated to be a fraud; in February, WND settled the lawsuit with Jones by admitting that not only has "no witness verifie[d] the truth of what the witnesses are reported by authors to have stated," but that "the sources named in the publications have stated under oath that statements attributed to them in the articles were either not made by them, were misquoted by the authors, were misconstrued, or the statements were taken out of context."
Farah has not spoken publicly about the lawsuit since the settlement, though a reasonable observer would think it to be necessary step to restore WND's reputation after having just admitted fault (and, presumably, paying a not-insignificant amount of money to Jones; part of the settlement was that the details remain secret) in a libel lawsuit. Will WND fact-check the rest of its Gore-bashing series to avoid future lawsuits? Farah won't say, though it would certainly be a prudent thing to do.
At one point, Farah asserts: "Have you ever known WorldNetDaily to disseminate Internet gossip? ... For the record, WorldNetDaily is not, never has been, and never will be in the Internet gossip business." In fact, WND has been very much in the Internet gossip business, from running anonymous attacks on the Clintons to pulling items from the National Enquirer to falsely claiming that Terri Schiavo's husband sold the rights to his story for a TV movie, a claim it co-opted from an April fool's post on a gossip blog (and subsequently had to retract).
If WND wasn't in the Internet gossip business, why does it run gossip about Democratic (and only Democratic) presidential candidates? why did it run numerous articles in 2004 on never-proven allegations that John Kerry had an affair? Why did it run never-proven sex-and-drug claims about Barack Obama (backing off of them only after the accuser failed a lie-detetctor test)?
A refusal to verify claims before publishing them is one sure sign that a website is in "the Internet gossip business."
Farah addresses other subjects:
Did Farah's Christian faith teach him to deceive and lie to his readers like this? Does he really believe that it's somehow OK to be biased and misleading -- that is, to break the established precepts of journalism -- if God, or at least Farah's version of it, is his guiding light?
That might make one a good Christian, but it certainly doesn't make one a good journalist. And if Farah keeps abusing his faith like this, he won't be considered a good Christian, either.