A Tale of Two Falsehoods
WorldNetDaily's Joseph Farah is quick to demand a retraction and apology for an incorrect claim made about him -- but WND typically takes months or even years to correct the false claims it makes, when it bothers to correct them at all.
By Terry Krepel
Joseph Farah certainly knows how to milk outrage for maximum publicity effect. Why else would he try to turn an incorrect claim made about him into a way to plug WorldNetDaily's newest book?
An April 21 WorldNetDaily article detailed WND Books' upcoming title, "Why We Left Islam," edited by Susan Crimp and Joel Richardson. The article eagerly points out that it's "the first U.S. book ever to feature an image of Muhammad on the cover." WND claims the book "contains brutally honest testimonies from former Muslims who have left the religion despite the threat of death. 'Why We Left Islam' shows the potentially ugly realities of living under the Islamic yoke." The article then goes on to cite some pre-emptive criticism of the book (repeated in an April 22 article):
"This book is put out by WND Publishing (sic), which promotes hate every day on its extremist anti-Muslim hate site," Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, told the New York Daily News. "The editor is a guy who suggested air-dropping pig's blood over Afghanistan. There are 7 million American Muslims and over a billion worldwide who love Islam and practice it peaceably on a daily basis."
But CAIR's claim is not as "totally untrue" as Farah portrays it. While Farah did not personally make the statement Hooper alleged, on Sept. 27, 2001, WND did publish a column by then-WND reporter Paul Sperry offering the following plan on how to defeat the Taliban:
Few in Washington want to admit it, but these Islamic fanatics have baited us into a holy war. And like it or not, we'll have to use their religion against them to win.
For Farah to narrowly defend himself and portray CAIR's claim as completely baseless is disingenuous and a cynical attempt to sell books. Since WND is, for all practical purposes, less a "news" website than a platform to advance the personal views and agenda of its founder and editor -- Farah -- it's a logical assumption that Farah condones, if not approves, such actions, however much he tries to invoke some sort of plausible deniability.
Farah then went on to add: "If Muslims rioted around the world after a Danish newspaper published a political cartoon making fun of Muhammad, what will they do in response to this?"
Of course, the only reason to put Muhammad on the cover of a book is to be provocative -- and, thus, gin up book sales from the controversy. Seeing the Danish controversy with dollar signs in his eyes, Farah obviously wanted to get the same reaction for WND Books' latest title, and what better way to generate some cheap publicity than a little religious blasphemy? (Hey, it worked for Madonna.) It seems that Farah is almost begging for those riots so he can sell more books.
Farah ratcheted things up in an April 24 column, declaring that "I never suggested, stated, hinted or even thought about air-dropping pig's blood over Afghanistan," announced he was "publicly demand[ing] a correction be issued" and asking his readers for advice on whether he should sue CAIR and the New York Daily News for libel -- but never mentioning Sperry's WND column.
He praised right-wing radio host Michael Savage's lawsuit against CAIR and urged readers to "to contribute to his legal defense fund so he can pursue his lawsuit against CAIR for as long as it takes to win." But missing from Farah's column, as well as WND's overall coverage of Savage's lawsuit, is the larger context of Savage trying to silence his critics by suing them.
Farah also complained in his April 24 column to the New York Daily News, which first printed Hooper's statement, that it "permit[s] unfounded, unsupported, defamatory statements ... to go unchallenged":
I always thought the standard practice was to print accurate and truthful statements about known individuals named or not. I always thought the standard operating practice was to allow people attacked verbally like this to respond and correct the record. I always thought that once a story or column was challenged, corrections would be made if they were in order.
But WND regularly prints unfounded, unsupported, defamatory statements that it allows to go unchallenged; indeed, its "standard operating practice" is to tell only one side of the story -- the side that best promotes WND's right-wing, dominionist Christian worldview. For example, a ConWebWatch review of stories by WND news editor Unruh found that more often than not, Unruh told only one side of a story while making no effort whatsoever to even gather the other side.
For Farah to complain to others about what his own website does consistently is disingenuous in the extreme.
And Farah's insistence that "once a story or column was challenged, corrections would be made if they were in order" also deviates from standard WND operating procedure. WND usually has to be dragged screaming and kicking to admit its errors.
It took seven years -- with a libel trial bearing down on it -- to admit that it reported false claims about Clark Jones, a supporter of Al Gore, in a series of articles printed in 2000 that WND admitted it never fact-checked before publishing. It took six months for WND to retract a December 2004 article by Aaron Klein that falsely claimed that the charity organization Islamic Relief was linked to terrorists and fraudulently raised money for nonexistent orphans.
WND has also printed numerous false claims -- from declaring that Teresa Heinz Kerry funded "radical causes" through the Tides Foundation to sex-and-drug allegations against Barack Obama it couldn't be bothered to verify before publication -- that it has never retracted, let alone apologized for. In yet another example, an April 9 article uncritically repeating a claim by a 13-year-old Texas girl that "21 classmates attacked and beat her in response to a sign she made for a history class calling for an end to illegal immigration" was followed later that day by an article stating that the girl fabricated the incident -- yet the original article not only remains on WND's website, it has not been updated to reflect the fact that the incident it describes was a fabrication.
Farah has much to clean up in his own journalistic house before he can criticize other news organizations with any authority 0r credibility.
While Farah was whining about "false and defamatory statement about me," WND was printing its own false statements about the American Civil Liberties Union.
An April 24 article by Alyssa Farah (Joseph Farah's daughter) creatively reinterpreted a debate over Internet content filters on public-access computers in Sacramento, Calif., libraries. How creative? The term "content filter" doesn't appear anywhere in her article.
Instead, it appears that the younger Farah unilaterally decided that the issue is pornography and only pornography. According to her lead paragraph: "Are public library restrictions against pornography access unconstitutional?"
The article quotes only opponents of "pornography in libraries" -- that is, supporters of content filters. The other side of the story is represented by a single sentence fragment: "the American Civil Liberties Union maintained the position that restricting public access to pornography in libraries would be unconstitutional."
But the younger Farah offers no evidence that the ACLU "maintained the position that restricting public access to pornography in libraries would be unconstitutional" in those exact words. That's because it didn't. She is lying to her readers.
In fact, a Feb. 25 letter from the ACLU of Northern California to the Sacramento library contains no such statement or any other explicit endorsement of "pornography in libraries." Rather, the ACLU expressed its opposition to the use of "blocking software" on public Internet computers, pointing out that of the more than 3 million Internet sessions recorded on Sacramento library computers, only 24 complaints were filed regarding Internet content. The ACLU also pointed out that content filters inevitably block legitimate research materials.
None of this information appears in Alyssa Farah's article.
WND has misled about Sacramento library content filters before, as we've noted; a January 2007 article made this unsupported claim: "While pornography itself doesn't 'shoot the bullet' for sex crimes, it does 'cock the trigger,' and Sacramento officials who supervise their public library system have told porn addicts to go ahead and get loaded."
An unbylined April 26 article repeated the false claim that the ACLU "said restricting public access to pornography in libraries would be unconstitutional." Unlike the earlier article, which made no mention of filters, this article did identify filters as the the issue, which is a step toward more factual journalism. It further claimed that the ACLU is seeking to remove any existing porn filters and use taxpayer money to buy expensive porn-viewing computer desks" -- another claim for which it offers no evidence -- but no further effort is made to detail the ACLU's position.
If WND actually engaged in honest journalism, such claims would never have seen the light of day. But it doesn't practice honest journalism.
Remember that WND has a history of ACLU-bashing, which makes the likelihood of any apology even more remote. It devoted an entire issue of its Whistleblower magazine to what it called "America's most dangerous group." Joseph Farah himself has ranted about the ACLU: "It is an anti-American organization. It is a group that seeks to destroy all that makes America a unique experiment in freedom. It is an organization in league with all of America's enemies. It is an organization that hates God, hates what is right, decent and morally upright. It is an organization in league with the Devil, as far as I am concerned. And the ACLU is an organization that needs to be isolated, exposed for what it is, recognized for what it is and destroyed if necessary."
Farah's hypersensitivity to criticism and irrational hatred of the ACLU actually combined in a Dec. 20, 2007, column, in which he bashed a Detroit News op-ed by Kary Moss of the ACLU of Michigan, who wrote that WND "has suggested that the ACLU is actively working to remove 'In God We Trust' from U.S. currency, fire military chaplains and delete all references to God in America's founding documents." Farah roared back:
Here are some facts: WND has never reported any of the things it is alleged to have reported by Kary Moss and her friends at the Detroit News. None. Nada. Zip. Zilch.
Farah then noted that "Where I strongly suspect Kary Moss got the idea for the big lie was in a promotion for our Whistleblower magazine cover story on her organization" -- which does, in fact, suggest all of those things:
The headlines assault us daily: 'Silent Night' can't be sung at school; the Defense Department must stop sponsoring Boy Scout troops; a tiny Christian cross must be removed from the Los Angeles County seal; Nativity scenes on a courthouse lawn are unconstitutional. Americans' heads are spinning, as they wonder what the next judicial outrage will be: Removing 'In God We Trust' from U.S. currency? Firing all military chaplains? Expunging all references to God in America's founding documents?
If that's not a suggestion that the ACLU is involved in such behavior, then what is it? Why write that at all other than to implicitly link those acts to the ACLU? Farah never explains.
Even after disproving himself, Farah goes on to smugly assert: "And that's as close as anyone at WND staff reporter, freelancer or independent commentator has come to making the statements ACLU official and Detroit News contributor Kary Moss scurrilously charges WND made," claiming once again that Moss was "lying" and acted "without the least concern for truth, accuracy and the facts."
That's the kind of journalistic arrogance -- in Farah's mind, it seems, his enemies are wrong even after he has proven them right -- that will keep Farah and WND from apologizing to the ACLU for the lie his daughter told. Publishing "without the least concern for truth, accuracy and the facts" is WND's way, not the ACLU's.
Yet Joseph Farah is so unashamed by his own behavior that he loudly complains about any unfairness hurled in his direction. Has Farah ever considered the idea that what goes around comes around? If he won't treat those WND covers with due respect and won't retract a false claim unless there is a metaphorical knife at his throat, what right does he have to demand respect?
Farah demonstrated this delay in admitting pertinent facts in the CAIR issue. It wasn't until an April 26 column that Farah finally got around to mentioning the existence of the Paul Sperry column on which Hooper's claim was based -- which he immediately insisted as "over-the-top satire" and "clearly tongue-in-cheek."
Why didn't Farah mention the Sperry column at the outset, even though it resides in WND's archives and thus is easily findable for anyone interested in looking? Perhaps because Farah was more interested in slapping CAIR around than in telling his readers the full truth.
In other words, arrogance.
After all, it's not hard to conclude that it was Farah's arrogance, plus his personal hatred of Al Gore ,that kept the Clark Jones libel lawsuit in litigation for seven years when all he needed to do is admit fault, apologize and correct the record on a claim he should have known was false when he printed it. But because he didn't, WND racked up thousands of dollars in legal costs, presumably paid some kind of monetary compensation to Jones (the actual settlement has thus far been kept secret; given that Jones sued WND and its codefendants for $165 million and real and punitive damages, such a payout would likely be significant) and contributed mightily to the reputation of WND as a "news" organization with an indifference to the facts.
If Farah showed more respect for the truth, maybe people would show him more respect.
Instead, Farah whines at every perceived slight and is apparently teaching his daughter to show the same blithe indifference to telling the truth as he does. So why respect the man at all?