WorldNetDaily's Downward Spiral
First was the libel lawsuit. Then there was the embrace of never-verified claims about Barack Obama. Now WND is effectively condoning child abuse by whitewashing a California family's dysfunctional home life in order to advance its pro-homeschooling agenda.
By Terry Krepel
It's been a bad year for WorldNetDaily.
It started off last month by proclaiming that the truth was its defense in the then-upcoming trial for a libel lawsuit filed against it by Clark Jones, a supporter of Al Gore, whom WND attacked in a series of articles in 2000. WND asserted that nothing less than "the future of investigative journalism in the United States" was at stake -- even though it admitted in court papers that it didn't fact-check the articles before publishing them. A little more than a week later, however, WND settled the lawsuit as quietly as it could, admitting what it published about Jones was false and that "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."
Then, as if demonstrating that it learned nothing from having to shell out a lawsuit settlement because it failed to do simple fact-checking, WND promoted a man's salacious claims about Barack Obama -- going so far as to enlist its PR firm in the effort -- but giving no indication that it made any effort whatsoever to verify anything the man said. When the man failed a polygraph test, WND tried to quietly drop that as well.
Now, WND continues its blithe indifference to core journalistic principles in its coverage of a California court ruling regarding one of its pet issues, homeschooling.
A Feb. 29 article by Bob Unruh -- a reporter who has demonstrated his own blithe indifference to core journalistic principles in his tenure at WND -- reported on the California state appellate court ruling, which ordered that "several children in one homeschool family must be enrolled in a public school or 'legally qualified' private school, and must attend." The words of the ruling, Unruh wrote, "echo the ideas of officials from Germany, where homeschooling has been outlawed since 1938 under a law adopted when Adolf Hitler decided he wanted the state, and no one else, to control the minds of the nation's youth." That, in turn, echoes Unruh's history of likening anything remotely critical of homeschooling to Nazi behavior.
Missing from the story, however, was much of the background behind it; Unruh offered no link to the court ruling.
The AMPS blog (a group of advocates for public schools in Madison, Wisconsin) published the complete appellate court ruling in this case, as well as what it described as a related case involving the Long family in California's Dependency Court.
Unruh had written:
The judges ruled in the case involving the Longs the family failed to demonstrate "that mother has a teaching credential such that the children can be said to be receiving an education from a credentialed tutor," and that their involvement and supervision by Sunland Christian School's independent study programs was of no value.
But according to the court ruling, the parents claimed that Sunland Christian School was a "charter school" without any evidence that it was, as defined by state law. The ruling also pointed out that the parents were depriving their children "of an education in a public or private full-time day school setting, or by a credentialed tutor, through the ruse of enrolling them in a private school and then letting them stay home and be taught by a non-credentialed parent."
Further, Sunland's "involvement and supervision" of the Long family's education appears to have been minimal at best. According to the ruling, the school's administrator said "he makes visits to the parents' home about four times a year," and "the children in the family reported to the Department of Children and Family Services social worker that they were given tests at the end of some school years and they took the tests at the Sunland Christian School." Such minimal supervision by Sunland would seem to render it as having "no value."
While Unruh stated that the family has homeschooled their children "because of various anti-Christian influences in California's public schools" -- he later added the father's assertion that "he won't allow the pro-homosexual, pro-bisexual, pro-transgender agenda of California's public schools ... to indoctrinate his children" -- the court ruling noted:
Over the years, the parents of the children have given various reasons for not sending the children to school. Although previously they have stated they do not believe in the policies of the public school system, more recently they have asserted that they home school because of their religious beliefs. The father also recently opined that educating children outside the home exposes them to "snitches."
The ruling concluded: "Given this history of this family, which we need not discuss here, permitting the parents to educate the children at home by means of a credentialed tutor would likely post too many difficulties for the tutor."
What is that history? According to the Dependency Court case supplied by AMPS, which details the California DCFS' dealings with the family, it involves allegations of abuse, unsanitary living conditions, and a disturbingly controlling father:
The family’s third contact with the juvenile court came when a petition was filed in November 1993 for the same five children plus minor Rachel. According to a Department report in the instant case and a Department report in a 2001 matter involving this family, the six minors were found to be persons coming within the provisions of section 300 on the basis of the following sustained allegations: the parents’ home was dangerous to the minors in that it included, but was not limited to, approximately 60 guns, rifles and/or assault weapons; black powder in an unsecured location; and live ammunition, shells, and magazines, all of which was within access of the minors, and the guns and ammunition were in close proximity to each other. Further, the minors’ home was found to be in [*9] an endangering filthy, unsanitary and unsafe condition, and the minors were chronically filthy, and unsupervised late at night. Additionally, the parents unlawfully concealed the whereabouts of the children from the Department and father willfully gave false information to the court concerning the whereabouts of the children. Eventually all of the minors were released to mother’s care.
The girl, Rachel, described the "education" she received at home:
Asked how much time she spent each day on being school at the parents' home, she stated "sometimes two hours. [*27] Sometimes half an hour. It depended on what homework it was." Only mother taught her, not father. She was provided with books. The books had reviews in them but not tests. Mother helped her with assignments if she needed help. She could not recall mother being unable to help her. She would also ask [her sister] Charity but Charity "doesn't know it so she wasn't much help." Her subjects were citizenship, math, English and science. Once a year she took a test to see if she could pass to another grade. The last test she took was at a church. The test was administered by Sunland Christian School and was a "test for that school." She passed the test but she did not remember her marks. During her schooling at home, her best subject was science and her worst was math. She was not taught geography or history. Asked if she can add, subtract, multiply and divide, Rachel stated she cannot.
Only after AMPS published these rulings (and after they appeared on ConWebBlog) did Unruh return to the story. In a March 4 article, Unruh tried to change the focus of the story, portraying the ruling as a threat to homeschooling even though the judge merely affirmed state law, which states that "enrollment and attendance in a public full-time day school is required by California law for minor children," with certain exceptions, none of which the family met in the eyes of the court.
Unruh wrote that the "unpublished" documents note "allegations that a family acquaintance molested one of the children as well as claims regarding physical punishment relating to one child's decision to disobey household rules about being out at night," which he declared were "disputed by different people involved," but he didn't mention the numerous allegations of physical abuse by the father.
Unruh further wrote that "The current case was brought by two attorneys who had been appointed by the state to represent the family's minor children in a dependency case stemming from accusations of abuse that resulted from the parents' decision to impose discipline on their children with spankings." But in soft-pedaling the parents' "discipline," Unruh ignored statements in the dependency court case offering evidence that it went far beyond that:
Before we begin with our analysis of this issue, it is helpful to note the following. First, in two prior dependency matters, father was found to have inappropriately physically disciplined two of his children, Cam and Elizabeth. Indeed, in at least Cam's case, father's treatment of her was brutal. Both Cam and Elizabeth were children who challenged father's rules at home. Thus, there was proof of his willingness to physically abuse his children when they did not tow the mark.
Unruh also didn't address one key issue mentioned by the court: the quality of the homeschool education being received by the Long children. And as he had in his previous article, Unruh uncritically repeated Phillip Long's claim that "he objects to the pro-homosexual, pro-bisexual, pro-transgender agenda of California's public schools," though Long has offered varying explanations to the court, and repeated the Nazi smear.
Unruh walked things back a little in a March 5 article. Unruh repeated the claim that the Long dependency court case "stemming from accusations of abuse that resulted from the parents' decision to impose discipline on their children with spankings" but didn't mention the allegations of sexual abuse (and, of course, again failed to mention the father's history of physical abuse or the filthy house).
A March 6 article, however, eliminated any mention of the dependency court and, thus, any hint of the family's dysfunction. Articles by Unruh on the case on March 7, March 10, and March 11, and March 12 are similarly silent about the abuse allegations.
Further, in none of these articles did Unruh offer a link to the PDF file of either the appeals court ruling or the dependency court case. Nor does Unruh seek out the views of anyone who is not a conservative activist or a pro-homeschooling advocate (aside from regurgitating a prepared statement by California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger criticizing he ruling).Unruh's reporting for WND is littered with such one-sided reporting.
Meanwhile, Unruh has repeatedly proclaimed that, in the words of the March 6 article, "WND broke the story of the ruling against Phillip and Mary Long of Los Angeles."
Well, no. You're not breaking a story if you're only telling half of it.
WND has long been a cheerleader for homeschooling. Both Unruh and WND editor Joseph Farah have their children homeschooled. As ConWebWatch has noted, WND sells homeschooling materials in its stores and uses its "news" articles to boost homeschool and denigrate public education.
But in this case -- whitewashing the Long family in order to adhere to its pro-homeschooling agenda -- WND may very well be enabling the further abuse of the Long children.
Just as there are good public schools and bad public schools, there are good homeschoolers and bad homeschoolers. The court has found Phillip Long and his wife to be bad homeschoolers and the father to be an abusive parent. WND's failure to tell the truth about the Longs to its readers leads to the inescapable conclusion that it condones such behavior.
Do Unruh and Farah treat their homeschooled children the way Phillip Long is on record as treating his? Let's hope not; hopefully, they don't think that such poor homeschooling and such treatment of children is acceptable. But by staying silent about it, Unruh and Farah leave the impression that they do -- and thus implicitly encourage such behavior.
Shielding the Longs' dysfunctional family from public scrutiny in the name of protecting the homeschool movement, as Unruh and WND have done, will damage homeschooling in the long run because the Longs contribute to an image of homeschooling being the province of extremist wackos.
Would Unruh and WND be so silent about the allegations of abuse if the Longs were patrons of public schools? Probably not.
We can't imagine anyone who truly cares about education and homeschooling would subject their children to the substandard education the Longs are on record as providing to their children. So why won't anyone within the homeschooling community admit that bad education is bad education, even (and, perhaps, especially) when it happens at home?
Indeed, WND is not the only guilty party effectively condoning child abuse. Conservative and pro-homeschooling groups have been avoiding the issue as well:
All of these organizations could have made a statement that parental rights should reach their limit when a child is being damaged by a parent's actions, but to date they have not.
Then again, these organizations don't claim to be news sources "dedicated to uncompromising journalism, seeking truth and justice" and to be "credible, fearless, independent"; WorldNetDaily does.
As the AMPS blog stated: "The family lost their privilege to home school because of serious allegations of child abuse and other things that placed the children in danger." Through his biased and incomplete reporting, Unruh is effectively aiding and abetting the further abuse of these children by their parents. Is that what he and WND really want to happen to this family -- or any family?
Condoning child abuse may ultimately be an even worse legacy for WND than libel and reporting false claims. It's a downward spiral of journalistic deception that will eventually destroy WND unless it chooses to do something about it. But then, common sense dictates that a "news" organization exhibiting such blithe indifference to telling the truth doesn't deserve to live.