WorldNetDaily's Sleaze Machine
WND's promotion of never-verified sex-and-drugs claims involving Barack Obama is just the latest in a long line of factually dubious smears of Democratic presidential candidates.
By Terry Krepel
Did WorldNetDaily learn nothing from having to settle a libel lawsuit just two weeks ago? It appears not, because WND is doing the exact same thing that led to its prior lawsuit -- repeating unverified charges that it made no apparent effort to fact-check.
A Feb. 17 WND article -- which cynically acknowledges its goal in attacking Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama by putting the words "sleaze charge" right in the headline -- unquestioningly repeated accusations made by a man named Larry Sinclair, who claimed that "he took cocaine in 1999 with the then-Illinois legislator and participated in homosexual acts with him." Accompanying the article was a copy of the lawsuit Sinclair filed against Obama and other Democratic officials containing the allegations.
Nowhere is it indicated that WND made any effort to verify anything Sinclair said (though it does add at the end that "Calls placed to the Obama campaign were not returned").
That follows in the pattern of what WND did when, in a series of articles published in 2000 attacking then-Democratic presidential candidate Al Gore, it claimed that a Tennessee car dealer and Gore supporter named Clark Jones had interfered with a criminal investigation, had been a "subject" of a criminal investigation, was listed on law enforcement computers as a "dope dealer," and implied that he had ties to others involved in alleged criminal activity. Jones sued WND for libel and defamation, a legal action that dragged on for seven years; in one court filing, WND admitted it never fact-checked any of the accusations made in the Gore-bashing articles -- written by freelance reporters and then sold to WND -- before printing them.
Then, just a month before the lawsuit was finally scheduled to go to trial, WND abruptly announced that the suit was settled, with WND admitting that "no witness verifies the truth of what the witnesses are reported by authors to have stated," "no document has been discovered that provides any verification that the statements written were true," and that statements attributed to quoted sources "were either not made by them, were misquoted by the authors, were misconstrued, or the statements were taken out of context." Needless to say, the details of the settlement are confidential; WND likely wanted it that way to avoid further public embarrassment, though one has to assume that since WND admitted that it published falsehoods about Jones, it likely paid some amount of money to him as part of settling the lawsuit.
Back to Sinclair: One interesting side note is that the bluenoses at WND -- remember, it banned links from its site to Salon.com in 2001 because Salon published "erotic art" and moved to a subscription-based model, thus it was "sell[ing] porn" -- added an "editor's note" at the top of the article stating, "The accompanying YouTube video contains sexual language that some will consider offensive. The article itself contains material that is inappropriate for children." Apparently, porn isn't offensive to anyone at WND when it can be used in the service of attacking a political enemy.
Another interesting side note is WND's decision to reprint Sinclair's lawsuit when it couldn't be bothered to post any of the legal papers filed in the Jones libel lawsuit to its website (as ConWebWatch had challenged WND to do, and did in its stead).
WND followed up the next day with an article that changed the focus from Sinclair -- whose allegations WND again uncritically repeated and again made no apparent effort to verify -- to Obama because his campaign "refused to respond to requests for comment" on Sinclair's claims. WND did not explain why Obama should respond to charges that have not been verified.
Then, at the bottom of a Feb. 19 article that regurgitated an Accuracy in Media item by Cliff Kincaid on the alleged commie-pinko past of a mentor to Obama, WND added: "Obama's campaign also, for the third straight day, declined to respond to WND requests for comment on the report of a Minnesota man who alleges he shared cocaine with Obama when Obama was a state lawmaker in Illinois." Once again, no evidence is offered that WND bothered to verify anything Sinclair said. In rehashing AIM's allegations, WND repeated a statement by Kincaid from his AIM hit piece: "Let's challenge the liberal media to report on this. Will they have the honesty and integrity to do so?"
That statement could easily be turned around: Does WND have the honesty and integrity to do actual reporting on Obama beyond regurgitating whatever sleaze comes its way?
Well, no. In a Feb. 22 column, WND editor Joseph Farah complained that a New York Times article about John McCain that used "unnamed sources" who suggested a "a romantic interest in a female lobbyist" and made "no specific allegations of sexual or drug-related incidents" got more attention than Sinclair's claims, in which "the named alleged partner makes his charges public, agrees to a polygraph and files a lawsuit reiterating the charges and accusing the candidate of harassment and intimidation. The candidate refuses to deny the allegations."
Farah neglected to mention that WND has not given readers any reason to believe Sinclair -- that is, investigated the veracity of his charges.
Farah then went on to claim that he is "an independent journalist who supports neither Obama nor McCain. I can promise you WND would report both stories regardless of whether I supported either candidate." But while WND treated Sinclair's never-verified claims as the truth, WND's reporting on the Times' claims about McCain assumed that they were unfair and unsubstantiated, if not false: a Feb. 21 attack on it by Rush Limbaugh, and a question in a White House press briefing by WND's Les Kinsolving: "Sen. John McCain held a widely reported press conference yesterday to denounce the sexual innuendos about him published by the New York Times. And my question, the president supports Sen. McCain in this controversy, doesn't he?"
Further, Farah doesn't merely not support Obama; he's openly hostile to the guy. Farah has used guilt by association to smear Obama as a communist and stated that the idea of Obama as president "scare[s]" him. He has also smeared Democrats as "socialist race-baiters and phony feminists." Any suggestion that Farah's non-support for Obama translates to "independent" neutrality is laughable.
The same day Farah's column appeared, WND sent out a press release on behalf of its PR firm, M. Sliwa Public Relations -- operated by Maria Sliwa, sister of Guardian Angels founder Curtis Sliwa, which WND has previously retained to promote books from its publishing operation -- to tout Farah's column. The press release's headline screamed:
FARAH'S LATEST OBAMA BOMBSHELL
Farah apparently didn't think it was unseemly, if not downright stupid, to hire a PR firm to publicize unverified claims. The press release repeated Farah's disingenuous claim that he "is an independent journalist who supports neither Obama nor McCain, and says WND will continue to report both stories regardless of whether he supports either candidate."
This little ride inside WND's smear machine shuddered to a halt on Feb. 24, when WND reported that Sinclair "reportedly failed two polygraph tests administered by the website WhiteHouse.com." Bizarrely, the article then went on to repeat once more in detail Sinclair's allegations -- as if Sinclair hadn't just been discredited -- and linked yet again to a copy of the lawsuit Sinclair filed against Democratic officials.
The article also also once again tried to put the onus on Obama: "Repeated call and emails to the Obama campaign by WND staff have elicited no responses to the charges." But if Sinclair's charges have now been apparently proven to be fictional, why should Obama respond to them?
WND has not indicated whether it will retract or apologize for promoting Sinclair's false charges, the way it eventually apologized to Jones for reporting false claims about him -- and we probably won't see one unless there is some sort of legal action mandating it. Similarly, don't expect Farah to take questions from his readers about why it ran such a self-admittedly sleazy story then hired a PR firm to publicize its unverified claims, the way New York Times editors did regarding the paper's story on McCain.
Even though this little escapade has exploded in WND's hands -- demonstrating it to be a discredited "news" organization for the second time in a two-week span -- WND was far from being done bashing Obama. It quickly moved onto another Obama attack: The same day, an article by Aaron Klein (who has his own notorious bias problems) tried to mine the vein of guilt by association, asserting that Obama "worked" with a "confessed domestic terrorist" and "granted funding to a controversial Arab group that mourns the establishment of Israel as a 'catastrophe.' " Translated into non-sensationalized terms: Obama served on the board of a nonprofit foundation that also included as a board member a former member of the radical Weather Underground in the 1960s.
Nowhere does Klein note how many board members in total were on the nonprofit's board, nor does he offer any evidence that Obama holds any of the views of those he is purported to have however briefly associated with -- the fellow board member or the organization to which the entire board (not just Obama) awarded the grant.
Klein also repeated claims he made in a Jan, 29 article that "Israeli security officials" -- all anonymous; Klein's boss, Farah, clearly had no problem with Klein's unnamed sources while embracing a double standard in criticizing a lack of named sources for claims against McCain -- expressed "concern" about Robert Malley, "an adviser to Obama who has advocated negotiations with Hamas and providing international assistance to the terrorist group." Nowhere in either article did Klein give Malley a chance to respond to the anonymous charges, even though he has responded to these and similar charges in a Feb. 20 article in the Jewish newspaper the Forward.
WND attempted another smear in a Feb. 25 article by Jerome Corsi (last seen trying to bully former Minuteman buddy Jim Gilchrist into dropping his endorsement of Mike Huckabee for the Republican presidential nomination) claiming that a picture of Obama in African garb "raised questions about Obama's links to Kenya, which has Muslim neighbors on several fronts, and was home to Obama's father." The source cited for these purported concerns is Jack Wheeler, who used WND a few weeks ago to smear John McCain as a "nutcase wack job" who "collaborat[ed] with his Communist captors" in Vietnam and Hillary Clinton for her purported "well-known bisexuality and her lesbian affair with her beautiful assistant." So Wheeler is hardly a trustworthy source; further, ConWebWatch has noted the cozy relationship between Wheeler and WND, which ran numerous promotions of him disguised as "news" articles.
Corsi also rather tenuously claimed that since the tribal garb Obama was wearing tribal garb in a country that is "almost entirely Sunni Muslim," "in that sense the Somali elder garb is also Islamic."
If WND is so desperately trying to smear Obama now, what will it do as we get closer to the November election?
WND's previous election behavior is a guide; the 2000 series about Gore that falsely implicated Clark Jones -- and presumably makes false claims about others as well -- is far from the only instance in which WND has peddled claims against Democrats by people whose veracity, at best, leaves something to be desired.
In 2004, in addition to uncritically promoting dubious accusations forwarded by the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth against Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry (some of which even it had to admit were overblown),WND ran numerous articles about reports that Kerry was having an affair, despite the fact that the rumors were never verified and -- contrasting with Farah's criticism of the Times' coverage of McCain for doing the exact same thing -- included no named sources, claimed Kerry's denial wasn't forceful enough, and used as one source of rehashed information a British tabloid that publishes pictures of topless women (thus blowing away Farah's professed prudery about news sources that sell porn).
Farah himself repeated the false claim that Kerry's wife, Teresa Heinz Kerry, was funding groups "with a specifically anti-Bush agenda" and other "radical groups" through the Tides Foundation. In fact, Mrs. Kerry's donations to Tides were specifically earmarked for environmental projects in Pennsylvania. After finally admitting the truth months later, WND desperately tried to spin the facts by claiming that because "donors to the Tides Foundation pay approximately 10 percent above and beyond the amount grant recipients get for administrative fees and overhead to Tides... it is accurate to say that donors to Tides are indeed supporting all of its causes."
WND has also, in an effort to sandbag Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign, spent the past several months rehashing questionable allegations against the Clintons forwarded by Peter Paul and Kathleen Willey -- while taking care to avoid mentioning the serious credibility problems of both Paul (convicted felon) and Willey (admitted liar).
WND historically has not applied the same level of scrutiny (or unverified accusations) to Republicans as it has against Democrats. Even recent articles critical of McCain -- a Feb. 19 article examining links to a Russian billionaire "suspected of having ties to organized Russian crime" and a Feb. 26 article claiming that "McCain's personal fortune traces back to organized crime in Arizona" -- are taken from other sources and contain no original reporting, even though both carry Corsi's byline.
As its experience with Larry Sinclair has demonstrated, WND has a much lower standard of proof for publishing attacks on Democrats is much lower than it is for articles critical of Republicans -- all that's required to talk trash about a Democrat is little more than a pulse, and WND will happily apply its don't-ask, don't-tell veracity policy.
If WND is this desperate to throw this kind of factually questionable stuff out now -- and further debase what journalistic standards it has in the process -- one can imagine the kind of sleaze Joseph Farah and Co. will be slinging as November rolls around.