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Experts Agree: WorldNetDaily Sucks

Don't just take ConWebWatch's word for it -- read what WND's targets and even their fellow conservatives have to say about its brand of journalism.

By Terry Krepel
Posted 9/25/2008

For the past eight years, ConWebWatch has been monitoring WorldNetDaily, documenting its numerous assaults on accuracy and journalistic ethics and exposing it for the shoddy news operation that it is.

But we're not the only ones.

Others have been observing WND as well -- among them people WND reporters have interviewed and even their fellow conservatives -- and they have similarly found WND's brand of journalism wanting.

Colorado SWAT team

Around the beginning of the year, for example, WND had a minor obsession with a Colorado incident in which, according to a Jan. 8 article by Bob Unruh, a 11-year-old boy "was taken by police against his parents wishes to a hospital after he was horsing around and bumped his head." Unruh quoted Garfield County, Colo., Sheriff Lou Vallario as saying that the decision to use SWAT team force to take the child -- after the father repeatedly refused to allow paramedics to examine the child and, as a result, a magistrate's order was issued for the boy to be seized -- was justified because the father was a "self-proclaimed constitutionalist" and had made threats and "comments" over the years.

Apparently, that's not quite what Vallario said. From a Jan. 12 article in the Glenwood Springs Post Independent:

Authorities said they have received hundreds of phone calls and e-mails this week from people around the country who think Garfield County uses SWAT teams on people just because they are constitutionalists.

Some messages included angry cursing and comparisons between Garfield County and Nazi Germany.

Callers mistakenly believed the Garfield County All Hazards Response Team - similar to a SWAT team - was used for "no reason other than that (Sheriff Lou Vallario) personally had it in for constitutionalists," said community relations deputy Tanny McGinnis. She estimated the Sheriff's Office received up to 400 calls and e-mails on the matter this week. Most were in response to a story that appeared on a website Monday about the use of the armed team to remove a child from the home of Tom Shiflett near New Castle, to get the child medical attention.

"A lot of people have shared with us that they were misled by the original World Net Daily article," McGinnis said. "(Sheriff Lou Vallario) made a statement about constitutionalists that was completely taken out of context."

She said many people apologized in e-mails after hearing Vallario's side of the story, and that a WND reporter cut off Vallario and wouldn't listen to answers he didn't want to hear.

"It wasn't an interview," McGinnis said. "It was an argument. This guy would not listen if he didn't like the answers."

That description certainly seems to fit with what we know about Unruh's history of biased reporting for WND. Unruh responded to the paper:

WND reporter Bob Unruh responded in an e-mail: "When I interviewed the sheriff, I tried diligently to allow him to wander where he chose with his answers. I specifically was trying to find out the reasoning for dispatching a SWAT team under the circumstances the family already had described to me, or whether this family's version was incorrect. I understand the sheriff has been telling people my reporting is incorrect. However, he's declined to contact me about any concerns he has.

"His reference to Mr. [Tom] Shiflett [father of the injured boy] as a 'constitutionalist' came when I asked him specifically about why a SWAT team was used to take a child to a doctor's exam. I asked him what that meant, or if anything was wrong with that; the sheriff then said he'd had 'personal encounters' with Mr. Shiflett, and he'd made threats. I asked if Mr. Shiflett had been cited, or ticketed, or otherwise penalized for those 'threats,' and the sheriff refused to cite a single incident or situation. ... I would be more than happy to talk to the sheriff, especially to hear an explanation why he responded with the 'constitutionalist' description of Mr. Shiflett when I asked about the use of a SWAT team."

The only allusion WND has made to the fact that there's a controversy over what exactly Vallario said on WND is a Jan. 12 article by Unruh in which he noted that "Vallario also criticized WND reporting on the events to a local newspaper, without contacting WND with any concerns." But Unruh didn't mention Vallario's complaint about the "constitutionalist" remark being taken out of context or the threats and vulgar comments made to the sheriff's office as a result of Unruh's reporting. He also didn't note what the Post Independent quoted Vallario as saying in response to Unruh's defense: "But Vallario said it's not his job to make sure a reporter reports the news accurately." The article does not indicate that Unruh has since tried to contact Vallario.

Rather than try to address the issue with any sort of honesty and transparency (neither of which are notable WND virtues), Unruh decided to attack Vallario, apparently blaming Vallario for not telling him about Tom Shiflett's history of questionable behavior, which Vallerio cited as the rationale for using a SWAT team to seize the boy, as his comment to the Glenwood Springs paper indicates. Unruh notes in the Jan. 12 article that "in an e-mail response to a WND reader who questioned his actions," Vallario stated that "when we requested his cooperation [Shiflett] said, 'if you want my son, bring an army.'" Unruh then bashed the sheriff again:

However, what the sheriff left out of his response was what [caseworker Matthew] McGaugh reported happened just before the alleged threat. McGaugh confirmed he had delivered a not-so-veiled threat to Shiflett.

"This worker explained that the Department had an obligation to investigate the report, that it appeared the child needed medical attention, and that if he didn't consent, the Department would have to obtain a court order to get a medical evaluation for the child," McGaugh stated in a sworn affidavit.

So stating what is presumably standard procedure in such a case is a "threat"? Unruh then allows Shiflett to explain away his own threat -- claiming it was because "social workers had upset him by threatening a court order" -- as well as a previous arrest of Shiflett for "chasing a man down the street with an ax." Yet Unruh failed to give Vallario a fair opportunity to tell his story or air his complaints about WND's coverage.

Street preacher's arrest

A March 1 article largely cribbed an Elmira, N.Y., Star-Gazette article on the convictions of Julian Raven, a street preacher in Elmira, and three other activists for disorderly conduct for disrupting a gay festival -- or, in WND's words, an "event celebrating homosexual behavior." The misleading starts with the headline: "Christians ordered to pay big bucks – for praying!" The actual "big bucks" in question, in fact, are a $100 fine plus $95 in court costs for each offender. Raven's lawyers from the Alliance Defense Fund probably have that in their petty cash drawer.

And, of course, merely "praying" was not the issue here. While WND repeatedly depicts the offense Raven's group committed as only "praying," nowhere does it describe the specific circumstances in which the group did so, even the newspaper article from which it cribbed -- did. The Star-Gazette reported: "The four protesters claimed their right to free speech was violated when they were arrested June 23 after laying prostrate on the lawn in front of a temporary stage in the park."

WND also claimed that "The newspaper reported [Elmira City Judge Thomas Ramich] called Raven reckless for even going to the park." That's false. The Star-Gazette reported: "Ramich said in his decision that Julian M. Raven, the leader of the protest group, was being reckless when he inserted the four into the midst of the event participants" (emphasis added). "The midst" being, of course, in front of the stage, which WND never mentions.

(This echoes WND's similarly misleading reporting on the arrests of anti-gay activist Michael Marcavage and several followers for disrupting a gay festival.)

WND's misleading article drew the ire of a prosecutor in the case, who wrote a letter to WND (which cycle out and disappear after a week):

Re:"Christians organized to pay big bucks – for praying!"

To refresh your recollection, you wrote on your website: "The prosecutor, Robert Siglin, said the city was concerned for public safety, and that's why the Christians were arrested. During closing arguments he said speech freedoms don't matter when 'public order' is an issue."

This was in regard to the Christians who disrupted an event in Elmira, N.Y.

In the spirit of truth and integrity, I thought I would clarify your blatantly uninformed and propaganda-filled comments about my theory of the case. You obviously have no idea what occurred and just took the Star-Gazette story and changed some words around of those who don't mirror the views of your group.

My argument was that we would not have any freedoms if we did not have a democracy! We would not have a democracy without public order. The first thing we lose when democracy turns into anarchy is our liberties.

Mr. Raven and his group were given every opportunity to spread their gospel and preach the word of God, but he and his followers took things too far and put innocent people at risk who would have been caught in the crossfire. Trouble did not find them; they went looking for it!

It is terribly ironic that the freedoms and rights you speak of are not respected, but used to fit some agenda. That group used the freedoms of speech and religion as a sword to disrupt the right of speech and assembly of others who they do not agree with, and now they want to use those rights as a shield to prevent them from facing the consequences of their actions. If roles were reversed, the people of the gay-pride event would have been arrested.

The bottom line is public safety and innocent people were placed in harm's way, and, as a result, the instigators were arrested. The laws of the State of New York frowns upon those who want to disrupt peaceful assemblies. This has nothing to do with content; it has to do with conduct. So, now that you have my actual stance – which is not what you quoted, I anticipate this error will not occur in the future.

Robert D. Siglin Esq., assistant Chemung County district attorney

There's no evidence that WND made any effort to correct the record.

Bible curriculum

An April 10 article by Unruh attacked a Bible curriculum for public schools called the Bible Literacy Project, based largely on another attack on it by Scott Beason, an Alabama state senator (whose commentary attacking it was published by WND the same day). Unruh quoted Beason saying that one contributor to the curriculum, Charles Haynes, authored a "Communitarian manifesto on religious education" that "follows the teachings of occultist Georg Hegel." Unruh quoted another critic cited Haynes' "close association with the American Civil Liberties Union."

Unruh did quote Haynes noting that conservative activist Chuck Colson was an endorser of the book, the added: "then so was Ted Haggard, former chief of National Association of Evangelicals, who resigned in disgrace from his Colorado megachurch after being accused of homosexual activity." Unruh also noted Haynes' statement that "It's very important to try to come together," then added, "Critics of the book, however, believe such "coming together" actually may be surrender to the enemy in a number of culture battle fronts, pointing out Haynes previously worked with organizations such as the aggressively pro-homosexual organization Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, and has pooh-poohed the idea that a national "hate crimes" plan in the United States in any way threatens Christians."

Buried deep in Unruh's article is an important little fact that explains the hullabaloo over this: Beason is on the advisory board for a competing Bible study program, the National Council on Bible Curriculum, which "simply uses the Bible as a text." (Beason's op-ed did not disclose this.) In other words, Unruh's entire article was little more than an attack ad; he helpfully notes that "Actor and WND columnist Chuck Norris has endorsed the National Council on Bible Curriculum."

The bias of Unruh's article and Beason's op-ed was so egregious that WND did what it typically does not: give space to the target -- Bible Literacy Project general editor Cullen Schippe -- to respond. Schippe pointed out that the article and op-ed were "deeply misinformed and contain falsehoods and misleading, out-of-context statements":

Several passages Beason criticizes were removed from the textbook over a year ago. He has obsessively combed our textbook for any turn of phrase that can be distorted to confuse people about our intentions and our work.

For example, Beason argues that a reference to renowned Christian novelist Fyodor Dostoevsky's "The Brothers Karamazov" is irrefutable evidence of the Bible Literacy Project's promotion of communism. But the textbook, which explains the influence of the Bible on Western literature, history and culture, actually points out the murderous legacy of communism (page 65).


Our critics overstate the involvement of Charles Haynes, who was one of 40 reviewers of our textbook. Bible Literacy Project does not endorse Haynes' personal views, nor those of the other 39 reviewers who were consulted. A glance at those reviewers shows evangelical scholars from Wheaton College, Gordon College, Baylor University, Westmont College and Westminster Seminary, and Catholic, mainline Protestant, Orthodox and Jewish scholars.

Neither Unruh's article nor Beason's op-ed offer a link to Schippe's response so that readers than judge the issue for themselves, however. Nor do those articles appear to have been corrected.

Day of Silence

A May 19 WND article by Chelsea Schilling unquestioningly repeated anti-gay group Mission America's claims about its attempts to, as the headline asserts, "squash" the annual Day of Silence event designed to show support for gay students victimized by violence and bullying at school. Schilling went on to detail "some incidents that took place during the silent protests and were reported by Mission America," making no apparent attempt to fact-check Mission America's claims.

Well, somebody did fact-check those a couple of those claims -- Warren Throckmorton, a psychology professor popular in conservative circles whom WND approvingly quoted earlier that month in the midst of attacking gay activist Wayne Besen. Throckmorton didn't like what he found.

Schilling wrote, apparently cribbing straight from Mission America:

Kirksville, Mo.: A parent told Mission America that the Kirksville High School principal and superintendent laughed when she asked if her child could be excused from participating in the school's Day of Silence. According to the organization, she said, "They called me a narrow-minded bigot and refused to give excused absences."

Throckmorton responded:

Curious, I called the Kirksville High School Superintendent of schools, Pat Williams about the allegation of name-calling. When I read the account to him, he said, “That’s absolutely false. I did not use that language with any parent or in response to any inquiry.”

He told me that a couple of parents called to express disagreement with the Day of Silence and one mother met in person with him but he did not express any judgment about the mother’s views. He further explained that the matter of an excused absence would be at the discretion of the building principal.


Randy Michael, principal of Kirksville High School also took strong exception to the Mission America source. He said flatly, “That’s not true” when I read the allegation to him. He said he received “two or three” complaints about the event and at least one request for an excused absence which was denied. He explained that there was no basis for an excused absence since no student was compelled to participate in the Day of Silence.

He said both the Day of Silence and Day of Truth [a conservative Christian response to the Day of Silence organized by the consdervative Alliance Defense Fund] were observed in accord with the same standards. Students were required to speak if called on by a teacher. Also, no student could force their materials on others, but could give cards or information out if asked. “Neither day disrupted education,” Mr. Michael said.

I emailed Linda Harvey at Mission America to see if I could interview the parent involved but she declined to provide more information or contact the person who made the allegation. The Kirksville administrators were not aware of any allegations surrounding the Day of Silence until I called. In my opinion, the the information provided by Mr. Williams and Mr. Michael and the fact that the school district also allowed the Day of Truth detract from the credibility of the anonymous allegation.

Schilling also wrote:

Also in Phoenix, at Desert Ridge High School, Arizona Republic reported that between 200 and 250 students stayed home. A parent who objected to the observance hosted a pool party for students who refused to participate. The father, Randy Bellino, told a Phoenix television station that someone sent a text message threatening to shoot his son, and police questioned a group of homosexual students who silently sat across the street from his home.

Throckmorton responded:

I talked to Detective Steve Berry at the Mesa Police Department who said the Mesa Police received a call from a student who heard a rumor that someone was planning a shooting on the Day of Silence. No targets were identified. The text message was not a threat but rather a report of the rumored planned shooting. Essentially, Det. Berry said the threat was a rumor that was passed through the grapevine, but there was no text threat directly made toward anyone. Thus, the report is misleading in that no student group was ever identified as responsible. The WND report is misleading in that the boy in question did not actually receive a text message with a threat, according to Det. Berry, who read the police report to me.

Throckmorton concludes: "And those were just the first two bulletpoints. I guess you can’t believe everything you read." Schilling has made no apparent attempt to correct the record.

Top 10 list on Obama

Sometimes the falsehood is so egregious that a fellow ConWeb outlet steps in for a rebuke. An Aug. 5 article by Schilling asserted:

Is CBS showing bias toward Barack Obama?

The "Late Show with David Letterman" has removed a spoof on Obama from website archives but opted to keep a "Top Ten" list ripping John McCain from the previous evening – and show representatives are denying any knowledge of the missing clip.

Schilling's conspiratorial musings were shot down in surprisingly direct fashion by the Media Research Center's Brent Baker in an Aug. 6 NewsBusters post:

Despite repeated e-mails NewsBusters received late last week apparently spurred by mis-informed postings elsewhere, I've hesitated, since I considered it so ridiculous, to address the allegation that CBS or David Letterman staffers caved to pressure and removed from the Late Show with David Letterman Web site a “Top Ten” list critical of Barack Obama, the “Top Ten Signs Barack Obama is Overconfident.” But then today World Net Daily put the issue back in play ...

As a David Letterman fan who has watched his show nearly every night since 1982 -- though I have been disappointed by his recent left-wing political rants on the show -- I can provide a simple explanation which involves no effort to hide the list: The list, prepared for, and presented on, the Tuesday, July 29 show was, as happens many times each year, edited from the program because later interview segments with Kevin Costner and/or Bob Sarlatte ran long. The purpose of the Late Show site is to post highlights from the show and since Letterman's reading of it did not air on the program as broadcast on CBS the list should not have been posted. Yet it was put up, along with video of Letterman reading it (hence why there is YouTube video of it that makes it appear the list did air on the show), by mistake. When that error was realized the list, and matching video, were removed -- as they should have been.

It is not unusual -- I'd guess about once a week -- for a “Top Ten” list which Letterman plugs as coming up after a commercial break to not air. Sometimes that's because he sees the final version of the list during the break and rejects it; other times he reads it but it is cut for time since killing it in post-production is a quick way to reduce the show length by 90 seconds to two minutes without having to chop up an interview session.

Unsurprisingly, as with the Day of Silence article, Schilling never corrected this article or wrote an update with the correct information.

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