The Return of the Western Journalism Center
With a new smear artist at the helm in Floyd Brown, the WJC is armed and ready to hurl discredited conspiracy theories at President Obama the same way it attacked President Clinton when Joseph Farah ran it.
By Terry Krepel
How is Barack Obama's birth certificate like Vince Foster?
To answer that, we must go back to the very beginning. After leaving the Sacramento Union in 1991, Joseph Farah and former Union publisher James Smith founded the Western Journalism Center -- under whose aegis Farah later founded WorldNetDaily. (After WND was spun off as a for-profit subsidiary in 1998, the WJC's share of of it was gradually transferred over the years to Farah.)
As ConWebWatch has noted, Farah likes to peddle the story that the WJC was founded "to fill a growing void in my industry's commitment to investigative reporting" and that its "mission was not ideological." In fact, the WJC didn't do all that much actual investigating; its main function was to attack the Clinton administration by promoting conspiracy theories surrounding the death of deputy White House counsel Vince Foster -- it accepted $330,000 in donations from then-Clinton-hater Richard Mellon Scaife toward that end, and other conservative foundations contributed as well -- and it went dormant as soon as Clinton left office.
Now that there's a Democrat in the Oval Office again, guess who's back?
The first hint of its resurrection came last August with a WorldNetDaily commentary by Andrea Shea King touting Jerome Corsi's factually dubious anti-Obama book, asserting that the book contains "legitimate questions about Obama that the author meticulously documents in the book's nearly 700 footnotes." The article contained the tagline, "This column was commissioned by the Western Journalism Center."
After undergoing a slight name modification -- it now prefers to call itself the slightly more highfalutin'-sounding Western Center for Journalism -- the WJC website is functional again, if only as a blog linking to other articles trashing President Obama and the so-called "liberal media" in general while offering no original commentary. According to its archives, blog posts began sporadically last September, but the blogging efforts have ramped up over the past few months. All posts thus far are anonymous.
The WJC blog's "about" page touts its previous efforts at publicizing conspiracy theories over the death of Vince Foster:
It first made its mark following the suspicious death of Deputy White House Counsel Vincent Foster during the Clinton presidency. Officially ruled a suicide by authorities, reporter Christopher Ruddywith assistance from the Center for Western Journalismunearthed evidence that shouted, “cover up!” No matter how hard they tried to conceal the real cause of Foster’s death, Ruddy’s dogged investigations clearly showed that the suicide ruling was phony.
Unmentioned is the simple fact that numerous investigations by people who weren't rabid Clinton-haters (and even a few who arguably were, like Kenneth Starr) discredited Ruddy's conclusions by repeatedly and inconveniently ruling that Foster committed suicide. Also unmentioned is the Scaife double-dealing: For much of the time he wrote about Foster, Ruddy worked for the Scaife-owned Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, meaning that Scaife was essentially paying the WJC to promote one of his own reporters. (Ruddy then went on to found Newsmax with Scaife's financial assistance.) As ConWebWatch noted, even Ann Coulter has dismissed Ruddy's reporting on Foster, calling his 1997 book on it, "The Strange Death of Vincent Foster," a "conservative hoax book."
The statement continues, and tells us who's guiding the WJC now:
Today the Center is lead [sic] by columnist and veteran broadcaster Floyd Brown. The Western Center for Journalism is a vigorous watchdog that keeps a check on government abuse and the media. The Center believes strongly in open public debate. It also believes that informed public debate requires quality journalism and reporting.
Yes, that Floyd Brown, who does indeed identify himself as WJC chairman on his own website. He's a longtime right-wing hitman -- the guy behind the notorious Willie Horton ad in 1988 -- who last year was peddling smears of Barack Obama and falsely suggesting that Obama is a Muslim.
So change "vigorous" to "vicious" on that "about" page and you get a more accurate idea of what we can look forward to from Brown's WJC.
Indeed, the WJC's first major anti-Obama salvo under Brown is exactly what one would expect from an organization with a history of peddling discredited claims: an enthusiastic embrace of the Obama birth certificate conspiracy theory.
In a March 24 email sent to those on Newsmax's mailing list, Brown and the WJC demonstrate WorldNetDaily-esque levels of obsession over the conspiracy (capitalization and italics in original):
Is the biggest political crime in American history taking place right before our eyes? Is the man in the White House INELIGIBLE, according to the Constitution, to sit in the Oval Office... is he a FRAUD... a USURPER?
The email goes on to insist that it's "Not Conspiracy Theories... Just The Facts" -- then goes on to cite claims by WND columnist Janet Folger Porter that even it admits "may be convoluted, but it is well-worth examining" -- that Obama's visit to Pakistan in 1981 somehow proves he's not an American citizen because "No record of Obama holding an American passport prior to the one he received once becoming a U.S. senator has been found." Porter, unsurprisingly, doesn't explain how she would know this, since passport information is supposed to be confidential and government contractors have been fired for improperly accessing it.
Porter insisted that Obama "couldn't get into Pakistan with a U.S. passport," only with an Indonesian one, and "the only way you can get one of those is if you are an Indonesian citizen." In fact, a 1981 New York Times article indicates that "Tourists can obtain a free, 30-day visa (necessary for Americans) at border crossings and airports," and an August 1981 State Department travel advisory explains how Americans can obtain visas for visiting Pakistan.
The email builds up to a full-frothing climax, which demolishes any notion that Brown and the WJC care about honest journalism and exposes the naked partisanship at the heart of the organization:
If Obama was in fact born in Kenya, the information may save the United States from bankruptcy: Since Obama’s inauguration on Jan. 20, stocks have plummeted to catastrophic lows.
Brown's rant is ultimately all about fundraising -- sprinkled throughout the email are reminders that "donations to the Western Center for Journalism are tax deductible."
In between all the ranting, Brown includes the airbrushed history of the WJC, complete with the dubious assertion that "Ruddy’s persistent and dogged investigations eventually showed that the suicide ruling was phony." It continues:
The Center is working to provide quality journalism and reporting by exposing bias and falsehoods in the mainstream media so that true information will be available.
There's no evidence on the WJC website that it actually does any of this sort of training of "citizen journalists." And if the WJC actually cared about "quality reporting and commentary," why didn't it investigate Porter's bogus allegations on Obama's visit to Pakistan before copying them to its email?
Another issue: Will the people behind this incarnation of the WJC other than Brown ever publicly reveal themselves and disclose their funding? After all, one way to be a credible "vigorous watchdog" -- if that's what Brown and crew really want, instead of the partisan hacks they have so far demonstrated themselves to be -- is to provide transparency. We're guessing that Smith, who was last seen in 2005 getting ousted from a reincarnation of the Sacramento Union (the most recent version, a freebie biweekly tabloid, went kaput in early March), is still involved; Farah likely isn't, at least not on a day-to-day basis, though it would be easy to surmise that he has some input given WND's similar obsession with (and willingness to lie about) Obama's birth certificate.
There's no reason to take the WJC seriously if it intends to operate in the shadows. Of course, Floyd Brown's involvement and its conspiratorial rantings are further reasons not to take it seriously.
If Brown's WJC refuses to offer "quality journalism" at home by avoiding full transparency about its activities, personnel and funding, why should anyone trust the garbage it hurls at Obama?
Right-wing haters like Brown and the WJC have decided that the birth certificate will be to Obama as Farah and Ruddy decided Vince Foster was to Clinton -- a crude conspiratorial cudgel around which to rally like-minded haters.
But they don't seem to have noticed that the two are alike in another way -- the WJC, then as now, will desperately cling to their conspiracies long after actual facts have proven them wrong.