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Spiking Reality

WorldNetDaily's annual "Operation Spike" list of purportedly underreported stories reflect right-wingers' obsessions -- but WND underreports the facts that demonstrate why the stories were rightly ignored in the first place.

By Terry Krepel
Posted 1/29/2009

One of Joseph Farah's pet projects is something called "Operation Spike," a year-end list of what of major news stories that were undeservedly "spiked" by the establishment press. It's presented as merely "sponsored" by Farah and WND (and, prior to WND, the Farah-founded Western Journalism Center), though no other person or organization has been listed as being affiliated with it.

The project's lineage is a bit murky; a 1997 WND article claims it has been done "every year since 1992," but the WND story about the 2008 list states that "Farah has sponsored 'Operation Spike' every year since 1988." The stories on the Operation Spike lists have been chosen variously over the years by "working journalists and media analysts" and by WND readers, though it seems that much of the time Farah himself has the final say over the finalists.

In reality, what Operation Spike really is is a list of the top right-wing news stories of the year, done as an apparent response to the liberal-leaning Project Censored. It's also a handy snapshot of WND's coverage at a given time.

The 1997 list, for example, is predictably filled with various Clinton-related conspiracy theories, such as "apparent gunshot wound in Commerce Secretary Ron Brown's head," "the mystery of Flight 800," and the "Vincent Foster cover-up." It also includes such longtime right-wing obsessions as "the militarization of the federal government," the "Oklahoma City bombing conspiracy" and "the Waco cover-up."

For the 1999 list, WND came out and admitted its Clinton obsession -- spun its own way, of course:

Clinton scandals ranked among the most spiked stories in general. In fact, more than half of the stories submitted dealt specifically with President Clinton and his various scandals, many of which the press seemed conspicuously to avoid. From campaign finance fouls to his impeachment, President Clinton made all the news -- but somehow managed to stay out of the news.

Of course, most folks stopped coverage the Clinton scandals when they didn't turn out to be scandals at all. For instance, WND's insistence that "the allegation by Juanita Broaddrick that she was raped by then-Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton" was a top "spiked" story repeats an assertion that "The president is credibly accused on national television of rape, and no one bats an eye" but not the actual facts that call into question Broaddrick's credibility.

In 2000, WND's list moved from the merely conspiratorial to the factually false. On that list it was noted that "WorldNetDaily published an exhaustive series of investigative reports by native Tennessee reporters Charles Thompson and Tony Hays on Gore and his Tennessee past -- including his vast connections to Soviet operative Armand Hammer, alleged interference with various Tennessee criminal investigations involving family and friends, and even documented reports of Gore, the environmental champion, being a notorious polluter in his home state."

However, WND was eventually forced to concede -- just as a libel lawsuit over it was about to go to trial -- that WND's Thompson-Hays series had included false claims about a Gore associate, Clark Jones -- that "no witness verifies the truth of what the witnesses are reported by authors to have stated," and that "the 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." During the discovery process, WND admitted that it didn't fact-check Thompson and Hays' reporting before publishing it.

This, in turn, raises questions about the veracity of other claims reported by Thompson and Hays -- questions WND has made no effort to answer or even verify. Without that, the entire series is discredited.

The 2000 list also offered this:


What is possibly one of the more expansive scandals of the Clinton administration -- involving hundreds of thousands of missing White House e-mail documents under subpoena -- was all but ignored by most of the media during 2000. WorldNetDaily's Washington Bureau Chief Paul Sperry first reported that the stash of unrecorded White House e-mails was as high as 1 million, and includes messages from the Democratic National Committee during the 1996 Clinton-Gore campaign. In addition, Sperry broke the story of how the supposedly independent contractor hired to "restore" White House e-mail records employs two senior Clinton officials.

Sperry also first reported that the contractor that previously handled White House e-mail operations hotly disputed claims that it caused a computer "error" that led to a two-year hole in records of e-mail sent to West Wing officials. (Firm won't take hit for 'Project X' fiasco)

As with most of the rest of the Clinton-Gore administration scandals, both the president and the vice president emerged essentially untouched by the massive disappearance of vital documentation under subpoena by both Congress and the special prosecutor's office.

By contrast, WND has written little, if anything, about the Bush administration's efforts to fight court orders that have ordered it to preserve its emails and to recover millions more that had been previously declared as "missing," let alone declare the Bush administration's actions to be "underreported" -- even though administration officials have admitted that it has no effective system for storing and preserving emails and that it failed to preserve backup copies of nearly two years' worth of emails.

The 2001 list reflected post-9/11 concerns with accusations that "the true depth and breadth of the political movement variously called 'Islamism,' 'Islamicism' and 'militant Islam' has simply not been told by the mass media," but it also clung to Clinton-era conspiracies, citing once again "the continued cover-up of both the alleged Middle Eastern connection to the Oklahoma City bombing, and the likelihood that TWA Flight 800 was shot down by a missile." It also cited, "The Clintons' exit from the White House and the attendant scandals – and the lack of prosecution for them," among them being "the unprecedented malicious vandalism by outgoing Clinton-Gore staffers." In fact, most of the vandalism allegations were never backed up with solid evidence, and even a federal General Accounting Office report found no substantiated evidence of vandalism.

The 2002 report contained more bogus stories:

  • WND asserted that "the mainstream media gave little notice to Democratic Sen. Patty Murray's praise of Osama bin Laden as a nation-builder worthy of praise, in contrast to the United States." But that's because there was nothing to report. As ConWebWatch detailed, her comments in context were an attempt to draw a contrast over how the U.S. is viewed in the Middle East, "not praise" for bin Laden.
  • WND also claimed that "Militant Islam as a factor in the D.C. sniper case" was ignored, asserting that "John Allen Muhammad's profile fits a pattern of a disaffected outcast who becomes increasingly radicalized under the influence of Islamism." In fact, there's little evidence of Muhammad's claimed belief in Islam playing a major role in the shootings; as one former friend put it, "I think he was tired of being a loser."

As the years went on, the Operation Spike list has grown increasingly untethered from reality. The 2004 list touted "The validity of the Swiftboat vets' charges against Sen. John Kerry," when, in fact, several of their claims weren't valid.

The 2005 list cited "The truth about Terri Schiavo and her death," including:

Disputing the findings of the county medical examiner, a neurosurgeon who examined Schiavo before her death says the autopsy report confirms she was aware of what was going on around her.

Dr. William Hammesfahr, known as a pioneer in approaches to helping the brain injured, said to ignore the facts would "allow future Terri Schiavos to die needlessly."

As ConWebWatch detailed, WND touted Hammesfahr's credibility, specifically his claim to be a "Nobel Prize nominee." In fact, that "nomination" came from someone who is ineligible to nominate someone for the Nobel Prize.

Such deception continued in the 2006 list:

  • In second place was the "wave of murders and other crimes by illegal aliens," asserting that "more Americans were murdered this year by illegal aliens than the combined death toll of U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan since those military campaigns began." That claim was based on one made by Republican Rep. Steve King of Iowa that is questionable at best and outright false at worst.
  • In third place: "In one of the most sensational stories of the year, WND documented dozens of cases of female teachers having sex with their underage students – both male and female." But WND offered no evidence that the names on its creepily obsessed list -- which, as ConWebWatch noted, began life on a gossip website -- were anything more than isolated cases over a period of 15 years.
  • In fourth place was a promotion of WND Jerusalem reporter Aaron Klein's gimmick of quoting Middle East claiming that they wanted Democrats to win the midterm elections. There was no mention of the fact that intelligence agencies concluded that Osama bin Laden's release of a videotape before the 2004 election -- which conservatives portrayed as an endorsement of John Kerry -- was in fact designed to get President Bush re-elected.

The 2007 list put "Research refuting man-made global warming" in third place. WND cited "a lawsuit by a father, Stewart Dimmock, who claimed the film ['An Inconvenient Truth'] contained 'serious scientific inaccuracies, political propaganda and sentimental mush.' The British court pointed to 11 inaccuracies in the production." But WND failed to note that Dimmock's lawsuit was bankrolled by oil and mining interests, or that the judge also found that the film's "four main scientific hypotheses" are "very well supported by research published in respected, peer-reviewed journals and accords with the latest conclusions of the IPCC [the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change]."

In fifth place was a "California bill introducing homosexuality to young children." In fact, that characterization, which WND has repeatedly peddled, is false, as is the claim that the law "would eliminate references to 'mom' and 'dad" or 'husband' and 'wife.'" In fact, all the bill essentially does is add "sexual orientation" to a list of characteristics California schools are not allowed to "promote[] a discriminatory bias" against.

In sixth place was Peter Paul's dubious accusations of "felonious fundraising" against Hillary Clinton. But WND has a long history of whitewashing or ignoring completely the fact that Paul is a convicted felon who's desperately trying to keep out of prison after pleading guilty to his role in a $25 million stock fraud scheme.

WND went nuts with its 2008 list, hurling all manner of misleading or bogus claims.

Unsurprisingly, given WND's deranged obsession with it, first place went to "Charges that Barack Obama is not a natural born citizen of the U.S. and thus constitutionally ineligible to serve as president." Also unsurprisingly, WND failed to mention its own investigation of the issue, which concluded that the "certificate of live birth" released by the Obama campaign is "authentic" and that Philip Berg's lawsuit claiming that Obama is not a natural-born citizen "relies on discredited claims."

In second place was a "U.S. Senate committee report that hundreds of top scientists have testified they believe claims of man-caused global warming are fraudulent." But the vast majority of the "650 international experts" cited by WND -- from a report issued by Republican Sen. James Inhofe's press chief, Marc Morano -- are recycled from a previous report issued by Inhofe and Morano, a report that was criticized for including a number of people with no expertise in climate science (or science, period).

The article added that "more than 31,000 scientists, including more than 9,000 Ph.D.s, have signed a massive petition project that challenges belief in man-made global warming." But as ConWebBlog detailed, that petition has been circulating for more than a decade, and the supporting materials sent by the petition's promoter, the Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine, featured an opinion piece misleadingly presented as an official-looking peer-reviewed paper.

Under the third-place entry, which asserts that the "true causes of the sub-prime mortgage meltdown ... point directly to the Democratic Party," WND repeated a claim made in September that the mortgage crisis can be blamed on "unsound, politically correct lending practices." The claim appears to be little more than a tacit endorsement of the illegal practice of redlining -- a refusal to offer banking services and/or loans in certain areas, something that in practice is racist because those areas were invariably minority-dominated. WND also misleadingly claimed that two former officials of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, Franklin Raines and James Johnson, are "Barack Obama advisers." In fact, both Raines and the Obama campaign denied that Raines was an Obama adviser, and Johnson quit as an adviser last June.

In fourth place is "Obama's ties to terrorists and extremists" -- another WND obsession of the guilt-by-association kind. Cited as one example is Rashid Khalidi, "the anti-Israel Palestinian professor." But WND failed to note that Khalidi also has ties to a group chaired by Obama's Republican opponent, John McCain.

In fifth place was "The campaigns of third-party presidential candidates, and Ron Paul's sensationally successful grass-roots campaign." But WND spiked that story too -- its coverage of third-party candidates during the 2008 campaign was minimal at best.

Many of the stories on the Operation Spike list were spiked for a reason -- they're designed more to promote WND and Joseph Farah's personal political agenda (and his personal grudges and obsessions) than to advance the cause of actual journalism.

Will WND tell its readers the truth about how it uses Operation Spike to promote its agenda -- or will it spike that story too?

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