Rejecting Journalism -- And Science
WorldNetDaily sides with a "Christian nutrition ministry" that thinks it doesn't have to prove the questionable claims it makes about its products.
By Terry Krepel
We already know that WorldNetDaily has a predilection for telling only the side of the story it agrees with -- as exemplified by reporter Bob Unruh -- and a wholehearted embrace of right-wing Christianity. Those tendencies have merged on one story WND has presented in so one-sided a manner that it constitutes an embrace of faith-based healing and a complete rejection of science.
A Feb. 21 WND article by Unruh featured Daniel Chapter One, a "small Christian nutrition ministry" run by Jim and Tricia Feijo, which was facing sanctions from the Federal Trade Commission for making unsupported claims about the nutritional supplements it sells. In his typical biased manner, Unruh quoted only attorneys for Daniel Chapter One who, according to Unruh, "responded to a series of written questions submitted by WND."
Unruh didn't quote any FTC official in the article or even substantively directly quote any FTC documents on the case. Unruh wrote that "The FTC did not respond to a request for comment," but the FTC has posted on its website numerous documents regarding the Daniel Chapter One case from which Unruh could have quoted.
Unruh misleadingly asserted that it's not until "after the full penalties of being found guilty are scheduled to apply" that "the principals will be able to present their first defense to the charges." The headline of Unruh's article -- "Company battling 'Star Chamber' judgment" -- hammered home the talking point. In fact, the FTC record contains several documents by Daniel Chapter One's attorneys responding to the FTC that include what most reasonable people would call a defense.
Unruh also curiously failed to offer specifics about the claims Daniel Chapter One made that drew the FTC complaint, framing the issue as about "how the federal government demands studies of nutritional products such as vitamins be done before the products are advertised to consumers." In fact, in a September 2008 FTC press release summing up its case, the FTC stated that Daniel Chapter One has made "deceptive and false claims that these products effectively prevent, treat, and cure cancer" and that "one of their herbal formulations mitigates the side effects of radiation and chemotherapy."
The original FTC administrative complaint goes on to state that Daniel Chapter One claimed one product "inhibits angiogenesis -- the formation of new blood vessels" which "can stop tumor growth," that another product "battles cancer," and that yet another product can serve "as an adjunct to cancer therapy." Even though Daniel Chapter One's claims that its products treat cancer is central to the FTC's actions, the word "cancer" appears nowhere in Unruh's article -- nor did it appear in an August 2008 WND article Unruh wrote when the FTC first took action against Daniel Chapter One.
Unruh featured "Herb Titus, a key constitutional expert working on the Daniel Chapter One case," complaining that the FTC wants "someone marketing dietary supplements must substantiate any health-related claim with 'scientific evidence' forcing the company to affirmatively prove its statements instead of defending any statements suspected of being incorrect." Neither Unruh nor Titus explain why scientific evidence of its claims is a bad thing.
Indeed, it seems that Daniel Chapter One has an aversion to "scientific evidence." In an answering brief, the FTC states:
Respondents did not conduct or direct others to conduct any scientific testing of the effects of the Challenged Products, and offered no evidence of any such testing having been performed by others. F.308. Instead of relying upon scientific testing to substantiate their advertising claims, Respondents claimed that they relied on personal observations, customer testimonials, and a variety of books, magazines, and articles about how certain substances in the Challenged Products could be utilized. F. 316-18. Their proffered experts were not medical doctors and had no specialized training or experience regarding cancer or cancer treatment. F. 335-337. Even Respondents' prorated experts admitted, however, that because the Challenged Products have not been tested, their effectiveness in the prevention, treatment, or cure of cancer is not known.
Rather than tell the truth, Unruh misleadingly portrayed the case as one of the "Goliath-sized" FTC unfairly targeting a "small Christian nutrition ministry" and obscured the actual issues involved. That's pretty much how WND's entire coverage of the case has gone.
Unruh misled again in a barely comprehensible May 20 article noting that Daniel Chapter One was appealing the FTC's rulings to an appeals court by claiming a religious exemption to FTC regulations.
Again, the word "cancer" is not found in Unruh's article, even though Daniel Chapter One's claims regarding treatment of cancer are central to the FTC's action against it.
After that, WND's reporting passed from Unruh to Brian Fitzpatrick, but the reporting didn't get any better or less biased.
An Oct. 9 WND article by Fitzpatrick screamed that "Two federal agencies, backed up by state and local police, have swooped down on a peaceful Portsmouth, R.I., ministry like Eliot Ness busting up one of Al Capone's Prohibition-era breweries." Fitzpatrick interviews only Daniel Chapter One representatives and makes no apparent attempt to verify the information they gave him; there's no indication in the article that Fitzpatrick even bothered to contact any federal officials for their side of the story. Thus, Fitzpatrick shoveled out horsepuckey like this:
The FTC alleges that Daniel Chapter One falsely claims its products can cure cancer.
If Fitzpatrick had bothered to read the FTC's administrative complaint against Daniel Chapter One -- again, there's no indication he did even that level of rudimentary research for his article -- he would have know that the FTC specifically laid out several instances in which Daniel Chapter One did just that.
Rather than offering a coherent defense of the idea that products that make medical claims should have scientific backing for their claims, Fitzpatrick allowed the owners to blather on about faith and the evils of "conventional" medicine:
"The position for the FDA is only drugs can treat illness. We believe drugs don't treat anything. Fifteen years on the radio, no one's ever complained, no one's ever been harmed, we haven't been sued, but 106,000 people will die this year from FDA-approved drugs," said Jim Feijo.
Fitzpatrick wrote that "At an FTC hearing in April, the Feijos presented five experts to testify to the scientific evidence supporting their products, but they failed to sway the FTC judge." In fact, the hearing was in December 2009, not April 2010. Further, in the transcript of the oral arguments at the hearing before FTC commissioners, Daniel Chapter One attorney James Turner admitted that one of the its "experts" were "medical doctors," while one of them was a "naturopathic"; he also admitted that none of the "experts" has any specialized training in cancer treatment, though the naturopath does "work with cancer patients."
Fitzpatrick wrote that "The FTC will only accept double-blind, placebo-controlled studies, according to the Feijos, and small organizations like theirs cannot afford to conduct such expensive research." But Daniel Chapter One did much more than plead poverty; it tried to discredit the entire idea of double-blind studies. Turner said one of the "experts" the group called on spoke on the idea of "double-blind studies not being a sound way to evaluate information," and Turner responded to an FTC expert's claims by complaining that "he grounded his entire testimony in placebo-controlled, double-blind studies, and we are saying that is not the proper standard. He didn't -- he offered no other explanation of that, and these are not placebo-controlled, double-blind studies. That's what his whole testimony was about."
Later, Turner tried to claim a loophole: "The law does not say double-blind studies, it does not say -- in fact, it does not say studies. It says, scientific information, and these individuals who testified, Mr. Duke, Dr. Duke, was for 27 years, he was a key herbal advisor to both the National Cancer Institute, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture."
Fitzpatrick even botched the name of one of the agencies allegedly involved in the raid, referring to the "Federal Drug Administration." That, presumably, is the Food and Drug Administration.
Completely unmentioned by both Unruh and Fitzpatrick are questions that were raised about the Feijos' finances. According to the hearing transcript, FTC chairman Jon Liebowitz noted that the Feijos claim to have taken a vow of poverty, but are using the proceeds of Daniel Chapter One "to buy things like two Cadillacs, two homes, restaurant meals, tennis memberships, country clubs, pool and gardening services, cigars, carries around a Gold American Express card." Turner responded that the Feijos "live relatively modest lives" and their house is "on a country club," though he admits they do play golf.
FTC attorney Leonard Gordon went on to advance the idea that Daniel Chapter One is a tax evasion scheme: "What we know is that Mr. Feijo stopped paying his taxes sometime in the mid-1990s, and what we know is that thereafter, he incorporated Daniel Chapter One as a Washington corporation sole. The woman who incorporated it, Nancy Johnson, was then prosecuted by the IRS for tax evasion in connection with corporations sole."
WorldNetDaily has a notable history of trying to gussy up unsavory characters -- i.e. Phillip Long and Johnathon Irish -- to present as victims in order to advance its far-right agenda. That's what it appears to be doing with Daniel Chapter One.