WorldNetDaily's Letter Scam (Or Is That Spam?)
WND wants readers to pay it increasingly hefty fees to send letters to politicians on various hot-button issues -- and to spread numerous lies in the process.
By Terry Krepel
WorldNetDaily has never been shy about trying to fleece its readers for cash -- after all, it encourages its readers to make voluntary donations, even though WND is a for-profit operation. (WND's rationale: "there is a long and honored tradition in the newspaper business of asking loyal readers for voluntary payments.")
But trying to get people pay for something that's free likely hasn't brought in the cash, so WND must come up with other revenue streams. By getting into the business of having its readers pay it to send letters to politicians, WND seems to have one.
The inspiration for these campaigns appears to have come from one particular source: far-right religious extremist and WND columnist Janet Porter, best known for her rabid anti-Obama conspiracy theories, having once cited a neo-Nazi as credible, and praying for Christians to take "dominion" of the media.
In a Nov. 25, 2008, column uncritically repeating claims by the discredited Ron Polarik that the birth certificate released by Obama's presidential campaign is a forgery, thus making it a scandal akin to "Rathergate," Porter offered ideas for her readers who care about "care about life, liberty or the family, you're going to have to make hundreds of calls to try and fight an agenda that seeks to silence you" to "prevent" Obama from taking office, among them:
Write a letter to the nine Justices of the United States Supreme Court (names are listed below) and put them in a FedEx (or other overnight) envelope to:
A few days later, WND was begging its readers to pay it to send a form letter to all nine members of the Supreme Court stating in part:
With the Electoral College set to make its determination Dec. 15 that Barack Hussein Obama Jr. be the next president of the United States, the Supreme Court is holding a conference Friday to review a case challenging his eligibility for the office based on Article 2, Section 1.
WND editor Joseph Farah joined in the begging: "Please take advantage of this brief opportunity to let the Supreme Court know you care and you are watching. The hearing is set for Friday. That means you have only today and tomorrow to act."
A few days later, WND claimed that it sent out "6,682 FedEx packages of nine letters each that will be delivered before the court reviews a case Friday challenging the eligibility of Barack Obama under Article 2, Section 1 of the Constitution, which stipulates the position can only be filled by 'a natural born citizen.'"
A few days after that, WND kicked off an expanded campaign aimed at the Electoral College, asking readers to pay it $10.95 to send letters "to 470 members of the 538-member Electoral College for whom addresses are available. They will all be delivered Friday morning, giving each elector the weekend to consider the constitutional issues raised by Obama's presidency." The WND article repeated the discredited claim that "two Obama family members have told WND they were present at his birth in Mombasa, Kenya" and Polarik's discredited claim that Obama's birth certificate is " a possible forgery."
The letter claimed: "There is grave and widespread concern throughout the American public that this constitutional requirement is being overlooked and enforcement neglected by state and federal election authorities. There should be no doubt whatsoever that America's next president was truly born in the United States." It added to the electors; "All Americans should have confidence their president is eligible to serve. In this unique and historic case, you may prove to be the Constitution's last line of defense."
Farah justified this campaign too in a Dec. 10, 2008, column, asserting, "If there is any doubt, electors have a sworn duty to find out. And, no matter what you hear from my colleagues in the press, elected officials who chose not to investigate this matter and not to insist that safeguards and checks were in place on a matter so urgent and fundamental, there is doubt -- grave doubt."
And when the Supreme Court were to review another lawsuit attacking Obama's election on "eligibility" grounds, WND struck again with another letter campaign with a mild rewrite of its previous Supreme Court letter. This time, the response was much less than overwhelming; a Jan. 16, 2009, article stated that "1,344 people signed up to send a message to the justices, resulting in 12,096 messages."
Needless to say, all of WND's letter campaigns failed -- neither the Supreme Court nor the Electoral College challenged Obama's election on eligibility or citizenship grounds.
But the campaigns seem to have given Farah an idea: He can have his readers pay him to spam politicians with letters promoting his right-wing agenda!
In May 2009, WND teamed up with Porter to charge readers $10.95 to send letters to all 100 senators "in opposition to new hate-crimes legislation on the fast track of the U.S. Senate." Unfortunately for WND and Porter, the letter invoked a massively false talking point to justify its opposition. From the letter:
Passage of this bill by the U.S. Senate would be reckless and irresponsible not only because of the 'chilling effect' it would have on First Amendment-guaranteed rights to free speech, but also because it would provide, for the first time ever, special legal protections for pedophiles and other sexual offenders.
In fact, as ConWebWatch detailed when Porter peddled this claim in her own writing, pedophilia is not protected under the bill because it is considered a criminal act and not a sexual orientation. Further, the Americans with Disabilities Act already excludes pedophilia as a disability, thereby precluding protection for pedophiles from the hate crimes bill, making any such amendment superfluous.
WND and Porter teamed up once more in September 2009 for an even more ambitious campaign of pure spam: sending a "pink slip" to all members of Congress threatening them by claiming that if they don't support WND and Porter's right-wing agenda in four specific areas, "our real pink slip will be issued in the next election." WND charged $29.95 for the privilege.
But as with the hate-crimes bill letter, the "pink slip" is filled with falsehoods, chief among them being the regurgitated falsehood that the hate-crimes bill "protects pedophiles."
The case against "government health care" includes that "it has tax-funded abortion, rationing and euthanasia." The claim that health care reform mandates euthanasia (or "death panels") has been repeatedly debunked. As for funding of abortion, anti-abortion activists cite a convoluted path for how this occurs since no proposal at the time offered direct funding for abortion; as a Sept. 21, 2009, CNSNews.com article summed up the argument, "the House bills and one of the Senate bills includes language allowing federal funding for private plans that would pay for abortions. Thus, fungible money would allow for indirect funding of abortion." In fact, the final version of the bill contains no funding for abortion beyond those cases currently permitted under the Hyde Amendment.
The "pink slip" also claimed that the "cap and trade" bill would be "taxing us for heating our homes and driving to work!" -- an utterly meaningless claim.
WND misleadingly promoted the campaign by highlighting how many letters were sent, taking care not to mention how few people actually took part. For instance, WND offered unsurprisingly positive coverage of its own press conference in which it and Porter managed to get a few Republican members of Congress to endorse their "pink slip" campaign, touting how the number of pink slips "have surged past 5 million." But divide 5 million by 535, and you get 9,345 -- the number of people who have paid WND $29.95 to do this. That's a far less impressive number than 5 million.
At the press conference, Farah laughably pretended he was acting as a political activist by facilitating and promoting the pink-slip campaign: "One of the questions I get from colleagues is why a news agency would involve itself in a political advocacy campaign like the 'pink slips' effort. The answer is that I am an American first and a newsman second. I don't want to see the foundations that made this country great and that made the notion of a free press possible destroyed. And that's why we got behind this campaign."
Of course, the more logical -- and more truthful -- answer is that WND has never been a news organization and has always been a political advocacy group, as its eagerness to lie about Obama and his administration amply demonstrates. Further, if WND were an actual news organization that cared about facts, it would not have issued a "pink slip" with such obvious factual errors.
Also, multiply $29.95 by the 9,345 people who had taken part at that point and you get $279,882 -- the amount of money WND had taken in for the campaign at that point. Printing and sending the pink slips, it can be assumed, did not cost anywhere near that much. (WND ultimately claimed that "more than 9 million" pink slips were sent out.)
Apparently realizing he had a good scam going -- and that he could make more money off it -- Farah announced on April 29 a new letter campaign, this time in opposition of comprehensive immigration reform, which he described as "amnesty":
"Amnesty will tear this country apart," says Joseph Farah, founder and CEO of WorldNetDaily. "When 70 percent of Americans support Arizona's dramatic and courageous action to fill the void of federal failure on policing our borders, Washington is about to flout the will of the people once again. This is a brazen action to buy illegal votes. This is utter contempt for the rule of law and the will of the people. It must be stopped. This will be a genie that cannot be placed back in the bottle."
At no point does Farah explain why he applied the "amnesty" term to comprehensive immigration reform. After all, "amnesty" typically refers to a granting of something -- in this case, citizenship -- without preconditions; in the immigration policy section of Organizing for America, the Obama-linked political action group, states, "Undocumented workers who are in good standing must admit that they broke the law, pay taxes and a penalty, learn English, and get right with the law before they can get in line to earn their citizenship." Thus, the comprehensive immigration reform plan Obama is proposing cannot be "amnesty."
Also, note the hefty price. WND charged $10.95 for sending the "hate crimes" letters to 100 senators; now it's charging $24.95 for the same number of "amnesty" letters.
That was quickly followed by another letter campaign. On May 10, the same day that Obama announced Elena Kagan as his Supreme Court nominee, WND announced a campaign against her, for the same inflated prices as the "amnesty" letters.
As if the cravenness of declaring a letter war against someone the same she was announced, when Farah and WND could not possibly have done any substantive research into her -- as if the campaign would be undertaken no matter who Obama nominated -- Farah piled on by embracing every attack on Kagan no matter how false, many of which were published by WND.
In announcing the campaign, Farah bashed Kagan as "a radical anti-military and pro-abortion zealot." In fact, Kagan has repeatedly praised the military, and her abortion record is marked much more by pragmatism than zealotry.
A June 16 WND article hyping the letter campaign, in addition to repeating the demonstrable lie that Kagan is "a radical anti-military and pro-abortion zealot," stated that Farah "joins Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., in pointing out her vehement protests of U.S. military recruiting on Harvard University's campus while accepting a $20 million donation from Saudi Arabia":
What incensed Kagan about the military was its "don't ask, don't tell" policy on service by homosexuals, said Joseph Farah, WND chief executive officer and the organizer of the Stop Kagan Campaign, which delivers personalized, individually addressed anti-Kagan letters to all 100 U.S. senators by FedEx for $24.95. Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia's homosexual policy is the death penalty.
Actually, hypocrisy's name is Joseph Farah.
The money in question was donated to Harvard University -- not to Harvard Law School -- by Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal. As Media Matters pointed out, there's no evidence of discrimination in the Islamic studies program the donation funded, nor does it involve, as Sessions claimed, the teaching of Sharia law. Prince Alwaleed, it turns out, is also the second largest shareholder of News Corp., which own the Fox News Channel.
While Farah has railed against Alaweed's purported influence on the channel -- which seems to have mostly manifested in Fox not promoting a WND-published anti-Muslim book to Farah's satisfaction -- Farah has taken no steps to protest this involvement in the most sweeping way possible that would also establish his devotion to the cause: by forbidding his writers and columnist to appear on the channel.
But he has not done so. Indeed, Aaron Klein made numerous appearances on Fox News and Fox Business to shill his anti-Obama smear book. And Farah himself appeared on Fox News a couple weeks later to shill his new tea party book.
In a June 21 article promoting the campaign, Farah repeated that falsehood, then added another one: "This woman, as president of her university, banned the U.S. military from recruiting on campus. ... Just contemplate rewarding that kind of vehemently anti-American action with a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court. Elena Kagan must be stopped."
First, Kagan is not “president of her university”; she is dean of her university’s law school. Second, she did not “ban the U.S. military from recruiting on campus”; law school students had access to military recruiters during her entire tenure as dean, and she prohibited military recruiters from using the school’s career services office -- the only "ban" that actually took place -- for only a single semester.
June 29 WND article brought a new pack of lies, quoting Farah as falsely smearing Kagan as "a person who thinks it's OK to ban books," screeching, "Do you want a book banner on the Supreme Court?"
Here's Farah's alleged evidence to support his claim:
As solicitor general, Kagan defended before the Supreme Court a campaign finance law that could ban books and would ban pamphlets that would promote federal political candidacies or oppose them. While Kagan pointed out the law had never been applied to books, she acknowledged her support for the provision to consider such advocacy books as campaign contributions.
The facts are quite different the the lies Farah is peddling. First, Farah thinks "could" and "will" mean the same thing -- apparently, he learned nothing about grammar in his career as a journalist. Second, the campaign finance law Kagan argued to uphold (in the Citizens United case) did not ban all books and pamphlets, as Farah suggests; it addressed only election spending by corporations and unions.
Further, Kagan never argued for banning books. While WND correctly notes that Kagan "pointed out the law had never been applied to books," it conveniently omitted that Kagan also said that because federal law had never banned books, it likely could not do so, and that any attempt would be unlikely to stand up in court. Specifically, Kagan said, "Nobody has ever suggested -- nobody in Congress, nobody in the administrative apparatus has ever suggested that books pose any kind of corruption problem." Kinda shoots down Farah's claim that Kagan's a "book banner," doesn't it?
This sort of blatant lying in the service of fleecing his readers makes Farah either amoral or greedy. Either way, it's not becoming, and it's not right.
Either way, Farah's willingness to jack up the prices on on the letters shows that he has found a profit center. Thus, we can expect many more letter campaign to come -- and many more lies told in the service of trying to generate that precious income they bring in.