Does WND Deserve to Live?
Joseph Farah is begging for money to keep WorldNetDaily alive, but he's refusing to address the elephant in the room: the fake news and shoddy reporting that played a major role in bringing WND to the brink.
By Terry Krepel
That which is good or great makes itself known, no matter how loud the clamor of denial.
That which deserves to live lives.
-- Cadillac, "The Penalty of Leadership," 1914 ad
* * *
In his Jan. 1 column, WorldNetDaily editor Joseph Farah declared that one of his New Year's resolutions was "to grow WND exponentially," adding: "This isn’t a matter of pride with me. It’s a matter of effectiveness."
A week later, Farah was begging his readers for money to keep WND alive.
Farah's Jan. 8 column asserted that WND is facing another "existential threat, since "there are no millionaires or billionaires supporting WND, as is the case with other top-tier alternative media organizations," and that "We need to raise a minimum of $100,000 before Jan. 30."
This would be the second "existential threat" WND has faced in the past year and a half; Farah sent out a similar plea for money from readers in June 2016.
In his appeal, Farah managed to checkmark most of the things WND is known for -- invoking God, Trump sycophancy and blaming liberals:
I can’t go into all the details of the problems we are facing some are global (like the major drop in ad revenues for news websites) and some are specific to WND but I will mention one thing you probably didn’t know.
Please, help us to weather this storm by giving as much as you can to support us in this critical hour.
In other words: becoming a pro-Trump state-media outlet and continuing to publish fake news hasn't worked out so well for WND. Perhaps Farah thought that being all pro-Trump all the time would draw more eyeballs and, thus, revenue -- and, perhaps, draw in one of those "millionaires or billionaires" supporting other right-wing media sites to be his moneybags. He thought wrong -- a business model that failed.
Farah confirmed as such in a later letter in which he added a little surprising insight about how its revenue patterns align with who the president is:
Political years are generally good for WND. Non-political years, not so much. In addition, when you feel danger from your elected officials, we’re like your best friend in the media. But, conversely, when you feel like your best friend is in power, some of you don’t think you need us so much anymore. It’s ironic, but the Clinton years were a boom for WND the Bush years, not so much. The Obama years were good for WND, the first year of Trump, not so much.
Remember, WND was founded in 1997 in order to attack President Clinton. And this explains why it fought so hard (and failed miserably) to destroy Obama -- its revenue depended on being always on attack, regardless of whether any of those attacks were true. It also raises the question of why Farah felt the need to start a "thank Trump" campaign when WND's finances were so precarious.
In that same letter, Farah made another curious claim:
WND has always been undercapitalized compared not just with the big corporate media, but even with our friends in the independent media. I’ll share some amazing stats with you. No more than $5 million has ever been invested in WND over 20 years. With that meager investment, WND has brought in hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue over two decades.
Well, if you generated "hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue" but only spent $5 million on the operation, it's not unreasonable to ask where all that money went and why it's not helping WND now. (Not to mention how much of that went to the Tennessee car dealer it falsely defamed during the 2000 election.)
In a Jan. 30 letter, Farah made another admission, in the midst of announcing that WND's online store would take payment through PayPal for the first time in several years (he admits dropping the PayPal option may have been "really stupid"):
The WND Superstore was once WND’s No. 1 source of revenue for years! It was reliable. It was steady. But because of the “Amazonization” of our culture, fewer people think of any other place to go for their books, Bibles, movies, gifts, preparedness needs and even unique products not carried at Amazon.
Yes, merchandising has tended to be the savior of other operations whose main content loses money. Yet the day after that letter was sent, WND sent out a promotion for Farah's book "The Restitution of All Things" which reprints favorable reviews of it from ... Amazon. So Farah is clearly not entirely displeased with how Amazon does business if he's trying to ride its coattails.
But throughout all of this, none of Farah's letters has mentioned the elephant in the room, the real reason why Google ranks WND so low in its searches: it's not credible because of its biased, conspiratorial, fake-news-riddled content.
Since the last "existential threat" WND faced a year and a half ago, ConWebWatch has compiled six articles about WND publishing false, fake and misleading news. That's a horrible track record -- and given that Farah has done nothing to address this, perhaps reason enough that WND should die.
But even as he's begging for money, WND is continuing its old ways with the same questionable, biased content that helped lead it to the situation it's currently in.
James Zumwalt wrote as part of a larger anti-Muslim screed in his Jan. 10 WND column:
For those unaware of it, Western civilization’s decline is in progress. While several factors contribute to this progression, an outrageous lifestyle recently gaining acceptance in Germany illustrates just how low into a moral abyss Western values have sunk.
That's simply not true. Zumwalt is relying on a 2013 article by the notoriously unreliable Daily Mail -- an article that, according to Snopes, not only fails to mention Muslims or migrants at all but also fails to prove that "bestiality brothels" actually existed, apparently relying on a single quote from a German animal protection officer who didn't say anything about animal brothels. (The Daily Mail article also doesn't mention "progressives"; Zumwalt made that up too.) Snopes added that Germany quickly moved to outlaw bestiality after realizing there was a loophole that didn't explicitly ban it before. So if those "bestiality brothels" ever actually existed, they almost certainly don't now.
If Farah really believes that WND applies "the highest standards of journalism," it would have done so here through a simple fact-check on the part of a WND editor that would have caught Zumwalt's falsehood and resulted in either the rewriting or outright refusal to publish his column. But that didn't happen. And it's unclear how the "strong Judeo-Christian worldview" Farah claims WND has prevents it from engaging in basic fact-checking.
If any one issue defines WND, it's the obsession with Barack Obama's birth certificate and its insistence that it's a fake -- and its suppression of research proving otherwise. It's still carrying the birther torch in a Jan. 11 article by Bob Unruh, in which he blames CNN's Chris Cuomo for bringing it up, then uses that hook to rehash the whole thing:
A mainstream reporter, CNN’s Chris Cuomo, this week resurrected the question of Barack Obama’s birth certificate during an interview with newly announced Arizona Senate candidate Sheriff Joe Arpaio.
Let's rehash what Unruh refused to report, shall we?
First: the investigation, far from being a "respon[se] to requests from constituents," was sleazed into existence with a huge assist from WND. Then-WND reporter Jerome Corsi gave a presentation on his birther conspiracy theories to a tea party group in a town in suburban Phoenix called Surprise. Corsi then worked with the tea party group to lobby Arpaio to start the investigation.
Third: The claim that "a computer expert had copied and pasted Obama’s information onto the birth certificate of a woman born in Hawaii about the same time" is likely bogus. As Dr. Conspiracy detailed following their press conference in early 2017, Arpaio and Zullo never actually proved that parts of Obama’s birth certificate were copied from the certificate of Johanna Ah’nee.
Fourth: Despite his invitation to Cuomo to "show [him] the evidence," Arpaio has never made public the supporting documentation behind its dubious conclusions-- in particular, the affidavit from Reed Hayes (who is a handwriting expert, not an expert in digital documents -- an important distinction given that the posse never examined a physical copy of any birth certificate Obama released) or the report from an Italian forensics laboratory. If Arpaio would just put it all on the web, nobody has to go to Phoenix and wonder why he's acting like he has something to hide playing gatekeeper for dubious evidence.
Fifth: Arpaio and Zullo have never coherently explained why they dismissed out of hand the most logical explanation for the purported anomalies in Obama's birth certificate -- they were created by scanning the birth certificate into a Xerox Workcentre 7655 multifunction printer to turn it into a PDF.
In short: The birther conspiracy is, and always has been, fake news. The fact that WND still pretends it's not is a big reason why it's circling the drain.
Still begging ... and denying
When Salon published an article about WND's impending demise -- which quotes ConWebWatch pointing out that one major factor in its dire financial situation is the fact that its content is simply not trusted -- Farah took notice. And, being the thin-skinned fellow that he is, he didn't take it well. So much so, in fact, that he devoted two days' worth of emailed fundraising pleas to attacking the Salon article.
In his Feb. 15 email letter, Farah complained:
It didn’t take long for the leftist fake-news media sharks to smell WND’s blood in the water because of our pitches for financial help to our subscribers.
The WND article in question involved what an anonymous "concerned woman" called a "strange image" in a video of an appearance by President Obama in Kenya, which the woman described as a "demon"; the Salon article described the article as "promoting the idea that then-president Barack Obama might be demon-possessed. Farah has sort of a point in that the article doesn't explicitly state that Obama is demon-possessed. But a link between Obama and malevolent figures and various vermin is clearly the impression WND wants to leave its readers, as the article's introduction makes clear:
He’s the U.S. president who has had flies land on his face numerous times, prompting some to call him “Lord of the flies.”
(Actually, the actor who played Satan looks supiciously like Farah.)
Farah then flip-flopped and conceded that the Salon article "did make a point that has more than a grain of truth," about the Obama years being more lucrative for WND than the Trump presidency thus far. Farah decided this was the readers' fault: "Some of the WND audience, to a certain extent I suspect, thinks all the nation’s problems are being solved. So, who needs WND? What those folks are missing is that WND is needed more than ever for the Trump agenda to be realized."
Later on Feb. 15, Farah devoted his column to attacking not the Salon article but Salon itself, seemingly jealous that it has wealthy benefactors who keep it afloat:
If I had a rich dad who subsidized WND to the tune of millions of dollars a year, even more than all of my company’s annual revenues, I would not be begging for money from WND’s subscribers. That’s what allows Salon to sling mud at WND and other independent media year after year, decade after decade.
Farah conveniently omits the fact that WND did have a millionaire benefactor early in its existence: Robert Beale, who later got busted for tax evasion, then failed to show up for his trial and went on the lam for 14 months, then made things even worse for himself by threatening a judge. Beale is also whom we presumably have to thank for longtime WND columnist Vox Day, the nom de plume of Beale's son Theodore.
Despite bashing Salon as "a real propagator of real fake news" and describing the article as "lies," Farah never once identifies anything that's a lie or fake in the article. Perhaps that's because Farah would then have to address WND's own legacy of fake news -- which, again, we contend is a major factor in WND's current death spiral.
Farah then tried to spin turning WND into a Trump fanboy site as a reason it deserves to exist:
I will also admit, WND has not been adversarial toward Trump, like most every other media outlet. So why is traffic down slightly? I suspect it’s because many Republicans and conservatives think Trump’s got everything under control.
Farah headlined this column "Why WND is more successful than Salon." He didn't explain how circling the drain and begging for money from readers equates to "success."
Farah then sent on his column as the daily fundraising email on Feb. 16, but with an even less accurate headline: "We expose fake news, we don't manufacture it."
Oh, yes you do manufacture fake news. And if you, Mr. Farah, are afraid to address that crucial issue in an honest manner with your readers -- and, more importantly, do something about it -- WND probably doesn't deserve to live.