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The Tabloiding of the ConWeb

If the Internet had a checkout stand, you'd be able to pick up NewsMax there.

By Terry Krepel
Posted 2/5/2001

Perhaps it's time to rename this site ConTabWatch.

Both NewsMax and WorldNetDaily are embracing the supermarket-tabloid approach to the news -- sensational (if not misleading) headlines, unnamed sources and a focus on personalities.

Of the two, NewsMax has gone the furthest in this direction. After demonstrating its inability to cover actual news by relying on outside sources to cover the Florida recount happenings in its home Palm Beach County, epicenter of the troubles there, NewsMax has become much more tabloidish, to the point where it's really just the Drudge Report with a staff of opinion writers.

NewsMax CEO Christopher Ruddy set the tone with his Dec. 19 story on Bill and Hillary selling their house in Chappaqua, N.Y., based on anonymous sources "at some of America's most notorious supermarket tabloids." (Guess what? Bill's living there right now. Another blown opportunity for Ruddy to live up to his oft-broken promise, made that very same day, that "if I believed we had stated something false, misleading or inaccurate, I would immediately retract the story and make any corrections.") Ruddy also quotes a "tabloid insider" on the tabs' newfound love for all things Hillary as saying "Hillary is our new Lady Di."

And indeed, Hillary is NewsMax's Lady Di. The latest: A Feb. 4 story reports that Terry McAuliffe, newly elected head of the Democratic National Committee, said on NBC's "Meet the Press" that "I feel pretty safe saying - making a Shermanesque statement here - that Hillary Rodham Clinton will not run for president in 2004" but wouldn't take a challenge from show host Tim Russert to donate $1 million to a charity if Hillary does run. NewsMax, who perpetuates the much-denied notion that Hillary will indeed run for president in 2004 to keep up the agitation level among its loyal readers, interprets this to say that McAuliffe "flip-flopped in mid-interview."

NewsMax has even gone as far as defending the work of the tabloids. A Jan. 10 column by John LeBoutillier starts out with a report that the tabs had a story on a rumored affair between Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, George W.'s brother, and Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris, whose rulings ensured George W. won the state and the presidential election -- but it then turns into a defense of the tabloid that reported the alleged affair between Bill Clinton and Gennifer Flowers back in 1992. (LeBoutillier no doubt breathed a sigh of relief as the Bush-Harris story was upstaged by the tabloid-generated story that the Rev. Jesse Jackson had fathered an illegitimate child.) And a Jan. 15 story gloats that a tabloid scooped the New York Times in examining a book about Adolf Hitler.

WorldNetDaily, meanwhile, has always featured a link to the gossipy Drudge Report on its home page. But in mid-January, it took a step further down the road of gossip with the introduction of "WND Backroom," which promises "insider information, scoops, scandals and, generally speaking, fascinating, funny and outrageous behind-the-scenes stuff," according to Joseph Farah, WorldNetDaily editor and CEO.

"WND Backroom" is not posted on the WND web site; instead, it's sent to the subscribers on its e-mail list. While Farah touts it as "something special -- sort of a dessert -- for our most loyal readers," it smacks of a dumping ground for items that may be too scantily sourced or too self-referential for general public consumption.

The sample of the first "Backroom" that WND did post on its web site bears much of this out. Its contents: Plugs for WND stories on military ballots and the TV show "Temptation Island," an attack on a writer who opposed John Ashcroft's selection as attorney general and an item recycled from the Media Research Center. Not exactly earth-shaking stuff; not all that interesting, either.

So, even as the tabloids are demanding respect as a source of credible news, as the Chicago Tribune reports, WorldNetDaily threatens to undermine its news product with fluff, and NewsMax -- which didn't have much news product to undermine in the first place -- is leaping headlong into becoming the web outlet for fellow Clinton-haters and Hillary-obsessives.

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