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A ConWeb Defector?

WorldNetDaily is reporting some very non-conservative things about the war in Iraq. But don't fret -- the rest of the ConWeb is still slavishly following the conservative line.

By Terry Krepel
Posted 7/22/2003

What? Has WorldNetDaily suddenly become part of the evil liberal media?

One might think that after reading the series of stories it has run over the past couple of weeks that are unusually critical of America's Iraq-related activities, written mostly by Paul Sperry:

  • A July 10 story on how "the Pentagon underestimated the number of military police and Arabic-speaking interrogators it would need to occupy Iraq, and the miscalculations have left U.S. troops there more vulnerable to ambush."
  • A July 15 story on how Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld changed his story on when he knew what regarding the veracity of the claim President Bush made in his State of the Union address regarding Iraq's alleged attempt to obtain uranium in Niger.
  • An opinion piece by Sperry the same day in which he asks: "Why did this administration want to invade and occupy Iraq so badly that it was willing to scare Congress and the American people with ginned-up intelligence in order to sell its war scheme?"
  • A July 17 story accusing the White House of downplaying internal dissent over Bush's uranium claim.
  • A July 18 story linking to the photo essay on the White House Web site showing Bush working with aides in polishing his State of the Union address and "sketching notes in the margin of speech drafts."
  • Another July 18 story on what documents shook loose by Judicial Watch from the controversial energy task force headed by Vice President Dick Cheney showed -- that two years ago it "reviewed Iraqi oil-field maps and 'foreign suitors for Iraqi oil-field contracts.'"
  • An unbylined July 20 story (meaning that WND lifted it from various other news sources, in this case from a couple of Canadian newspapers) on reports that the White House took revenge on an ABC News correspondent, Jeffrey Kofman, who did a story on sinking morale among troops in Iraq by leaking to the Drudge Report that Kofman was not only gay but (gasp) Canadian.
  • A July 21 story pointing out that it took the International Atomic Energy Agency only 10 days (after receiving them from the Bush administration) to conclude that documents alleging Iraq had tried to buy uranium in Africa were forgeries.
  • A July 22 story detailing Bush administration reports last year discounting the idea that aluminum tubing reportedly sought by Saddam Hussein could be used in developing nuclear weapons.

A few WND readers are apoplectic over these stories. One letter-writer (WND's letters are not archived and stay posted for only a week) says Sperry is "out of control," and adds: "I believe [he] is undergoing the same process that David Brock underwent when Brock decided that his future would be better served by associating with the left. ... Paul Sperry is situating himself to make the break from the conservative movement. His fate will be the same as Brock's. Nobody likes nor trusts a turncoat."

What's prompting this unusual spasm of journalism -- and journalism that WND and the ConWeb would normally dismiss as liberal carping to boot? Well, WND has these spasms on occasions to try and throw people off the trail of calling them what they are, a conservative news site. But with an editor (Joseph Farah) who now has his own radio talk show (well, more accurately, he has Oliver North's old show) whose guests thus far have included Ann Coulter and Pat Robertson (whose call to pray for the retirement of Supreme Court justices he doesn't like fits right in with Farah's defense of gay-bashing WND author Michael Savage and his own condoning of the murder of alleged adulterers), and a commentary editor (Tom Ambrose) who believes Democrats are "beastly," "blood-sucking," "traitorous" and "socialistic," it's difficult to be anything but.

There's also the commerce aspect. Given the low molecular width of the wall between news and advertising at WND (see the news-slash-promotion for Katherine Harris' WND-published book), all these provocative stories can also be seen as ads for (drum roll, please) Paul Sperry's new book, which, according to the promo copy, "makes the unsettling case that the Bush administration, though engaged in an unavoidable and moral war on terror, also tried simultaneously to secure future energy production in the terrorists' home turf and ended up compromising America's national security interests."

Sperry, though, still has a lot of conservative cred, dredging up the occasional anonymously-sourced story about the Clintons, most recently playing along with the Hillary Clinton book counter-coverage by reporting that a Secret Service agent (anonymous, of course) accused her of throwing a book at an agent -- and most notoriously finding some anonymous veterinarian to accuse the Clintons of mistreating their pets. So we'll see if this sudden urge to offer rounded coverage at WND -- and it is just a phase at this point, despite what Farah says (most recently on July 17) about "watchdog" and "independent" journalism being important -- lasts past the promotion window of Sperry's book.

But ConWeb fans shouldn't fret -- and NewsMax are still toeing the conservative line. CNS leads a July 15 story with an unchallenged rewritten press release from the conservative Center for Security Policy (which writer Susan Jones describes merely as "dedicate(d) to promoting international peace through American strength") alleging that "Scurrilous attacks on George W. Bush's case for war may gratify his partisan foes even as they make Saddam Hussein's day."

And at NewsMax, editor Christopher Ruddy blames "the Democrats and the big media" for "fighting a war against President Bush." He even trots out the conservative-friendly but unreliable poll claiming that "89 percent of the Washington press corps said they voted for Bill Clinton" and tsk-tsked: "Clearly, the left-wing media will do anything to elect a Democrat in 2004."

* * *

Speaking of the WND's blending of news and promotion: Several favorite WND themes came together in a July 21 story written by that unencumbered-by-balance reporter, Jon Dougherty. He reports on a new poll by WND's favorite pollster, Scott Rasmussen, claiming that "less than half of Americans believe the New York Times, still considered the so-called 'newspaper of record' by many establishment media organizations, is a reliable purveyor of truth." The only two people Dougherty quotes in regard to the poll, which also found that "nearly three-fourths of Americans (72 percent) believe Fox News Channel to be a credible media source" (CNN was rated credible by 66 percent). are Rasmussen himself and Bob Kohn, who just happens to the author of a Times-bashing book WND is publishing. (Dougherty doesn't bother to note the WND connection to Kohn's book.)

Kohn wrote a July 12 WND commentary that is presumably a summary of his book. The funny thing is, many of the things he accuses the Times of doing -- "headlines that skew the facts," "lead sentences that slant the story," "the omission and distortion of facts in the guise of news," "the blatant use of the front page to influence public opinion," "the passing off of editorial opinions under the guise of 'straight' news articles" -- are all things WND has done.

We'd ask where Kohn's outrage is about that, but then we remembered that whole biting-the-hand-that-feeds thing. He's getting paid to beat up on the Times, not apply those very same standards to his own publisher.

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