Update: Another Verse, Same As the First
The ConWeb reacts predictably to the Valerie Plame outing scandal. Plus: WorldNetDaily is reading ConWebWatch ... just not closely enough, subtle bias at CNSNews.com, a blogger busts NewsMax, and another Then and Now.
By Terry Krepel
The ConWeb has generally reacted in one of two ways to scandals related to the Bush administration: downplaying their importance and blaming the messenger, or ignoring it as much as it can get away with. And so it goes with the administration's apparent outing of CIA operative Valerie Plame.
WorldNetDaily is taking the let's-try-to-ignore-it approach. To date (four days after the rest of the media have been all over it), it has generated no original news story about it, not even one of those acts of thievery -- er, repurposing content from other news organizations under a WND byline; all news stories have been outside links. And only two opinion pieces that have appeared on the subject under the WND banner thus far: a reprint of an article from National Review alleging Plame's CIA job wasn't all that secret, and a column by Robert Novak, who outed Plame, defending his actions.
NewsMax, to no one's surprise, is taking the blame-the-accuser approach (remember when NewsMax thought criticizing people who made accusations against a president was a bad thing?). There's the usual equivocation with Clinton-era actions (ignoring the obvious fact that Paula Jones and Linda Tripp aren't CIA agents), the usual dismissal of allegations by Plame's husband, Joseph Wilson, because he's a Democrat (the big bombshell in Wilson's "shady past": he allegedly tried to give more than the legal allowable limit to the 2000 Gore presidential campaign) and, of course, the outright blaming it on Clinton (well, actually, what it calls "Clinton Cling-Ons," people NewsMax believes the Bush administration fired for the mere offense of working in the Clinton administration). However, John LeBoutillier takes some time away from his Clinton obsession to point out that "this crime is no less serious because it was done in a Republican White House."
At the Media Research Center, Brent Baker is complaining that the TV networks aren't reporting to his satisfaction about Wilson's "left wing and Democratic persuasion," then quotes a "befuddled" Aaron Brown asking at CNN, "What does Ambassador Wilson's politics have to do with either the leak or his wife's job?" Good question; too bad Baker thinks he doesn't need to answer it, because we'd like to know, too.
The MRC operatives at CNSNews.com actually let a balanced story about Wilson slip through, but the article by Susan Jones does take care to note Wilson's donations to Democratic candidates. Another story, by Jeff Johnson, is a little less balanced due to a subhead that states that Democrats "don't want to know if Wilson's wife was really a spy." Given the confusion about how "undercover" Plame was, isn't an investigation like the one the CIA has asked the Justice Department to do the best place to settle that question rather than in the media? And an Oct. 2 story, surprisingly, gives a lot of play to a former CIA agent who criticizes Novak's assertion that Plame wasn't an undercover agent.
A commentary by CNS executive Scott Hogenson, meanwhile, grumbles that "the establishment media are playing their predictable role" in the case, complete with references to "more than a few Bill Clinton cronies the Bush White House didn't have the good sense to fire on January 20, 2001" and "tawdry political opportunism." Hogenson dismisses it all as ""pure Bush-bashing."
Sounds like someone else is "playing their predictable role" as well.
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Is WorldNetDaily listening to ConWebWatch? Perhaps.
The day after ConWebWatch posted a story pointing out that WND has a problem with letting its readers clearly know about the financial interests it has in the stories it covers (among other things), WND posted a story by Diana Lynne on Elaine Donnelly, a conservative who's trying to get the military to repeal what she calls Clinton-era "social engineering" policies by "Pentagon feminists" that allegedly put women at risk in combat zones. Lynne does note high in her story, along with other biographical information, that Donnelly is a member of WND's Speakers Bureau.
Lynne, however, gets demerits for an embarrassingly unbalanced story. The word "conservative" appears nowhere in her story as a descriptive term, despite the fact that the Web site for Donnelly's organization, the Center for Military Readiness, is replete with references to the "Clinton-era" policies it's trying to repeal. Lynne lists unambiguously conservative groups such as Eagle Forum, Concerned Women for America, the American Conservative Union, Accuracy in Media, the Family Research Council and Focus on the Family as being "on board with the campaign" but merely describes them as "influential organizations." (Then, there's the unspoken fact: If Donnelly wasn't conservative, she wouldn't be a client of WND's Speakers Bureau.) Plus, only the final four paragraphs of Lynne's 43-paragraph story note any effort to talk to anyone other than Donnelly for a response.
Watch for WND's next story on Jesse Lee Peterson to see if this lesson in basic journalistic ethics will stick.
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One person at WorldNetDaily who hasn't learned any basic journalistic ethics is Jon Dougherty. He turned in yet another one-source wonder Sept. 25 -- a plug for a book by Richard Miniter, who claims "President Clinton had more than a dozen opportunities during his two terms to either capture or kill al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden but either refused or was too consumed by scandal to act." Miniter is the only person quoted, and to complete the ad-as-news-story that WND has become so adept at lately, he includes the sales ranking of the book at Amazon.com.
How lazy was Dougherty on this one? Two days earlier, the Washington Times -- which Dougherty and/or other editors at WND must surely read on a daily basis -- printed a rebuttal to Miniter's claims by two former Clinton administration officials. That couldn't have made its way to Dougherty's story, even under WND's very liberal policy of stealing -- er, repurposing stories from other news sources?
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On the other hand, if the folks at WND are indeed reading ConWebWatch, they don't appear to be reading it closely enough. Joseph Farah, in his Oct. 1 column, takes a commentator named Jane Hall to task for asserting that Americans were told the war in Iraq was going to be a "cakewalk."
"I don't know who told Jane Hall the war was going to be a 'cakewalk,'" Farah wrote. "I'm sure someone did. And I'm certain they deserve to be spanked. But I have searched endlessly through LexisNexis for even one responsible elected official or member of the press who used the term and could find nary a one."
All Farah needed to do was come to ConWebWatch, which took note of the "cakewalk" remark back in April. The culprit: Ken Adelman, former assistant to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in the mid-1970s and former arms control director under President Reagan. The exact quote, as found in the Washington Post in February: "I believe demolishing Hussein's military power and liberating Iraq would be a cakewalk."
We'd toss in a snippy comment here, but that would just be piling on.
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The bias at CNSNews.com is pretty subtle most of the time -- it's the little things that count, like slanted headlines (as ConWebWatch has previously noted). But it's also the words used to describe people and organizations that reveal its slant.
Take a July article on the controversial judicial nomination of William Pryor. Writer Jeff Johnson uses the term "pro-life" at least three times to describe Pryor, but two named senators who oppose Pryor's nomination are described by Johnson as "pro-abortion" and a general reference is made to "pro-abortion senators."
In addition to refusing to use the word "gay" as a synonym for homosexuals, a May CNS story referred to the Log Cabin Republicans as a "homosexual pressure group," as did a June story referring to the National Stonewall Democrats.
Of course, CNS still does the unsubtle forms of bias well, too. A story in which college administrators get blamed for what conservatives on their campuses deemed insufficient recognition of the anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks gave lots of digital ink to critics, but official response from the administrators in Robert Bluey's 19-paragraph story was limited to the following:
Sometimes, subtlety isn't necessary.
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ConWebWatch isn't the only Web site out there keeping tabs on the ConWeb. At his weblog Orcinus, David Neiwert caught a whitewash job NewsMax's Carl Limbacher did a couple years back on L. Jean Lewis, former low-level Resolution Trust Corp. inspector and documented Clinton-hater recently appointed chief of staff of the Office of the Inspector General of the Department of Defense.
Limbacher gives Lewis credit for writing the first criminal referral attempting to tie the Clintons to the alleged Whitewater scandal, then claims that Lewis "was being smeared as a 'Clinton-hater' and a 'gold digger'" during the Whitewater hearings but "nothing Clinton's allies had unearthed about Lewis compromised her testimony or the evidence she presented in any way."
But, as Neiwert (who has been all over the Lewis story) points out, being called a Clinton-hater was merely a fact, not a smear. E-mails "undeleted" from Lewis' computer, he writes, "proved beyond a doubt that Lewis had perjured herself regarding her testimony about her attempts to push the criminal referral against the Clintons for their Whitewater dealings with the FBI and the U.S. Attorney's office." Lewis was also selling "BITCH" T-shirts out of her government office (which she claimed stood for "Bubba, I'm Taking Charge, Hillary" and which she claimed were "in no way intended to denigrate the First Lady") -- none of which Limbacher acknowledges. (Neiwert also uncovers a Clinton-bashing piece on the 2000 election woes in Florida Lewis wrote for WorldNetDaily in which she notes that "Jesse Jackson and his minions have now arrived on the scene like malignant cancer cells attracted to a growing tumor.")
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Time for another shot of Then and Now:
"People are shocked by the comment -- understandably so. But, as repulsive, inexcusable and hateful as it is, this comment is not really out of character with this (Clinton) administration or its defenders. ... Is it any wonder, then, that a defender of this administration would resort -- even in faux humor -- to death threats?"
-- WorldNetDaily's Joseph Farah, Dec. 16, 1998,
"Personally, when I read Gibson's remarks, I laughed out loud. Clearly this was not a threat. Gibson was making his profound anger known. ... He was reacting in a predictable style to someone who can't or won't fight fair."
-- Joseph Farah, Sept. 10, on Mel Gibson's statement