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WorldNetDaily's Shill Game

What WND's book division has to sell appears to be driving what makes news on WND's front page.

By Terry Krepel
Posted 9/25/2003

What's worse than pretending to be an objective news organization when it's actually unfair and partisan? How about pretending to be an objective news organization when it's actually a vehicle to make people buy stuff?

Now, news and advertising have always blended -- despite what anyone on the news side might like to think, the business side folks know that the primary function of a newspaper or news Web site or even a TV news program is to deliver advertising to people, and news is merely a way to attract folks to the ads. Most of the time, there is a clear line between news and advertising.

That line is being obliterated at WorldNetDaily.

As Joseph Farah himself has said, WND's news operation doesn't make money; it falls to WND's retail operation and, most recently, its book division and the subscription-only G2 Bulletin site, to generate income. As a result, the news operation has taken some hits, most notably in a decline in emphasis on original reporting in favor of the wholesale theft -- um, rewriting of stories by other news organizations under a WND byline.

On top of that, the WND news section is increasingly playing host to stories that likely would not appear otherwise if WND did not have a financial interest it, usually a title by WND Books. We expect a certain amount of plugging by a news organization when another division has something worth plugging, as WND does with a series of stories boosting a new book on a new theory behind the John F. Kennedy assassination. But WND also goes further by not clearly delineating a plug as such, making what is essentially advertising into a news story, since all of these articles are made to look like other news articles.

Some recent examples:

A Sept. 17 story featured the fulminations of the right wing's favorite black person, Jesse Lee Peterson, who is the only person quoted in it. The body of the story also includes a plug for Peterson's new book, "which is available now exclusively through WND," and an upcoming Fox News Channel appearance. Nowhere does it explicitly say that Peterson's book is published by WND, or does it say anywhere that Peterson belongs to WND's speakers bureau.

A Sept. 15 story showcased a long quote from the Washington Post about (and extensive plug for) another WND book, this on "How Washington Resists Reform and Makes Outsiders Insiders" by former congressman Tom Coburn. This time, it's at least said in the opening paragraph that it's a WND book.

WND's book bashing the New York Times, written by Bob Kohn, got two news plugs in three days. One was a Sept. 19 story on an alleged inconsistency between the Times' news and opinion operations as documented by a "media watchdog" called The Raging Lady (who purports to be concerned about "the need for diversity and realism in activist journalism," but a deeper reading of the mission statement at the bottom of the site's front page show why WND plucked it out of obscurity: "to catalogue the techniques the Times uses ... to legitimize the Democratic Party's liberal elite and de-legitimize its opponents.") The story wasn't actually about the book, which is mentioned only in a "related special offer" at the end of the story. But would this story have even appeared on WND at all if it didn't have a book related to it?

The second appeared three days earlier, touting how the Kohn book has "skyrocketed" up the bestseller list. (Ask yourself, as you were encouraged to do when NewsMax did it, why WND would promote sales at Amazon when it can make more money per book by selling it through its own store.) It includes all the promotional material used in the past for the book -- the citing of the Times' alleged crimes ("slanting the presentation of the facts in leads, headlines, and placement; utilizing polls, labels, and loaded language to hoodwink readers; and staffing the newsroom with hacks who manipulate the news to further a leftist political agenda") and Farah's blurb that "Once you've read this book, you'll never read the Times – or any newspaper – the same way again" -- all of which overlooks the fact that the exact same case Kohn makes against the Times can be made against WorldNetDaily.

WND has done this ever since its book division began by offering fluff coverage of Katherine Harris and her congressional campaign as it promoted her book (currently being remaindered for $5 at the WND store). But as WND releases more books, so must the news division promote them -- even to the point of abandoning its conservative political philosophy to do so, as it does with permitting Paul Sperry's anomalous coverage critical of Bush on WND while the book division publishes his similar-in-tone volume. As an apparent reminder, however, that Sperry still follows the anti-Clinton philosophy that WND was founded on, a Sept. 24 story recounts the fourth anniversary of Sperry's breaking of long-standard policy by asking President Clinton a critical question during a White House reporters picnic.

That's not to say WND has completely given up its old, non-commerce-related slanting habits. A Sept. 13 story tries to demonize a congressional bill that would require makers of dietary supplements prove that they are safe by linking it to Hillary Clinton. The unbylined story's lead calls the bill "a 'Hillarycare' approach to the issue" while not quoting anyone actually saying the word "Hillarycare." (Hillary Clinton did not introduce the bill, but she is a cosponsor; this same approach was used by the Wall Street Journal in trying to make Hillary more evil than cockfighting.)

A Sept. 21 story by Jon Dougherty uses the denial of an appeal by one of the defendants in the Jesse Dirkhising case as an excuse to rehash the case and the claim that "news of the Dirkhising case was surprisingly muted throughout the country, perhaps because it involved a homosexual crime." Dougherty neglects to mention that WND, despite all its promotion of the Dirkhising case as the conservative equivalent of the death of Matthew Shepard (which it wasn't since hate crimes and sex crimes are two separate things), didn't even offer day-to-day coverage of the trial of the defendant whose appeal was later denied.

And WND has joined the other conservatives on the Wesley Clark-bashing bandwagon. It served up speculation that "Bill Clinton is the 'man behind the curtain' pulling the levers" of Clark's campaign; it also rewrote a Robert Novak column into a news story about Clark's "friendly" 1994 meeting with "Bosnian Serb commander and indicted war criminal Gen. Ratko Mladic," failing to note (just as Novak didn't) that the Srebrenica massacre of Muslim civilians Mladic is accused of masterminding, thus earning his "indicted war criminal" status, took place in 1995, a full year after Clark's meeting. (Any chance that, for the sake of balance, WND will share with its readers the photo of Donald Rumsfeld hobnobbing with Saddam Hussein? Doubtful.)

Is WorldNetDaily's slanting of news to make money any worse than doing it to promote a viewpoint? Not really; it just proves the point that, far from being "fiercely independent," WND is quite dependent on two things -- ideology and cash.

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