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NewsMax's Season of Silliness

Slanting AP wire copy, worthless stories, Jon Dougherty -- it appears NewsMax doesn't want to be respectable after all.

By Terry Krepel
Posted 3/4/2004

All that respectability NewsMax has been aiming for of late seems to be going out the window. It's returning to the journalistically slack, hyper-partisan silliness we've all come to know and love.

A few recent signs of that:

Jon Dougherty. The Slantie Award winner has brought some of his patented WorldNetDaily techniques with him to NewsMax. Those include the one-source story, as in a November 2003 article on women in combat that quotes only the person who heads a group that opposes it; and rewriting press releases or, in the case of a December story, an article from Fortune magazine about Hillary Clinton. Dougherty did no reporting on this story, merely rewords what Fortune wrote, yet his byline is at the top.

He also dabbles in a little sycophancy in a January story, co-written with Brandon Benson, that sucks up to a conservative Iowa radio-talk-show host who confidently predicted the winner of that state's caucuses would be "Dean by a hair." Subsequent events have pretty much put the lie to Dougherty and Benson's lead: " Few know Iowa like its leading conservative talk show host, Jan Mickelson." It took two people to write that? There's also a fawning Feb. 25 story on the congressman who wrote a proposed constitutional amendment on marriage, complete with subheads like "Not Anti-Gay" and "Centrist." Which, of course, is a big clue that perhaps the congressman and Dougherty are neither.

And, given that he wrote a book about it, there's his usual harping on immigration.

Then again, Dougherty can turn out the occasional balanced, well-researched story, such as a Jan. 28 piece on problems with the Army's Stryker armored vehicle.

So we know he can write and report like a regular journalist. The problem is, most of the time he chooses not to.

Slanting wire copy. After ConWebWatch caught NewsMax in the act of changing wire service news copy to make it more pro-conservative and anti-liberal, the incidence of it declined. When NewsMax dumped Moonie-owned UPI for the venerable Associated Press, it seemed to stop completely, limiting its bias to headlines and subheads.

Apparently not. A March 2 story on a Senate gun-related mucks with the copy. The headline, of course, is slanted -- "Senate Republicans Scuttle Tainted Gun Bill" -- but the lead paragraph complains that "Democrats amended it to extend a ban on what they call 'assault weapons.'"

The problem? That's not how AP sent it out. It used "assault weapons" without quotes and without the "what they call" equivocation.

Clinton-hating. Because it wouldn't be NewsMax if it wasn't spewing various forms of bile at people named Clinton. Their continued obsession with Hillary Clinton remains borderline hilarious.

A Feb. 27 story calls Hillary a "porky pol." "Carl Limbacher and Staff" spent a two-day tizzy over Hillary saying that women in Iraq had more rights under Saddam Hussein than they do now, yet offered no evidence whatsoever that this wasn't the case. A March 4 story insists that it's somehow "bizarre" that Hillary is backing John Kerry's candidacy for president now that he has effectively vanquished all challengers. "Could it be that New York's junior senator sees the chances of a Kerry-Clinton ticket growing slimmer by the minute?" the story speculates, never mind that she has repeatedly said she wasn't running for anything in 2004.

NewsMax gleefully ran a Feb. 26 AP story (somehow managing to refrain from changing words in it) on a contractor Clinton library subcontracting a $936,000 contract for cabinets to a company in Scotland. The headline not only gets the number wrong but adds the usual NewsMax bias: "Clinton Library Ships $1 Million Contract, and Jobs, Overseas." Never mind that this is only 1/160th of the total library construction contract we're talking about here.

Conflict between politics and commerce. While NewsMax's "news" pages talk up Bush's alleged work in boosting the economy, like a Feb. 25 piece claiming a net increase of jobs under the Bush administration, its business side is doing other things.

NewsMax sells something called the Financial Intelligence Report, a publication tailored to well-heeled investors. Make that extremely well-heeled: NewsMax wants only "accredited investors," those with a net worth of more than $ 1 million, to subscribe.

An e-mail sent out to folks on its mailing list in December plugging the report, signed by CEO Christopher Ruddy, tells a different story than the one that goes out for official public consumption. The theme of the "special report" being touted is, "Protect Yourself Against the Next Market Decline" and among the themes addressed in it:

  • "What Alan Greenspan privately told a New York economist about the worrisome situation of the U.S. economy (this story may shock you, but it's true!)"
  • "Why a mini-bubble is in the works, one a leading expert calls the 'greatest sucker's rally in history'"
  • "Why Warren Buffett and Sir John Templeton say the worst is not over - and what they are doing to protect themselves"
  • "Compelling warning signs of trouble ahead in the U.S. economy"
  • "Why the dollar could collapse under a crippling national debt"
  • "Sir John Templeton's belief that a major housing bust of 1930s proportions is at our doorstep"

Why aren't we reading about this on NewsMax's "news" pages? Oh yeah -- NewsMax's guy is president, and no criticism is allowed (unless he's not acting conservative enough).

Just plain worthless stories. Like a Feb. 15 piece comparing the states, counties, land area and murder rates of places won by George W. Bush and Al Gore in the 2000 election. Conspicuous by its absence: The total national vote tally. (This story is based on a false email.)

While we're on the subject of worthless, there's Norman Liebmann. His latest (or is that lamest?) attempt at humor: "Bill Clinton is doing research for his next book to be called 'Hookers of All Nations.' ... Bubba has already received a sizeable advance from a publisher on another book, which will be titled 'Adventures in Amateur Gynecology.'"

And Christopher Ruddy runs this stuff because ... ?

Because it's just silly, apparently. Which you'd think NewsMax would not want to be if it really wants to be taken seriously.

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