Trashy Rumors vs. Journalism
WorldNetDaily reports the hell out of unsubstantiated rumors about John Kerry's alleged affair, but stays almost silent about Bush's National Guard service.
By Terry Krepel
Joseph Farah insists that WorldNetDaily is a "general interest news site." To most people, "general interest" means that coverage of a wide variety of issues is provided. Even if you narrow it down to Farah's latest source of pride -- that WND is a "top political site" -- that would still mean that a wide spectrum of political issues is covered.
Of course, none of this is the case, as events of the past week illustrate.
While the rest of the media was taking a look at George W. Bush's National Guard service, no news story appeared under a WND byline on the issue. We'd say WND had not written a story on it, but WND doesn't really write that many stories anymore; they mostly just lift them from other sources and compile them in a story under a no-name WND byline.
Wouldn't a "general interest" news site that has a particular interest in politics have taken its own look at the issue? We know the answer already -- WND, NewsMax nor CNSNews.com have been extremely slow to take any sort of comprehensive look at all of the evidence involved in Bush's Guard service, content thus far simply to report only exculpatory evidence and run opinion pieces that follow the Republican party line, which is that Bush's honorable discharge from the Guard makes the whole question moot (that is, when they report anything at all).
While WND put up a virtual news blockade about Bush and the Guard, it has been all over rumors that John Kerry had an affair. Its first story was Feb. 12, which quotes among others the Drudge Report, Rush Limbaugh, the National Enquirer (which Farah despised when it broke the Limbaugh drug-abuse story) and a post at right-wing bulletin board Lucianne.com. This was followed by a story the next day that has Kerry saying that there was "nothing to report" on the rumor, with added speculation -- the alleged other person fleeing to Africa, her parents calling Kerry a "sleazeball" -- and rehash of the previous day's story.
That same day, WND ran an unbylined story from its content-sharing partner, the Moonie-owned Insight magazine, in which unnamed Democrat sources complain that Kerry didn't issue a forceful enough denial and unnamed GOP sources take delight in it. This manages to be inaccurate (as if all the nameless folks from sources to writers weren't a clue already) since according to the New York Daily News, Kerry is on record as saying that same day, "I just deny it categorically. It's rumor. It's untrue. Period. ... It's not true." Most people would consider that quite forceful.
On Feb. 15, WND reported that the alleged other person in the alleged affair has "recorded a 'bombshell tell-all interview' with an unnamed American TV network." This tidbit, by the way, comes from the British tabloid the Sun, which runs a daily picture of a topless girl in its paper and has a Web site dedicated to said topless shots -- which would seem to disqualify the Sun as a WND source since Farah banned links at WND to the online magazine Salon in 2001 because when it went to a subscription-only business, it was "selling porn" despite the fact that the same erotic content existed when the site was completely free. (So maybe it's not nekkid boobies Farah's offended by, it's having to pay to see 'em, which should've made Janet Jackson's Super Bowl appearance OK with him, but he wasn't happy about that either. We're confused.)
On Feb. 16, WND finally has a relevant person with some actual facts to report -- the alleged other person in the affair, who denies it. In addition, her parents issue a statement of support of Kerry, which contradicts WND's earlier reporting. The story also notes (grudgingly, we're sure) that the other person is in Africa to be with her fiancé and that Kerry did specifically deny the rumor in contradiction to that Insight story WND ran.
Getting back to Farah: He wrote a hilariously disingenuous rant Feb. 13 about how he didn't want reporting about sex scandal to overshadow what he calls "could overshadow much more significant deficiencies in John Kerry's record and character." And to make his point about his opposition to a sex scandal overshadowing other things, he includes eight paragraphs in the format " don't want to see his ... overlooked because of a sex scandal."
So we get Farah pushing the "sex scandal" meme at the same time he's denying he's doing so, at the same time his Web site is reporting the hell out of it by running every unsubstantiated rumor it can find.
It also happens to mirror Farah's personal politics perfectly. In addition to the above column, he has penned two other anti-Kerry columns in the course of the past week.
How does this qualify as "general interest" reporting? The only interest that seems to be served by this is Farah's and those who bash Democrats first and ask questions later. A WND opt-in poll on Feb. 13 asked, "What do you think of allegations Kerry had (an) affair?" Nearly 40 percent responded, "Where's the media coverage?" Um, waiting to verify the allegations before reporting them, the standard way to do journalism. Fifteen percent answered, "He hasn't done a very convincing job of denying allegations," but WND didn't report his denial until after the poll was taken.
And nothing about Bush's Guard service. Well, that is, not until Feb. 18, long after the coverage by most other news organizations had forced Bush to release his military records as he promised.
And -- surprise of surprises -- it not only has a byline (Paul Sperry), but while Sperry unmistakably leans toward trying to exonerate Bush by focusing too much on some of the more fringe allegations that have been made (such as Bush never actually flying at all, which no credible news organization has even alleged), he does point out that there are discrepancies between what alleged exonerating witnesses have said and the official record. He even notes the later Saudi-related ties and questionable record of Bush's then-Guard buddy, James Bath.
Still, WND is quite late to the game on this, much more interested in trying to recreate another Monica by breathlessly repeating unsubstantiated rumors about a Democrat.
As White House press secretary Scott McClellan said to Helen Thomas when she tried to ask him a question related to Bush's Guard service, "There's a difference between trashy rumors and journalism."
Either Farah and WorldNetDaily don't know the difference, or they do and have opted for the former.
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On a related note, WorldNetDaily offers incomplete reporting on another Kerry issue in order to maximize the bashing quotient.
A Feb. 10 story takes a quick look at a group called Vietnam Veterans Against John Kerry, whose purpose is pretty self-explanatory. Its founder, Ted Sampley, calls Kerry "Hanoi John."
What WND doesn't tell its readers is that Sampley has a record of sorts -- he was convicted of misdemeanor assault and sentenced to 180 days' probation for attacking a legislative aide to Sen. John McCain. In fact, McCain calls Sampley "one of the most despicable people I have ever had the misfortune to encounter."
Yet again, WND omits relevant facts about people who serve its purposes but report unsubstantiated rumors about people it despises. Again: whose "general interest" is this in? Not its readers' interests, that's for sure.