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State of the (Sacramento) Union

WorldNetDaily tells a biased, incomplete story of the troubles at the revived version of the newspaper its editor used to work for.

By Terry Krepel
Posted 7/7/2005

A June 29 WorldNetDaily report detailed troubles at the revival of the Sacramento Union, a story that not only failed to tell the whole story, it neglected to detail WND's personal interest in the subject (a problem WND often has).

The original incarnation of the Union was a daily newspaper that folded in 1994. It was revived last year as a web site and a bimonthly-or-so magazine. A September 2004 WND story touted the new Union, noting that it promised to "report, inform and educate with a worldview based on Truth" (given the number of stories WND has had to retract of late, it might consider giving that "Truth" thing a shot). WND editor Joseph Farah is a former editor of the original Union, serving under publisher James H. Smith (more about Farah's heavily biased, circulation-killing tenure here); Smith is the publisher of the new Union, and Farah was for a time a member of its advisory board.

In the WND article, Smith accuses J.J. McClatchy, a member of the family that owns the surviving daily newspaper, the Sacramento Bee, of staging a "hostile takeover" of the Union.

First flag: The article quotes only Smith; no apparent attempt is made to contact McClatchy, meaning only half the story is being told. Second flag: The story fails to point out that McClatchy is on the Union's board of directors, and no attempt is made to explain what a representative of a rival publication is doing there, or why a board member taking control of the business he serves would be considered "hostile."

WND also doesn't note that the claim was rebutted the same day on none other than the Union's web site. Noting that former editor Kenneth E. Grubbs Jr. "hinted that the owners of The Sacramento Bee have taken control of The Union" on a radio show, the article stated, "This is incorrect," adding: "The Union is still under the same ownership (a group of Sacramento businessmen not associated with the McClatchy family) and has not been sold or transferred in any way to the McClatchy family or The Sacramento Bee." A slightly different version of the Union rebuttal article, posted June 30 as an editorial, calls Grubbs a "disgruntled former editor."

(Grubbs' previous job before the Union, by the way, was head of the conservative National Journalism Center. He was fired after writing a Wall Street Journal op-ed criticizing the Washington Times for its coverage of an event in which Times owner Sun Myung Moon proclaimed himself the Messiah and was crowned by a congressman. Even WND found Moon's actions appalling, kinda sorta.)

In addition to the above journalistic boneheadedness, the WND story buries the lead. It's not noted until the final paragraph, after Smith hurls all of his accusations, that there apparently wasn't much of an operation for McClatchy to take over, hostile or otherwise. On May 20 -- 10 days before McClatchy made his move -- the magazine "was forced to lay off its nine-member staff because of insufficient funding."

A May 27 article in the Sacramento Business Journal offers the details that WND doesn't. The employees were let go abruptly, and there were questions about whether they would receive their final paychecks.

The WND article also fails to note Farah's connection to the original Union and to Smith. Smith and Farah, by the way, also co-founded the Western Journalism Center, the sole apparent purpose of which was to attack the Clintons and is apparently still around; the Business Journal article notes that "at least one laid-off staffer has gone next door" to work for the WJC.

A July 4 Business Journal article confirms the shift, pointing out where WND didn't that as a result, Smith is the Union's "former publisher" (and, we would suspect, as "disgruntled" as Grubbs).

Despite all this hue and cry over the magazine, the Union web site is still operating with updated wire news and blogs.

While we haven't seen the print version of the Union, the web site puts the lie to Smith's claim in the Business Journal that it "would be politically neutral," similar to the game that WND plays. The Business Journal points out that aside from Farah, other advisory board members include "two former Republican members of the Assembly, local business executives and the general counsel of the state Republican Party."

More evidence that the Union is less than "neutral":

  • The Union's roster of syndicated columnists is almost exclusively conservative.
  • A June 2004 review of "Fahrenheit 9/11" attacks director Michael Moore thusly: "Please don't tell me that my president takes too many vacation days -- he has accomplished more for this country than you or your movie will ever hope to." Another "Fahrenheit" attack says of Moore: "His awards and his multi-million dollar earnings testify to the success of his brand of snide humor combined with exploitation of personal tragedy to deliver his message of contempt."
  • While both anti-"Fahrenheit" articles detailed alleged errors in the film, an October 2004 article on the anti-John Kerry film "Stolen Honor," like fellow traveler WND, failed to note the documented errors in it.
  • In a March commentary for the Union, Grubbs praises "journalism with a politically conservative perspective" and calls it "in its way more honest, perhaps, than straight reporting."

The Union has also generated a bit of controversy as well. In November 2004, the web site ran a vitriolic column (since deleted from the site; a copy is here) by Sacramento radio host Mark Williams on the death of Yasser Arafat that concluded: "I am glad. I hope it was painful. The appropriate headstone over the stiff would be a working urinal." (Williams has also equated Palestinians with "tree-swinging savages.")

A Union editorial a few days later complained that it was being targeted by "an orchestrated letters-to-the-editor campaign" over the column. It noted that "Some of the remarks, not untypical of talk radio, were jarring when seen in print” and that "[i]f we could retroactively excise" the urinal comment, "we would." But ultimately, it defended Williams for expressing "[a]n inelegant truth ... sometimes inelegantly stated."

Smith's assertions aside, being identified as conservative is something the Union hasn't exactly shied away from. The June 29 Union article that attacked Grubbs also makes a point of noting: "The next issue of the Union will be published on July 15 and will have the same conservative focus that Union subscribers have come to love."

It seems that Smith, like Farah, can't be trusted to tell the truth about his own publication. Perhaps that's one reason why the Union is now Smith's former publication.

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