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NewsMax's Memory Hole

A false Clinton-bashing story gets deleted rather than corrected -- which, of course, does nothing about the uncorrected copies still floating around the Internet.

By Terry Krepel
Posted 2/8/2006

NewsMax rarely admits its mistakes, even when they're caught red-handed. Error-laden articles often disappear quietly with no admission that a mistake was made.

For instance, the following item was post on Jan. 6 but disappeared shortly thereafter:

Clinton NSA Wiretapped Top Republican

During the 1990's under President Bill Clinton, the National Security Agency conducted random telecommunications surveillance of millions of phone calls daily under a top secret program known as Echelon.

But according to at least two people familiar with the spy operation at the time, some of the surveillance was far from indiscriminate.

In a February 2000 interview with CBS's "60 Minutes," NSA operator Margaret Newsham revealed that the agency's listening post in Great Britain was involved in monitoring the phone calls of at least one top Republican on Capitol Hill.

Questioned by "60 Minutes" interviewer Steve Kroft, Newsham recalled how she learned of the illegal surveillance:

"I walked into the office building and a friend said, 'Come over here and listen to--to this thing.' And he had headphones on, so I took the headphones and I listened to it, and I looked at him and said, 'That's an American.' . . .

Ms. Newsham remembered, "It was definitely an American voice, and it was a voice that was distinct. And I said, 'Well, who is that?'

"And he said it was Senator Strom Thurmond."

Until his retirement from the Senate in 2002, Thurmond was a frequent critic of the Clinton administration, who played a leading role in the 1998 impeachment drama - though there's no known connection to the decision to wiretap the South Carolina conservative.

During the same program, however, Kroft consulted with Mike Frost, who worked for Canada's version of the NSA for 20-years.

Asked if it was commonplace for the NSA to monitor the phone calls of top U.S. politicians, Frost told CBS: "Of course it goes on. Been going on for years. Of course it goes on. That's the way it works."

The article was formerly located here; it has apparently been deleted from the NewsMax database. Why? Presumably because it makes a false claim -- that the wiretapping described by Margaret Newsham occurred "during the 1990's under President Bill Clinton."

According to the transcript of the "60 Minutes" segment on Echelon to which refers, Newsham -- who worked for the NSA from 1974 to 1984 -- never claimed that the alleged wiretapping of Thurmond occurred under Clinton; the only date provided in the segment regarding Newsham is 1979. Newsham has been a "whistleblower" on Echelon since 1988, when she first told the story of the Thurmond eavesdropping.

All of these dates, of course, occur well before Clinton's presidency.

But instead of correcting the record and informing readers that the Clinton administration was not, in fact, eavesdropping on Thurmond, NewsMax simply deleted the story -- despite the fact that conservative blogs and bulletin boards regularly copy NewsMax articles. This article, for instance was copied in its entirety at places such as Free Republic, The Talk Show American, Liberty Post, Highwaymans Hangout, Iowa Voice, Freedom Eden, Sibby Online and Of these, only Liberty Post and Sibby Online have indicated, through attachments or comments, that the story is false. And even then, a Liberty Post denzien responded (capitalization is that of the poster's): "personally I have no doubt clinton listened in to all the phone calls of the Republicans during Impeachment but Strom Thurmond was probably the least of his worries."

Despite the deletion of this story, a Dec. 18 article citing the same "60 Minutes" report is still available on the NewsMax website as of this writing. It too falsely portrays Echelon as a Clinton-era creation and repeats the Thurmond allegation; while it doesn't explicitly accuse Clinton of wiretapping Thurmond, as the Jan. 6 article did, but it's written in such a way that the connection is obvious.

This is not the first time NewsMax has tried to shove its flawed work down the memory hole. Last year, it was caught in the act of issuing a flawed story claiming that U2 was holding a fund-raiser for Sen. Rick Santorum; it later corrected the story while not only not apologizing for its error but denying it had ever made one in the first place, which flies in the face of the evidence demonstrating otherwise. And a website called the Memory Hole documented that NewsMax pulled a similar disappearing act with a 2002 article, which apparently contained information that was supposed to be off the record.

That's not the way real journalists operate. Real journalists admit their mistakes and do their best to report accurate information. Pretending that a flawed story doesn't exist not only violates basic journalistic tenets, it's also well nigh impossible in the Internet age. Once it is posted for any significant length of time, people read it and search engines index it.

NewsMax has publicly apologized for making an error only a handful of times -- for attributing a John Kerry quote to John McCain (oddly, the original misattributed quote is still posted on NewsMax), and for an opinion column that was presented as a news item. And other clearly false items remain live on the NewsMax site, such as Christopher Ruddy's infamous claim, attributed to anonymous tabloid sources, that the Clintons were selling their Chappaqua, N.Y., house.

The NewsMax way of doing things is troublesome -- and more importantly, it demonstrates that they place polemicism over journalism.

A tip from a ConWebWatch reader contributed to this item.

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