ConWebWatch home
ConWebBlog: the weblog of ConWebWatch
Search and browse through the ConWebWatch archive
About ConWebWatch
Who's behind the news sites that ConWebWatch watches?
Letters to and from ConWebWatch
ConWebWatch Links
Buy books and more through ConWebWatch

They Attacked (or Ignored) Spocko's Brain

WorldNetDaily -- self-proclaimed champion of "new media" and defender of anonymous sources -- ignores an attempt to shut down a blogger critical of WND columnist Melanie Morgan, leaving it to Morgan herself to misleadingly address it. And a NewsBusters blogger simply regurgitates Morgan's attacks.

By Terry Krepel
Posted 1/18/2007

WorldNetDaily has spent a notable amount of digital ink lately portraying itself as a champion of "new media" and the idea of using anonymous sources.

In a Dec. 8 article on its defense of a lawsuit filed against it by Clark Jones, a Tennessee supporter of Al Gore's 2000 presidential campaign -- WND had claimed in a series of articles that suggested Jones was a drug dealer and committed arson -- WND's lawyer in the case, Larry Parrish, is quoted as saying: "The issue is critically important to whether or not there can be reporting on information from confidential sources. If the ruling of the court of appeals is upheld, and that becomes the law of the land, the risk of reporting information from a confidential source would be so great that all reporting henceforth would have to be from identified sources." (On the other hand, according the article, WND is simultaneously arguing that it shouldn't be held liable for the articles' content because "WND did not 'engage' [reporters Charles C. Thompson II and Tony Hays] to write the articles" but merely reprinted them after they appeared elsewhere.)

In a related Dec. 9 article, Bob Unruh noted that "the number of Internet-based journalists in prison for their work has doubled in just three years.

WND has also looked askance at attempts to shut down free and open exchange of views. A Jan. 16 article, for instance, claimed that a school that refused to allow a student to "silently distribute fliers containing text advocating against abortion" was "censoring free speech." A Dec. 12 article claimed that another school was "censoring students' Christian musical selections."

WND has even written approvingly of boycotts. A Dec. 16 article noted of the conservative American Family Association: "Its previous boycott promotions have been credited with having an impact on corporate behavior in America."

So with the surfacing of a story about a blogger whose website was shut down after a large corporation sicced its lawyers on him over the views he expressed, in which he called for a boycott, and the audio clips on his website, which are covered under the "fair use" provision of copyright law -- a doctrine WND has invoked to defend its wholesale lifting of stories it takes from other sources and sticks under a WND byline -- you'd think WND would be all over that, right?

Uh ... not exactly. That may be because one of the blogger's targets was a WND columnist, Melanie Morgan.

The blogger, who goes by the name Spocko (his blog is called Spocko's Brain) but prefers to remain anonymous, had posted audio clips of Morgan and other hosts at KSFO, a conservative talk radio station in San Francisco, making inflammatory statements; he also sent the clips to the station's advertisers. In December, ABC Radio, the Disney division that owns the station, sent a cease-and-desist letter to the host of Spocko's website claiming that the audio clips violated the station's copyright (despite the "fair use" provision). The host eventually shut down the site.

But as word spread of ABC's attempt to shut down the blog, the clips spread across the Internet. Spocko, meanwhile, was able to set up a new website elsewhere.

Despite touching on issues it claims to be interested in -- censorship, boycotts and free speech rights on the Internet -- WND has not devoted a single word of news coverage to Spocko. In fact, the only mention of the case on WND appears ... in Morgan's Jan. 12 column.

Morgan offered a highly distorted version of events, failing to note not only Spocko's name but also the cease-and-desist letter sent by her employer, ABC, that resulted in Spocko's website getting shut down -- the event that sparked the current criticism of Morgan and her co-hosts. She also claimed that her critics are "trying to impugn my credibility by misrepresenting my words" but offered no evidence to back up the claim; her only evidence was to link to a Media Matters audio clip of Morgan stating that "[w]e've got a bull's-eye painted" on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's "big, wide laughing eyes" that included the full context of her remarks with accompanying transcript.

WND wasn't the only member of the ConWeb to ignore the Spocko case -- NewsMax, Accuracy in Media and were similarly silent.

The only mention of it outside WND came in a lengthy Jan. 15 NewsBusters post by Noel Sheppard that slants heavily toward Morgan and against Spocko.

Sheppard largely repeated the defense issued by Morgan and her fellow hosts in a special Jan. 12 program on KSFO -- that their critics, in Sheppard's words, were "cherry-picking out of context snippets to prove a specious point." Interestingly, Sheppard avoided mention of another of their defenses: that the accusations are old news because they apologized for some of their more intemperate remarks, such as Sussman calling Barack Obama "Halfrican" and asking a caller to prove he isn't Muslim by saying "Allah is a whore." Sheppard also ignored Morgan's "bull's-eye" comment about Pelosi.

While Sheppard (unlike Morgan) made note of ABC's tactics in trying to shut down Spocko and even writes, "I wonder what legal grounds ABC actually had in sending this letter, or whether the ISP in question should have caved into the pressure," he does nothing more with it, continuing to defend Morgan and attack Spocko and other liberal bloggers and groups who highlighted his plight.

Sheppard even regurgitates Morgan's contention, as stated by Morgan, that her livelihood is being threatened:

Of course, therein lies the rub, doesn’t it? Media bias is somewhat in the eye of the beholder, and what I perceive to be inappropriate folks like Spocko, Stark, and Brock likely celebrate.

However, the distinction becomes more serious when the supposed biases are being identified to incite an advertising boycott which could negatively impact the livelihoods of those involved. This is possibly even more nefarious if the end result is to quash the free flow of opinions on the airwaves contrary to your own.

After all, it is one thing to point out the conceivably partial comments being made by a member of the media. It is altogether a completely different issue if you are using your position as either a blogger or a media analyst to motivate readers to send complaint letters to sponsors all because you disagree with the views being expressed.

At that point, analysis and observation cross the line into zealotry.

It's unclear what exactly Sheppard is opposing here, given that NewsBusters posters and other conservatives regularly delve into the situations he is complaining about.

Boycotts? Conservatives do 'em all the time. The American Family Association, for example, is currently promoting boycotting Ford and encouraging its readers to pressure Sears to pull its advertising from "homosexual network" Logo. This could certainly "could negatively impact the livelihoods of those involved," not to mention "quash the free flow of opinions on the airwaves contrary to your own."

Pointing out "the conceivably partial comments being made by a member of the media"? Sheppard might want to have a chat with his fellow NewsBuster Mark Finkelstein. In a Jan. 4 post, he claimed there was "a very rare display of real anger" between Chris Matthews and NBC "Today" host Matt Lauer during MSNBC's coverage of the swearing-in of the new Democratic-controlled Congress. In Finkelstein's words (boldface and italics are his):

Lauer: "Well, but, you say they're going to try to finesse it. In reality, Chris, they don't have a choice. What are they going to do, suggest they cut funding while troops are still in the ground in Iraq? They can't do that."

That got Matthews's Irish up. Clearly flashing some anger, he responded: "Well, that's a political assessment by you, Matt. I think the Democrats have to decide whether they want to climb aboard this catastrophe or not."

That transcript, and the video Finkelstein supplied, conveniently cut off at that point -- thus avoiding having to show evidence that undermines his claim about Matthews' "anger." Here's the full excerpt of what Matthews said:

MATTHEWS: Well, that’s a political assessment by you, Matt. I think the Democrats have to decide whether they wanna climb aboard this catastrophe or not. Do they want to be partners in the continued war in Iraq? That’s a tough call. I agree with you. It’s a tough call to say, “We’re gonna stand up to the president, say he cannot fight the war the way he wants to fight it.” But the other alternative is that they go along with the war, and they become partners in this war for the next two years.

That's right -- mere seconds after Matthews was purportedly "angry" with Lauer, Matthews said to him, "I agree with you." That hardly indicates that Matthews was "angry." And even the truncated video Finkelstein attached to his post didn't exactly show the anger he claims is there; the boldfacing and italicizing he added to the transcript isn't reflected in what they say. Finkelstein tried to finesse it by claiming, "Matthews later struck a more conciliatory tone with Lauer, but the initial anger was unmistakable." Not quite. If Finkelstein had supplied his readers with the full video, they would have seen that, too.

Finkelstein did more selective editing in a Jan. 8 post depicting a debate between MSNBC's Joe Scarborough and "smart and plucky" author Bob Kohn (who, as ConWebWatch noted, repeated a false MRC claim about ex-New York Times editor Howell Raines in his WorldNetDaily-published Times-bashing book). From Finkelstein's item:

Kohn kicked off the exchange with Joe this way:

"I watched NBC Nightly News, and Brian Williams this evening had a story about Bush's proposal to increase troops in Iraq. He had three experts on the air discussing that proposal. Not one of those experts supported Bush's plan. They all were against it. So that's bias."

Scarborough's first ploy was to assert that in light of weak public support for the surge "it's kind of hard to get somebody that's going to go on as an expert that's going to support a troop surge."

Kohn laughed that lame line out of the water: "Oh, come on, Joe. Tell me that NBC News couldn't find one person in Washington, one expert, who could have supported the administration. Give me a break."

Defeated on that notion, Scarborough hit a new low with this outlandish assertion: "I guess the more important question is: should they? When you're talking about a surge where all five Joint chiefs are opposed to it, where 12% of Americans support it?"

Finkelstein abruptly ended his transcript there. But the exchange continued, and Scarborough hinted at why he took that position:

KOHN: Three of -- no, that's not fair and balanced. You have three experts on.  You can have one of them that supports it.

SCARBOROUGH: You know what? I will remember this, Bob, the next time we have a position where conservatives are on the side of 90 percent of the American population, and you complain because NBC News puts one liberal and one conservative on there. 

Finkelstein apparently doesn't disagree with Scarborough's contention that conservatives regularly complain when a liberal is allowed to weigh in on a conservative issue that most of the country supports. He went on to assert that Scarborough engaged in "panel-packing ... with Kohn left to assert NBC's liberal bias alone," but he doesn't note how Scarborough ended the segment, laughing as he did so:

SCARBOROUGH:  All right. We've got to go. Bob Kohn, I'm usually with you. You're usually on the side of the angels. Tonight, though, we knew that you were so powerful, we teamed up on you three to one, just to prove how liberal we really were. Well, I'm a conservative, right?  So I think it's two conservatives, two liberals. But you did a great job.  I appreciate you being here tonight.  Sorry to team up on you.

So, is Sheppard trying to say that he opposes out-of-context quotes only when they are accompanied with boycott threats? Hard to tell.

And as far as the line where "analysis and observation cross the line into zealotry," there's Sheppard's "analysis and observation" about MSNBC's Keith Olbermann in a Jan. 12 post. He starts off by saying, "There’s really no other way of putting this: Keith Olbermann is a disgrace, and the idea that any major media outlet would give him a daily platform to spew his vitriol from is similarly so," then goes on to attack Olbermann's "vapid and insipid rantings," further calling them "disturbing," "offensive" and "despicable," and finally states, "Frankly, that’s as much of this nonsense that I can stomach so early in the morning."

Analysis or zealotry? We report, you decide.

This would be the same person who dismissed Spocko as a "fifth-tier liberal blogger" (a description he stole from Spocko himself; the San Francisco Chronicle reported that Spocko is "a self-described 'fifth-tier' blogger") who is "cowardly" and "utterly pathetic" for refusing to directly confront Morgan and Co. (failing to note Spocko's defense; he told the Chronicle: "I'd be just another revenue generating 'event' for them to their audience, and they would love that kind of 'controversy' because it would MAKE them money and they still had control") and who issued a "preposterous complaint letter" to KSFO's advertisers.

Sheppard sounds not unlike the conservative version of Spocko. Is that worse than the approach of the rest of the ConWeb in ignoring Spocko completely? Either way, the guy doesn't get fair treatment.

Send this page to:
Bookmark and Share
The latest from

In Association with
Support This Site

home | letters | archive | about | primer | links | shop
This site © Copyright 2000-07 Terry Krepel