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Rejecting Journalism

Bob Unruh left a career at the Associated Press to work for WorldNetDaily. His WND work, however, contains the kind of bias and attacks that would never have passed muster at the AP.

By Terry Krepel
Posted 11/29/2007

When Bob Unruh joined WorldNetDaily in September 2006, a WND article touted Unruh's work as "a veteran reporter with almost three decades' experience working for the world's largest news organization," the Associated Press.

That's strange, because WND editor Joseph Farah has regularly attacked the AP for not giving WND the credit Farah thinks it deserves for stories AP has run (even though WND regularly lifts AP copy to put under its own byline without paying for that use, or sometimes without giving the proper credit that WND has demanded of AP) and for being "the worst purveyor of political propaganda and distortion" (even though this hasn't stopped WND from linking to AP articles).

Unruh's journalistic bona fides were likely not all that important to Farah. What ultimately got Unruh the gig, it appears, was his conservative Christianity.

The article downplays that, noting only that Unruh and his wife have "two homeschooled children" -- Farah's children are similarly homschooled -- and adds: "They work with the startup branch of Christ the King Community Church in Gilpin County [Colorado], a casino haven where fewer than 4 percent of the people attend a church."

Unmentioned in the article was Unruh's history of religious activism, which you'd think Farah would be proud of. An April 4, 2005, AP article detailed how Unruh sued the Gilpin County RE-1 School District after his daughter was allegedly barred from passing out invitations to her Bible club during non-class hours at the public school. Under the settlement, the school district allowed the flyers to be passed out and paid Unruh $1 in damages and $10,500 in attorneys' fees and costs. (But didn't WND just claim that Unruh's children were homeschooled?)

And, like NewsMax's Ronald Kessler before him, Unruh showed that he had certain delusions about his new employer's journalistic standards:

"While I've enjoyed many experiences in wire service work, I'm more than excited to be able to work with the next level of journalists reporting the world through the unfiltered lens of WorldNetDaily," Unruh said. "While WND already has the best report on the Internet, there are many additional stories that, I believe, should be told and I hope to be working on some of those."

Of course, WND is anything but "unfiltered," as ConWebWatch has repeatedly documented.

Complaining about alleged media "filters" is, in reality, an unspoken desire to apply a different filter. And indeed, Unruh repeatedly applies his own filter of bias to his reporting, as a ConWebWatch examination of Unruh's WND work reveals.

ConWebWatch examined 146 bylined articles by Unruh published by WND in the first six months of 2007 and rated them on four criteria: if they were reported with emphasis on a preferred point of view, if they included only a single point of view, if an opposing point of view was presented, and if those holding the preferred point of view were permitted to rebut claims made by the opposing side. These criteria comport with the the Society of Professional Journalists' code of ethics, which asks that reporters "[d]iligently seek out subjects of news stories to give them the opportunity to respond to allegations of wrongdoing."

ConWebWatch's examination of Unruh's reporting -- listed and rated here -- revealed the following:

  • Nearly all of the articles were written from a specific viewpoint, in which it is clear what actions Unruh approves or does not approve (the "preferred side" in our examination). The side that Unruh prefers or was given much more space overall to express their views than the other side; similarly, criticism of the other side was given more space than criticism of the preferred side.
  • Numerous articles did not include a response by the other side to claims made by Unruh's preferred side. While some articles indicated Unruh made an attempt to contact the other side, others make no note of such contact.
  • Many times, when a response from the other side was printed, the preferred side was allow to rebut it.

This demonstrates an overall fundamental unfairness in Unruh's reporting -- something he would not likely have gotten away with had he been writing these articles for the AP, his former employer.

ConWebWatch has previously documented bias and questionable reporting by Unruh during this time period:

  • In articles about a dispute German officials and a family over a homeschooled girl, Unruh repeatedly suggested that those who opposed homeschooling were acting like Nazis. Unruh also made made no apparent attempt to actually contact the German officials in question to gather their side of the story; Unruh represented their side only with a letter posted on a pro-homeschooling blog and an article in the German magazine Spiegel. Further, Unruh did not disclose in these articles that his own children are homeschooled, something which undoubtedly colored his reporting.
  • Unruh hyped criticism of a proposed federal bill to add "sexual orientation" and "gender identity" to the classifications covered under hate-crime laws by claiming that will result in the jailing of grandmothers, but the grandmothers he cited as an example were, in fact, longtime anti-gay activists in thrall to a Philadelphia street preacher -- something he didn't tell his readers.

A closer examination of Unruh's articles during this time period reveals even more questionable reporting.

In a March 1 article featuring criticism of banks, specifically Bank of America, for allowing illegal immigrants to open bank accounts, only one paragraph of the 36-paragraph article includes a response from a Bank of America spokesperson. That paragraph was copied almost verbatim from a Feb. 22 Charlotte Observer article. Unruh did not note the original source of the quote in his article.

A March 3 article featuring the campaign of the reigning Miss Canada, an Iranian native, to overturn the death sentences given to several teens in Iran failed to note that American conservatives generally don't object to the death penalty given to those under 18 -- an idea WND itself has promoted. A March 2006 column by Walter Williams, published in WND, cited a case in which in which the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the execution of a convicted murderer because he was 17 years old at the time of his offense as an example of how "[j]udges have used their power to impose their own values on our society," further quoting Alabama Supreme Court Justice Tom Parker as calling the overturning of death sentences for minors "unconstitutional." Similarly, an October 2002 WND column by Thomas Jipping decried the overturning of a death sentence for a 17-year-old as evidence of "Supreme Court justices claiming the power to regulate our culture using nothing but their own 'evolving standards of decency.'"

A March 14 article claimed an Illinois school held "a 'gay' indoctrination seminar" and that students were "exposed to the pro-homosexual propaganda," but he offered no examples of what was allegedly taught, let alone why it was "pro-homosexual" or "indoctrination." Unruh's only apparent source for the claim was a Concerned Women for America press release. He quotes a representative from the school district -- but that quote also came straight from the CWA press release.

Unruh wrote two articles in the examined time period on claims made by Voice of the Martyrs, a group that, as Unruh described it in one article, "help[s] Christians who are persecuted for their faith." But he did not disclose that Voice of the Martyrs was at the time a "sponsor" of WND, as described in WND emails, and had also served as a sponsor of Farah's radio show before it went off the air in January 2006. The SPJ code of ethics asks that reporters "[d]isclose unavoidable conflicts" and "[d]eny favored treatment to advertisers and special interests and resist their pressure to influence news coverage."

A June 1 article reported on "Christian street preacher" Ruben Israel's quest to appear in a gay-pride parade, but Unruh didn't tell his readers just how extreme Israel's anti-gay rhetoric is. As the blog Pandagon noted, Israel has claimed that homosexuality is a threat to national security and has stated the following on his website:


The caption for a picture of Israel accompanying the article stated that he was at an "earlier protest that said condemned abortionist killer Paul Hill was a murderer, not a Christian." WND has generally ignored Hill's story; as ConWebWatch has detailed, WND has, however, printed a seven-part series by Jack Cashill falsely depicting another accused killer of an abortion doctor, James Kopp, as an innocent man -- just a few months before Kopp admitted the murder.

Unruh also wrote several articles regarding the apparent blocking of access to WND's website from military computers by taking a narcissistic approach, focusing only on WND while ignoring that other popular websites, such as Wonkette and Slashdot, have also been reportedly blocked by military servers.

Unruh's biased reporting has continued in the latter half of 2007:

A Sept. 27 article -- parroting the right-wing Gun Owners of America's opposition to a law that would create and enforce a mechanism to deny guns for mental health reasons -- carried the headline "Ex-military to be denied gun ownership," which wildly overstated the issue at hand. Unruh quoted GOA head Larry Pratt as complaining that the proposed law would bar gun ownership by "battle-scarred veteran[s] suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder"; nowhere did Unruh or Pratt explain why that's a bad thing.

Unruh went on to tell -- as apparently cribbed from a GOA press release -- the case of "Horatio Miller," who made an "offhanded, tongue-in-cheek remark" that it could be "worse than Virginia Tech" if someone broke into his car because of the guns there, adding: "Miller, with no criminal record and the holder of a concealed carry permit who had passed rigorous background checks, was ordered never to own or possess a gun again." But Unruh didn't tell the full story; according to a June 23 article in the Harrisburg, Pa., Patriot-News, Horasio Miller -- the man's actual name -- was reported by police to have pointed a gun at a neighbor, was caught inside a college building with a 9mm pistol, and discovered to have been tapping phone lines for free service and listening in on phone conversations of other tenants in the building. When authorities investigated Miller's apartment, they found it so filthy that it was deemed unfit for human habitation.

An Oct. 17 article touted the opposition of the World Congress of Families, which Unruh describes as an "international organization promoting families," to newly passed laws in California that, according to Unruh, "effectively mak[es] terms like 'mom' and 'dad' obsolete." As he has done before, Unruh allowed opponents of the laws to frame them as disparagingly as possible and did not permit supporters to make their case.

In a July 17 article on attempts to add a federal hate-crime law into a defense spending bill, Unruh uncritically repeated a claim by WND columnist Janet Folger that her "cliff notes of what so called 'hate crime' legislation has already done in America" were "the facts." As ConWebWatch documented, Folger's version of "the facts" are highly misleading. Again, Unruh quoted several opponents of the law while refusing to allow supporters of the law to rebut their claims; nowhere did he note that a clause of the bill states: "Nothing in this Act, or the amendments made by this Act, shall be construed to prohibit any expressive conduct protected from legal prohibition by, or any activities protected by the free speech or free exercise clauses of, the First Amendment to the Constitution." Unruh uncritically regurgitated Folger's so-called "facts" again in a July 25 article.

A Sept. 9 article repeated assertions that statements made by a Planned Parenthood official about an anti-abortion group in Illinois are "lies" and "libel" without offering evidence that they, in fact, are. According to Unruh, Planned Parenthood official Steve Trombley sent a letter to city officials in Aurora, Illinois, where Planned Parenthood is building a clinic where abortions would be performed, that was critical of local anti-abortion activists who are fighting the clinic and, in particular, the Pro-Life Action Network and its leader, Joe Scheidler. Trombley claimed that "Scheidler called PLAN the 'pro-life mafia' and proclaimed 'a year of pain and fear' for anyone seeking or providing abortion" and that "a jury in Chicago unanimously found that the Pro-Life Action League Network orchestrated 121 crimes involving acts of threats of force or violence against women's health facilities that offered abortion." In response, Unruh reported claims by WND columnist Jill Stanek and by Scheidler's attorney that Trombley's claims were a "legal nullity" because, as Unruh wrote, "the allegations cited by Trombley in his letter were allegations in a precedent-setting lawsuit brought by the National National Organization for Women ... against pro-life protesters including Scheidler, alleging they engaged in a criminal conspiracy to halt the abortion industry" that was "repeatedly and resoundingly overturned." But the overturning of a ruling that the "121 crimes" cited by Trombley were part of a "criminal conspiracy" doesn't contradict the fact that the incidents occured in the first place or that a grand jury agreed that they occured and considered them crimes; indeed, Unruh reported no denial by Stanek, Scheidler or anyone else that the incidents didn't happen. Still, the headline of Unruh's article unambiguously stated, "Planned Parenthood lies when attacking pro-lifers."

A Nov. 16 article about proposed guidelines for holiday displays in Fort Collins, Colo., is vaguely written so as not to clearly explain that the guidelines in question apply only to those on displays on city property and not to private displays. Further, Unruh fails to mention that the proposed guidelines would permit the display of menorahs and creches, which contradicts his assertion that holiday displays on city property would be limited to "neutral and non-religious decorations."

All of this raises the question: Is the person who wrote these biased, misleading articles really the same person who worked for the Associated Press for nearly three decades?

By jumping from the AP to WND, Unruh has apparently decided to reject journalism in favor of polemicism, balance for bias, information for distortion. What's more, Unruh is doing this under the cover of an employer who wants to portray such writing as equivalent to real journalism.

It's not. And it's sad for the cause of real journalism that Unruh and WorldNetDaily apparently think it is.

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