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Temper-Tantrum Journalism

WorldNetDaily leads a short-lived, passive-aggressive protest against the White House for alleged disrespect of Les Kinsolving. But does Kinsolving's brand of journalism really deserve respect?

By Terry Krepel
Posted 8/16/2007

Is throwing a passive-aggressive temper tantrum at White House press secretary Tony Snow a wise thing for a news organization to do? WorldNetDaily seems to have discovered that the answer is no.

The skirmish flared up with a July 26 column in which WND editor Joseph Farah declared that Kinsolving "will no longer attend" White House press briefings because Snow was not being "fair" to Kinsolving. This stemmed from an altercation between the two at the July 25 White House press briefing. According to Farah's excerpt of the briefing, Snow asserted that Kinsolving had "thoroughly twist[ed] out of context the answer I gave you" to a question Kinsolving had asked, which Snow called "a disservice to this White House and to the craft of journalism." Snow told Kinsolving to "pick up the phone and tell them [WND] to start cleaning up or writing corrections."

Farah wrote: "This is a rebuke, and a threat, and an attempt to control Les Kinsolving and WND's right to ask questions at the White House." But Farah didn't respond to Snow's base claim -- that Kinsolving "twist[ed]" his words.

Snow's criticism appears to have stemmed from a July 23 WND article, unbylined but presumably written by Kinsolving, which claimed: "Attempts by cities or other governments to sidestep federal policy and make their own provisions for illegal aliens won't get any attention from the White House, spokesman Tony Snow says." Kinsolving had asked: "Reuters reports that New Haven, Conn., will begin issuing to illegal aliens city ID cards to allow them access to city programs and to open bank accounts. My question: What is the president's reaction to this municipal ..."

Kinsolving left out important context in his question to Snow; unmentioned was the fact that New Haven intends the cards as a way to, as the Christian Science Monitor reported, "protect them from crime that can happen because of a lack  of documentation, and encourage them to be more willing to report crimes to police." And those "city programs" that the ID card allows illegals access to? That would be "libraries, beaches, and parks – and as a debit card for city parking meters and at 15 downtown shops." In other words, the city isn't giving away money to illegals, as Kinsolving seemed to suggest.

Snow responded to Kinsolving's misleading question by saying, "Let me lay down a general rule, which is: The president, because of federalism reasons, does not talk about state, local, county, municipality, Cub Scout, Girl Scout, or other resolutions." Kinsolving twisted that to say that the law "won't get any attention from the White House," adding, "Nor is this the only time the White House has expressed little interest in what local governments do concerning the federal issue of immigration – legal or otherwise." As evidence of the latter claim, Kinsolving cited an exchange between Snow and Kinsolving after Kinsolving asked about the Portland, Ore., mayor's statement that he was "angered" that 150 suspected illegal aliens were arrested; Kinsolving asserted that the mayor "openly advocated overlooking existing federal immigration law" though he didn't explain how expressing anger equated advocating "overlooking existing federal immigration law":
SNOW: Was he not talking about an arrest, Lester?

WND: Yes.

SNOW: Well, then I hardly see that the mayor was in a position to circumvent the law.

Again, Kinsolving does not explain how Snow pointing out that the mayor had no power to reverse the arrests or otherwise interfere with law enforcement constituted the White House "express[ing] little interest in what local governments do concerning the federal issue of immigration."

Farah also asserted that columnist Helen Thomas "is treated with respect – even deference by Snow." Well, no, unless Farah thinks Snow saying to her, "thank you for the Hezbollah view" and "stop heckling and let me conduct a press conference" are part of some new definition of "deference" Farah has conjured up.

In a follow-up column on July 28, Farah similarly failed to address Snow's base complaint, alluding to the issue of Kinsolving "twisting" Snow's words only by noting that Snow "chew[ed] him out because he didn't like the way stories were reported and edited in WND," again not responding to the specific allegation. Instead, Farah lamented that Kinsolving has been treated with "cold and callous disrepect" by snow and insisted that Kinsolving is a "truly distinguished journalist" and "a good and decent man" who "has character. He is a living institution – the kind of man who should be honored with dinners and testimonials, not treated like somebody's crazy aunt."

Really? ConWebWatch previously detailed the kinds of questions Kinsolving has long asked on WND's behalf at White House press briefings -- which swing from Jeff Gannon-esque conservative sycophancy to standard-issue liberal-bashing to the stunningly irrelevant. They've definitely earned Kinsolving the privilege of being "treated like somebody's crazy aunt." And perhaps what Farah considers Snow's "cold and callous disrepect" of Kinsolving is, in fact, the natural response most people would have to Kinsolving's antics.

After all, Kinsolving has a history of playing fast and loose with the facts, thus giving Snow sufficient reason to be wary of him. To cite but one example: In a Feb. 27 column, Kinsolving wrote of Bill Clinton: "He was indicted, tried and found guilty of both perjury and obstruction of justice." A July 4 column similarly referred to "convicted perjurer Bill Clinton." In fact, Clinton was never indicted, let alone "tried and found guilty," on criminal charges of perjury or obstruction of justice. Rather, in the civil case Paula Jones filed against Clinton, the judge ruled that Clinton was in contempt of court for giving "intentionally false" testimony about his relationship with Monica Lewinsky, which does not equate to a criminal perjury conviction.

History aside, Farah and Kinsolving's passive-aggressive protest against Snow had begun. The plan, as announced in a July 31 article, was to post "publish the questions that WND would have asked. Those include one question from WND, one proposed from among WND's millions of readers and two from Kinsolving. ... If the questions are answered during the press briefing, WND will publish the answer. If not, WND will report that, and will keep a tally of the questions answered, or not."

This is a protest? Most people would call this a temper tantrum.

The posted questions left much to be desired. Here's one of Kinsolving's questions:

In the president's speech to the American Legislative Exchange Council in Philadelphia, the transcript quotes him as saying, on page 7, "I believe you'll be driving to work over the next couple of years in an automobile powered by electricity and it won't have to look like a golf cart. Question: Is that possibly a typo with the word years instead of decades?

That's just a snarky smear of electric cars. Why would Snow waste his time answering it?

The WND reader question -- more of a screed, really -- went like this:

Mr. Bush, why have you turned your back on America and those Americans who elected you to the office of President of the United States? Can you honestly believe that we put you there so that you could betray OUR America – to sell OUR country out to a one-world government having no concept of nor desire to respect individual freedom?

Meanwhile, WND engaged in revisionist history regarding its dispute with Snow. The July 31 article asserted that "Within one week's time Snow refused to take any Kinsolving questions during three out of four daily White House press briefings" without offering evidence that Snow is legally or traditionally compelled to take questions from Kinsolving.

And, once again, WND made no mention all of Snow's base complaint with Kinsolving: that he twisted Snow's words. WND thus exaberated the conflict by telling its readers an increasingly misleading story about what happened -- not exactly the best strategy to make Snow cry uncle, WND's presumed goal.

An Aug. 2 article declared that Snow "stands at 0-for-8 in answering questions that WND wishes the White House would have answered at its presidential press briefing following yesterday's event."

Then, on Aug. 5, WND suddenly reversed itself:

WND White House correspondent Les Kinsolving is returning to the presidential press briefings this week after a one-on-one conference with White House Press Secretary Tony Snow – ending Kinsolving's "boycott" of the daily press sessions brought on by what he considered Snow's disrespectful treatment of him.

Kinsolving and WND editor and CEO Joseph Farah decided two weeks ago that Kinsolving should stop attending the briefings after Snow refused to take his questions during three out of four sessions and then issued a public "rebuke."

Kinsolving and Snow reached an agreement during a phone conversation, after which an aide to Snow told Farah "Tony is very fond of Les and holds him in high personal regard."

The article contained little else -- no more criticism of Snow, but no details of the "agreement" between he and Kinsolving, let alone how Snow's charge that Kinsolving "twisted" his words was resolved, if indeed it was.

Kinsolving and WND's silence on exactly what happened -- adding to the fact that, as of this writing, Kinsolving has not filed a White House report for WND since the "agreement" was reached, though he has continued to write columns -- arouse suspicion that Kinsolving and Farah may have realized that their little temper tantrum was doing more harm than good and they decided to acede to at least some of whatever Snow demanded.

Sadly, such petulance has long been a feature of WND. In 2001, as ConWebWatch detailed, WND engaged in copious public whining at The New Republic -- for instance, calling writer John B. Judis "Judas" and howling about "one of the brashest journalistic rip-offs in years" -- in order to register its displeasure that the magazine failed to credit WND for a story it had printed and, perhaps even worse, once it did so described WND as a "right-wing website" (and we know how WND hates to be called that).

Perhaps Snow isn't as receptive to WND's temper tantrums as The New Republic was. Perhaps WND realized that forcing anyone to respect Kinsolving is, given his track record, a lost cause.

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