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WorldNetDaily's Disappearing Act

WND doesn't apologize for getting facts wrong or even issue corrections over it -- rather, it tries to make embarrassing mistakes go away as quietly as possible.

By Terry Krepel
Posted 10/20/2011

WorldNetDaily hates to run corrections -- it typically does so only if the mistake was so epic it can't be ignored (such as when it mistook an April Fool's story about Terri Schiavo selling the rights to his story for a TV movie as fact) or when a lawsuit was filed (such as when WND was forced to retract its claims about Clark Jones as a condition of settling a libel lawsuit against it) or threatened (which was presumably the case when WND retracted an article attacking an Islamic charity).

What WND usually does when confronted with a false claim it published is simply make it disappear, either by correcting the article or, if it cannot be satisfactorily corrected, deleting it entirely from the website.

That approach is problematic from a ethical standpoint. Most news organizations have a formally stated corrections policy, something WND does not seem to have. WND's apparent guiding principle is handling such mistakes as far under the radar as possible.

Most recently, WND ended up quietly killing not one but two stories on the same subject that ended up being problematic for different reasons. On Oct. 14, WND published an article declaring:

Any further money convicted ex-lobbyist Jack Abramoff earns from his upcoming book "Capitol Punishment: The Hard Truth About Washington From America's Most Notorious Lobbyist" must be used to pay back his former clients, a federal court in the nation's capital has ordered.

The Oct. 11 order issued by the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia explains to Abramoff's publisher, WND Books, that he still owes a balance of $22.7 million on the $23.1 million he was ordered to pay as restitution after his conviction in 2006 of fraud, corruption and conspiracy in lobbying deals.

Most of the money is owed to Native American tribes Abramoff represented who were seeking influence in Washington for their gaming interests. The scandal led to the convictions of 20 people for payoffs in exchange for political favors, including Republican Rep. Bob Ney of Ohio.

This article was part of the buildup to WND's publication of the memoir by the notorious convicted felon Abramoff. Much like Newsmax's attempted image rehabilitation of Bernard Kerik, WND portrays Abramoff as "a smart, funny, charming, clear-eyed narrator who confounds every expectation of the media's villainous portrait," and that much of the money he made of his shady lobbying "was funneled not into his own coffers, but to charities."

This article was deleted without explanation (though at this writing it remains in Google cache and strangely remains live on the beta version of WND's redesigned website; here's a screen shot) and replaced by an article asserting the opposite:

Despite reports in the Washington Post, USA Today and many other news outlets, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia has not issued a garnishment order on Jack Abramoff's earnings from his upcoming WND Books release "Capitol Punishment: The Hard Truth About Washington From America's Most Notorious Lobbyist."

While the Justice Department made a request to the court to garnish all of Abramoff's earnings from the book, no order has been signed or issued to WND, said Joseph Farah, chief executive officer of both WND and WND Books.

"It's just another case of the major media getting the story all wrong," said Farah.

Nowhere in that article was it mentioned that WND itself was among the publications that had claimed the Abramoff money was being garnished.

After I pointed this out in the comments thread of the article (screen shot) -- and WND apparently realizing that Farah was caught red-handed making a laughably disingenuous claim attacking "major media" for a mistake his own website made -- WND deleted that story as well. (It remains in Google cache as of this writing; here's a screen shot.)

Neither of the deletions have been explained to readers, and WND has most certainly issued no apology regarding them (even though they appear to be correct about the garnishment claim being merely filed and not granted, as the legal papers linked to in the first article appear to show).

This is far fro the only case in recent years in which WND has tried to make its mistakes go away as quietly as humanly possible.

Just two months earlier, on Aug. 7, WND published an article repeating statements by Rush Limbaugh marking President Obama's birthday:

"Tomorrow is Obama's birthday," he said today. "Not that we've seen any proof of that."

He continued, "But tomorrow is Obama's birthday and they're trying to rally Obama's base by sending out fundraising letters.

"What? What? ... What, Snerdley, what? We haven't seen any proof of that. They tell us Aug. 4 is the birthday. We haven't seen any proof of it. Sorry. It is what it is," he said.

Just one little problem: Limbaugh actually said it a year ago, not "today."

After MSNBC's Rachel Maddow picked up the story as portrayed by WND, she was huffily excoriated by NewsBusters' Noel Sheppard for presenting last year's Obama-bashing as this year's, declaring it a "bald-faced lie" and ranting, "Why are media members today allowed to lie with total impunity?" (Funny -- the same thing could be said about Sheppard.) Maddow apologized on the next night's show, explaining that she made the mistake of trusting a WND article.

WND did not follow Maddow's example in issuing an apology (though one can easily imagine that Farah issued a private apology to Limbaugh); it simply deleted the article without telling readers it was deleted or issuing a public correction. Weirdly, this one remains in WND's beta site as well.

This error was a particularly embarrassing one for WND, especially since Farah co-wrote one of Limbaugh's books and WND regularly devotes articles to Limbaugh's radio pontifications. This tells us that people at WND don't listen to Limbaugh's show as closely as they want their readers to think.

(Of course, Maddow's apology wasn't good enough for Sheppard, for he ranted again: "However, is the far-left MSNBC now relying on far-right publications for its research? Are there really no resources at a division of Comcast, General Electric, and NBC to do some basic fact-checking beyond a website that those associated vehemently disagree with at every turn?")

WND performed a partial disappearance of an article in April. Jack Cashill claimed in an April 7 column that a photo of a young Barack Obama with his grandparents is a forgery into which Obama has been photoshopped: "The bench is real. The grandparents are real. The wall behind them is real. Barack Obama is not. He has been conspicuously photoshopped in. Who did this and why remains as much a mystery as Obama's extended stay in New York." In fact, as Media Matters detailed, it is clear that Obama was actually rather crudely Photoshopped out, as evidence by the fact that his knee remains visible is the supposedly "real" photo.

After that embarrassment, WND simply deleted that part of Cashill's column and left the rest intact; readers were not notified of the change. When Salon's Justin Elliott contacted Farah about the error, Farah huffily wrote back: "Admittedly, we publish some misinformation by columnists, as does your publication and every other journal that contains opinion. Bill Press seldom gets anything right in his column, but because we believe in providing the broadest spectrum of OPINION anywhere in the news business, we tolerate that kind of thing. Yes, Cashill’s column contained an egregious error, which we corrected almost immediately, which is far more than I expect you to do in what I assume is a NEWS piece you wrote."

When Elliott asked why WND didn't issue a correction for Cashill's column, the notoriously thin-skinned Farah even more huffily wrote:

How long have you been in this business, punk? My guess is you were in diapers when I was running major metropolitan newspapers. You call what you wrote a news story? You aren’t fit to carry Chelsea Schilling’s laptop.


For his part, Cashill also had no problem making major changes to his column without issuing a correction, telling Elliott that it was "responsible journalism."

Those are all from this year alone. But such factual sloppiness and dishonesty is a WND staple.

An August 2010 WND article by Joe Kovacs declared that Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan's came up "at least nine times on dockets involving Obama eligibility issues" before the Supreme Court. In fact, as Snopes pointed out, none of those docket items has anything to do with "eligibility issues."

Interestingly, WND didn't perform a disappearing act on Kovacs' article, instead, it chose to completely rewrite the article to focus on one of those cases, and then stick a misleading "editor's note" at the top: "An earlier version of this story incorrectly described a series of cases for which Elena Kagan represented the government as eligibility cases. Those cases, in fact, were a series of unrelated disputes pending before the Supreme Court and the references have been removed from this report." That, of course, understates the extent to which the original article was wrong and how extensively it was rewritten.

In 2009, WND published an article claiming that "A bill approved by the House of Representatives and referred to the Senate would prohibit federal employees of the executive branch from being compelled to release any document unless a court makes a specified determination by a preponderance of evidence – legislation at least one group suspects is designed to protect Barack Obama's elusive birth certificate from release." The article went on to quote Farah:

"It wouldn't surprise me a bit if this were one of the intended consequences of this legislation," said Joseph Farah, editor and chief executive officer of WND, who last week initiated a national billboard campaign to bring attention to the issue of Obama's missing birth certificate and what it might say about his claim to be a "natural born citizen," a status necessary to serving in the White House.

"In any case, this bill puts the lie to this administration and this Congress being the most ethical and transparent in American history," Farah said. "They're very open when it comes to the secrets of previous administrations, but when it comes to their own work, it is shrouded in secrecy. Even the president's birth certificate and student records are well-guarded state secrets."

In fact, the bill did the exact opposite of what Farah and WND claimed. Rather than "prohibit[ing] federal employees of the executive branch from being compelled to release any document," it prohibits federal officials from demanding documents from journalists except under certain circumstances.

WND quietly disappeared that article without explanation or correction, but not before hoodwinking others. Right-wing writer Sher Zieve, for example, posted an article based on the WND report before realizing that "my (and others') interpretation of HR 985 may not be as accurate as first thought," adding: "I don't often make this type of mistake and I plan to have a slice of humble pie."

And these are just the ones ConWebWatch has caught. Because WND provides no transparency on correcting its articles (when it bothers to correct them at all) or even has a stated corrections policy, and because false articles go away so quietly, there's no way of knowing how many articles it has made disappear. Such secrecy is ironic given how its birther obsession, President Obama for not making some of his personal records public. Leading by example is apparently something that has never crossed Farah's mind.

A "mainstream" news organization with such a record of mendacity and deceit would be laughed out of the business, yet WND remains in operation. Go figure.

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