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How Biased Must A WorldNetDaily Reporter Be?

Brian Fitzpatrick failed to make the cut as a WND writer. Was his work too slanted and misleading -- or not slanted and misleading enough?

By Terry Krepel
Posted 3/29/2011

WorldNetDaily's reporters are a motley crew of raging Obama-haters (i.e., Jerome Corsi and Aaron Klein) and right-wing fundamentalist Christians (i.e., Bob Unruh and Chelsea Schilling). One thing they have in common, though, is a tendency (if not a mandate) to put WND's far-right agenda before the truth.

What must it be like to try and get a job as a WND reporter? Being a true believer in WND's agenda clearly counts much more than basic journalistic concepts of fairness and accuracy, so you wouldn't think it would be that hard to land such a position if you're willing to be that obsequious. Yet it appears even WND has standards, though it's not quite clear what they are.

Take the case of Brian Fitzpatrick. He joined WND last year as an apparent replacement for Chelsea Schilling, who stopped writing writing articles last July (yet as of this writing is still inexplicably listed as a "staff writer" on the WND masthead). His article archive indicates he began writing for WND on Sept. 4 and turned in his last article on Feb. 2. He even made an appearance on a right-wing web radio show as a WND "contributor."

In between, Fitzpatrick -- who, as near as we can tell, is the same Brian Fitzpatrick who is a former senior editor at the Media Research Center’s Culture & Media Institute and former editorial director at religious broadcaster and right-wing website operator Salem Communications -- left a trail of slanted and misleading claims that would be the envy of any aspiring WND writer, a trail that certainly followed in the footsteps of of his predecessor, Schilling.

ConWebWatch has already detailed how Fitzpatrick whitewashed the unsavory backgrounds of far-right activists to make them more palatable as a vehicle for WND's far-right agenda, as well as promoted the one-sided story of a "Christian nutrition ministry" battling the Federal Trade Commission over unsupported claims it made about the nutritional supplements it sells.

But that's only the beginning of Fitzpatrick's dutiful agenda-pushing:

  • Fitzpatrick spun the heck out of the demise of last year's National Tea Party Convention in a Sept. 20 article, allowing organizer Judson Phillips -- the only person Fitzpatrick apparently talked to and the only person quoted in the article -- to blame it on the "Obama economy." Fitzpatrick didn't see fit to report, as Talking Points Memo did in beating WND to the story, that there was opposition to the convention among tea party groups in Nevada, and one even planned to boycott and publicly protest the convention over concerns with the legitimacy of Phillps' organization, Tea Party Nation. Fitzpatrick also failed to report that the convention had originally been scheduled for July, and then postponed until October, even though WND reported the schedule change at the time. Fitzpatrick even omitted mention of a couple corporate conflicts of interest: WND editor Joseph Farah was scheduled to speak at the original convention, and WND has published numerous columns by Phillips.
  • A Sept. 27 article detailed how a comment thread on Glenn Beck's website The Blaze was overrun by birthers. Of course, that wasn't how Fitzpatrick put it, saying instead that "those concerned about Obama's unwillingness to document that he is a 'natural-born' citizen, as the Constitution requires, running 9-to-1 over those who believe it's a non-issue." Fitzpatrick went on to quote supposedly authoritative commenters like "TR68GT" and "Burnthills," presumably for their ability to regurgitate WND's own talking points on the issue.
  • In a Nov. 3 article, Fitzpatrick uncritically repeated a claim by an Indian news agency that President Obama's trip to India will cost "a whopping $200 million per day." That figure wasn't "whopping," it was a whopper -- it wasn't true at all. Nevertheless, WND continued to repeat the bogus claim.
  • A Nov. 24 article by Fitzpatrick, carrying the pitying headline "Hate intrudes on Thanksgiving," complained that the Southern Poverty Law Center "placed a virtual who's who of pro-family and Christian organizations, including the Family Research Council, the American Family Association and the Traditional Values Coalition, on a list of 13 'hate groups' for opposing the homosexual political agenda." First, the headline ignored the hate being spread year-round by the groups in question. Second, the SPLC didn't do what Fitzpatrick claimed it did; he knows that because he cited the SPLC's criteria in his article, noting that "the SPLC’s listings of these groups is based on their propagation of known falsehoods – claims about LGBT people that have been thoroughly discredited by scientific authorities – and repeated, groundless name-calling. Viewing homosexuality as unbiblical does not qualify organizations for listing as hate groups." Fitzpatrick dutifully quoted the predictable denunciations of the SPLC by supporters of the groups placed on the list, but he couldn't be bothered to list the specific examples that earned those groups a place on the SPLC list.
  • Fitzpatrick penned a Dec. 2 article, headlined "WND accused of 'violent rhetoric'; Southern Poverty Law Center offers no evidence to back the claim." The goal was to defend WND from an accusation he claimed the SPLC made. But the SPLC didn't "accuse" WND of "violent rhetoric"; it referenced last year's WND-sponsored Take Back America Conference and specifically points out that "The numerous speakers and other conference attendees didn’t voice the violent rhetoric of those at the Valley Forge event." Fitzpatrick groused that the SPLC "has attempted to discredit WND by associating the organization with a group that indulged in a negligible amount of over-the-top rhetoric" and that it "was able to point at only three speakers who arguably advocated violence" at the event it focused on -- a "Freedom Action National Conference" by the right-wing American Policy Center -- "and none of these issued any specific calls to arms." Fitzpatrick wrote that the "SPLC proceeded to associate WND with APC, which it had just accused of using violent rhetoric," but WND has demonstrated sympathy toward the APC's agenda -- the name of APC director Tom DeWeese comes up 37 times in WND's archive, most recently in September when DeWeese declared (in an article written by Fitzpatrick) that focusing the federal government on "livable communities" is a "socialist trap."
  • Fitzpatrick helped to promote WND's martyrdom of birther doctor Terrence Lakin, who was convicted and imprisoned by the military for disobeying orders. A Dec. 20 article by Brian Fitzpatrick described how "as Dr. Terrence Lakin was being processed at the Fort Leavenworth military prison Monday morning, well-wishers were bombarding Army authorities with requests for clemency." The article provided an address to send Lakin cards as well as listed the phone number for the Army public affairs officer to "the 'Convening Authority' over the former lieutenant colonel's court martial," whom a Lakin supporter encouraged like-minded birthers to "call, write, email and fax" because he "has the authority to accept or reduce the sentence handed down by Lakin's court martial panel, or to order Lakin released." Of course, Fitzpatrick made sure to include contacts for donating to the "Terry Lakin Action Fund." Fitzpatrick followed up the next day with an article quoting the Army public affairs officer asking people to stop calling him and pointing that out he and the "Convening Authority" are the wrong people to contact. Fitzpatrick included the email address of the defense counsel the public affairs officer said to contact.
  • A Dec. 3 article highlighted a claim by Sen. John McCain that repealing the military's don't ask, don't tell policy "could drive massive numbers of troops out of the service," focusing on his assertion that a Pentagon survey finding that 12.6 percent of those polled would think about leaving the military earlier than planned translated to 264,000 troops leaving the military. Fitzpatrick then piled on by citing Bob Maginnis, "military analyst" for the anti-gay hate group Family Research Council, who said, "If you add in the number who said they 'might' leave, you get 23.7 percent. That would be 528,000, when you count both active duty and reserves." Needless to say, Fitzpatrick didn't report that the speculation of McCain and Maginnis runs counter to the actual experiences of other countries that have implemented a similar policy. As Media Matters detailed, a 2003 article in Parameters, the U.S. Army War College Quarterly, found that "[n]ot a single one of the 104 experts interviewed believed that the Australian, Canadian, Israeli, or British decisions to lift their gay bans ... led to increased difficulties in recruiting or retention."
  • The headline on a Dec. 24 WND article by Fitzpatrick blared: "Fury over 'gay' ban repeal." But Fitzpatrick cited nobody but people who have "written WND to express their fury about the repeal of the military's ban on open homosexuality," so it's hardly a representative sample of the American public. Of course, Fitzpatrick named none of the people being quoted, so any information is impossible to independently verify. A companion article by Fitzpatrick concerned an "Army lieutenant colonel ... whose identity was being protected" who "has asked to be relieved of command rather than order his troops to go through pro-homosexual indoctrination" -- even though this runs counter to WND editor Joseph Farah's declaration that anonymous quotes are "usually quotes made up out of whole cloth to help make the story read better." Nevertheless, WND wants to keep it going; Fitzpatrick writes, "We encourage readers, especially those on active duty, to let us know what you think about allowing open homosexuality in the military and how you plan to respond to the new policy."

Fitzpatrick also uncritically promoted the agenda of anti-Kinsey fanatic Judith Reisman with a series of articles purporting to examine "alleged crimes committed by sex-research pioneer Alfred Kinsey and his Kinsey Institute" in conjunction with latest, WND-published anti-Kinsey screed. But Fitzpatrick made no apparent effort to contact the Kinsey Institute for a response -- a failure of basic journalism.

An Oct. 17 article toured a claim by a woman who said Kinsey paid her father "to rape her and then report to him on the attacks." But the story lacks evidence to support it, and reporter Brian Fitzpatrick made no effort to contact the Kinsey Institute for a response.

In one interview transcript, the woman, using the pseudonym "Esther White," makes the allegation based on childhood memories. The woman's statements are littered with qualifiers (emphasis added):

  • "I think that's when they made the deal to use the information they got before for Kinsey's second book, the one about women."
  • "I think the Kinsey people at IU talked my grandfather into getting involved."
  • "He realized he had been duped by Kinsey, I think."
  • "They had to do the charting first, then they got paid for it. The check was probably $6,000."

There's no mention by Fitzpatrick of any evidence that would substantiate the woman's claims; he's merely taking the woman at her word. (Nevertheless, WND editor Joseph Farah chimed in to portray the woman's unsubstantiated claims as "fully documented" -- even though not a shred of documentation was presented by WND.)

Fitzpatrick's lack of curiosity went further: At no point in any of the several articles he wrote in his series of attacks did he even bother to contact the Kinsey Institute for a response. Instead, he repeats previous claims by the institute that Kinsey "did not carry out experiments on children; he did not hire, collaborate, or persuade people to carry out experiments on children." Fitzpatrick did, however, find time to contact numerous Kinsey critics to further the anti-Kinsey attacks.

Reisman has largely been discredited due to her own hateful obsession with Kinsey being put before sound research, but Fitzpatrick didn't report that either.

Fitzpatrick added a further level of dishonesty by portraying the "Esther White" story as something new; in fact, Reisman wrote in her 2003 book "Kinsey: Crimes and Consequences" that she interviewed White in 1997, and that she had told her story in a British documentary, "Kinsey's Paedophiles," which Fitzpatrick identified as airing in 1998.

A Jan. 18 article by Fitzpatrick tried to escalate one of WND's attacks on CPAC by pushing accusations that CPAC is "tied to terror" through board member Suhail Khan. Khan has responded to the accusation by issuing an email to "his fellow ACU directors." Fitzpatrick writes:

Khan denied that his family mosque in Santa Clara, Calif., hosted al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri during a 1990s fundraising tour, a charge raised by Sperry in a New York Post column last week.

"In the NY Post op-ed," wrote Khan, "Frank's [Frank Gaffney] colleague Paul Sperry falsely claims the Islamic center my family attends in Santa Clara hosted/raised money for al-Qaida. … The fact is, no individual connected to al-Qaida was ever hosted by the center in Santa Clara much less was there any connection to my late father."

However, Sperry told WND, "Khan's denial that his father's Santa Clara, Calif., mosque (An-Noor, owned by the Muslim Community Association) never hosted Zawahiri is verifiably false. There are several articles (San Francisco Chronicle, etc.) that reported these visits by Zawahiri, then with Egyptian Islamic Jihad, and they have never been retracted."

(Did Sperry really speak in italics? How does Fitzpatrick know?)

Missing from Fitzpatrick's article is any further quoting of Khan's email or any link to the compete message. There's a reason for that: It doesn't make Sperry look good.

First, Sperry and Fitzpatrick mislead about what Khan is denying. They claim that he's denying that Zawahiri was hosted by the mosque; in fact, nowhere in Khan's email -- posted by blogger Deborah Corey -- does he use Zawahiri's name but, instead, specifically says "no individual connected to al-Qaida was ever hosted by the center in Santa Clara." As Sperry admits, at the time of the alleged visit, Zawahiri was not with al-Qaeda, he was with Egyptian Islamic Jihad, which later merged with al-Qaeda. Yes, it's parsing, but WND should have acknowledged it instead of trying to put words in Khan's mouth.

Second, Sperry and Fitzpatrick offer no evidence that Khan or his father knew that Zawahiri was raising money for Islamic extremism. Indeed, Fitzpatrick writes that Zawahiri was raising money "under the pretense of raising money to support victims of the Afghan-Soviet war."

Third, Khan's quote has been edited by Fitzpatrick to eliminate embarrassing information about Sperry. The ellipsis in Fitzpatrick's quoting of Khan removed this statement:

This false assertion was proved untrue in 2006 when Sperry leveled the same false assertion on the pages of Investor’s Business Daily (IBD), and IBD, after an investigation, published two embarrassing retractions withdrawing these accusations as categorically untrue.

Whoops! That seems like relevant information, but Fitzpatrick and Sperry don't want you to know anything about it.

Despite this record, Fitzpatrick is no longer writing for WND. We're not privy as to why, but WND's track record of tolerating and promoting this kind of shoddy reporting suggests that Fitzpatrick's notable contribution to the oeuvre may not be why. It's entirely possible -- and perhaps even likely -- that he wasn't biased and misleading enough.

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