WorldNetDaily's Credibility Crisis
Having destroyed any chance of being taken seriously as a news organization with its rampant birtherism, WND is finding that regaining credibility is very hard.
By Terry Krepel
WorldNetDaily has had a credibility problem for years -- for good reason, given its obsession with birtherism and conspiracy theories, not to mention that libel and defamation lawsuit in which it had to admit it falsely accused a man of being a drug dealer -- and ConWebWatch was far from the only one to notice.
For example, a May 2012 WND article complained that PRWeb, "the biggest press release factory in the world" decided that WND is not “credible” and is a “biased source of news,” after an Obama-bashing group called BOPAC had a press release rejected purportedly for citing a WND article. Needless to say, WND took great umbrage at this. It declared that PRWeb had "set itself up as a new gatekeeper of political correctness and journalistic propriety," with added outrage and manhood-measuring from WND editor Joseph Farah: "I have more than 30 years of experience running major-market daily newspapers, doing investigative reporting, hosting a nationally syndicated talk-radio program, consulting with NBC and other major media outlets, teaching journalism at a major university. The WND editorial staff has hundreds of years of combined experiences like mine. Is there even one person at Vocus [PRWeb's holding company] or PRWeb who has those kinds of credentials?”
WND followed up with an article the next day making a vague claim that "WND has been officially accredited by the United Nations for all its departments and affiliates worldwide." The headline on the article states "U.N. recognizes WND as 'bona fide media,'" but that term appears nowhere in the article, quoted or otherwise spoken by the U.N. or anyone else.
Still, when a press-release mill (!) decides you're not credible, you've got problems.
In the aftermath of the 2012 election, when WND (and Jerome Corsi in particular) resorted to telling malicious lies as part of its multiyear campaign to try and destroy President Obama -- which shredded what little credibility it had -- WND had to take affirmation of its so-called reporting where it could be found. Thus, an article at the turn of 2013 trumpeted how some website nobody had ever heard of was proclaiming WND to be "trustworthy":
An independent news organization has named the Drudge Report and WND among the “most trustworthy news sources” for 2012, citing Drudge as the “top-trusted site for millions” and WND for “continual commitment to the truth and top-notch journalistic practice.”
WND rehashed the same stuff in an article a few days later.
WND didn't mention, however, that Enumclaw.com and its Discerning Times print product are operated by something called the Sound Doctrine Church of Enumclaw, Wash., which has been accused of being a cult.
Also unmentioned in both WND articles: The church's associate pastor, Malcolm Fraser, was facing a criminal charge of first-degree rape of a child. WND clearly knew about this because a few weeks earlier, it published an article by Bob Unruh on the case. Unruh took Fraser's side in promoting the idea that he is an innocent victim of “disgruntled ex-members” of the church. Unruh also identified Enumclaw.com as a "church publication," which means WND knew full well that it's not an "independent news organization," and that it appeared to exist mainly for the purpose of proclaiming Fraser's innocence and attacking the prosecutors who pursued the case against him.
One could argue that the church's designation of WND as "trustworthy" might have been linked to that sympathetic story by Unruh.
Fraser, by the way, was ultimately convicted and sentenced to 20 years in prison. During the sentencing hearing, the victim's family claimed that the Enumclaw.com engaged in "harassment" against them, and Fraser admitted he had registered the domain name himself.
WND didn't report any of that. Wouldn't want to taint that award, after all.
Bigger than MSNBC.com?
When the website Gawker wrote in February 2014 about WND's tiff with Google over blocking ads in articles that reference "black mobs" -- WND eventually learned to tone down its race-baiting to keep the ad money flowing in -- Farah took offense in his usual way: ranting in a column.
In it, Farah is shocked -- shocked! -- to find that there are less-than-friendly people on the Internet, asserting about Gawker: "It’s mean-spirited. It’s irresponsible. It’s childish and immature." He went on to whine about Gawker's "venomous, personal, ad hominem, groundless attack" on WND., lamenting: "I just sometimes long for the day when people who communicate for a living had some professional standards guiding them."
Farah clearly doesn't read his own website. He'd rather tell us just how awesome he is, with a dose of misinformation on the side:
I was one of the earliest pioneers of the Internet.
But today's MSNBC.com is not the website of 1997. Farah seems to have missed (perhaps deliberately) the fact that in 2012 MSNBC.com changed its name to NBCNews.com, and the current MSNBC.com is not a general news site but, rather, one dedicated to supporting MSNBC's programming.
At the time of Farah's column, citing the Alexa numbers Farah used for MSNBC.com, NBCNews.com was ranked 255th globally and 69th in the U.S. -- much bigger than WND. At this writing, NBCNews.com is ranked 122th in the U.S. and 502nd globally; WND remains far behind it, ranking 373th in the U.S. and 1,493rd globally.
Farah can't even self-aggrandize honestly -- which hardly makes it a place where one would want to buy advertising.
"The largest Christian website in the world"
Indeed, WND's credibility continued to be subterranean. Even hiring two journalists with something resembling actual journalistic credentials -- well, as much as the Moonie-owned Washington Times can impart, anyway -- in the form of Cheryl Chumley and Douglas Ernst didn't help much, since they were as prone to slavishly push WND's right-wing editorial agenda as its regulars.
So it was time for WND to reframe things. Its "about WND" page -- which for some reason now has its own domain name -- used to focus on its now-squandered journalistic bona fides; now it downplays that stuff, instead proclaiming that it's "the largest Christian website in the world" and declaring it has "has the largest reach of any Christian website on planet Earth ... bigger than any ministry site, bigger than any Christian broadcast site, bigger than any Christian content site, bigger even than the Vatican’s site."
WND's status as a "Christian" website may surprise those who know how much editor Joseph Farah and his entire operation violates the 10 Commandments, particularly the one about bearing false witness. Promoting and endorsing a scam of a super PAC that didn't help any candidates as promised and paid only the folks who ran it was hardly an act of Christian charity as well.
Then comes the sales pitch:
Are you in the business of reaching Christians, particularly in North America?
So it's not really about religious virtue -- it's about money. And WND would like some.
Begging for political ads
WND wants the money so bad, in fact, that Farah is still miffed that candidates didn't send more of it his way in 2012. Farah devoted his Oct. 30 column to complaining about Mitt Romney highlighting how the partisan media has created a confirmation bias in which news consumers are "not seeing the other side" and "not even getting the same facts." As he is want to do, Farah made it all about himself by complaining that Romney wouldn't advertise on WND in the 2012 presidential election:
Did you know that during the 2012 election, the Romney campaign prohibited any advertising dollars to be spent on WND? On the other hand, as many of you noted with chagrin, the Obama campaign flooded WND with advertising messages.
Farah seems to have forgotten how extreme his "news" operation was in 2012, so extreme that Romney was completely justified in shunning it. Let's stroll down memory lane for Farah's benefit:
Why would any sentient being associate himself with an organization known for such extreme attacks and rhetoric? It seems that Romney was just acting prudently.
Of course, Farah could have blocked Obama's ads if he so chose, but he didn't. He's obviously not so proud that he would reject ad revenue from his mortal enemy -- and probably secretly happy to take some of Obama's money.
Farah laughably pretends WND represents "independent" voters when, in reality, it peddled some of the sleaziest so-called journalism of the 2012 campaign. The fact that Farah refuses to repent for his sins tells us Romney was correct to shun WND.
But WND wants you to forget about its historical record and Farah's bitterness. That's why a Jan. 9 article was nothing but a pitch begging for political ads:
Every four years, like clockwork, WND is ranked among the top five “political” news websites in the U.S.
WND appears to be relying on Alexa for its stats -- funny since in 2014 it was promoting a conspiracy that Alexa was deliberately reducing traffic numbers on right-wing websites. The first two bullet points appear to be correct by Alexa's metrics; the other two, well, not so much.
The only "news and media" category where WND appears near the top via Alexa is under "Conservatism," and as of this writing it's second behind Newsmax. And for all of its claims to be "the largest Christian website in the world," WND doesn't crack the top 100 of Alexa's general Christianity rankings, and it appears nowhere among the 76 websites listed under Alexa's Christianity/News and Media rankings.
And what, exactly, has WND done this year to bolster its credibility to make it a place to buy ads? Not much. It continues to pursue conspiracy theories and embrace race-baiting, and while it has effectively renounced birtherism, it did so only because Farah wanted to endorse Ted Cruz for president, not out of any regret of how its factually deficient Obama birther crusade destroyed what little credibility it had.
So, no, WND really hasn't actually learned anything. Did anyone think it would?
Logrolling in WND's time
WND is so desperate to boost what little credibility that it's engaging in a bit of logrolling -- getting folks it has boosted in the past to say good things about WND and even give it awards.
In December, WND featured Donald Trump's upcoming appearance with numerous right-wingers at March's Western Conservative Conference. After noting that Floyd Brown, president of the Western Center for Journalism, is one of the conference co-hosts, WND touted its own upcoming recognition:
In addition, WND founder and CEO Joseph Farah will receive the Western Center for Journalism’s Hero of Freedom Award during a dinner gala celebrating the 25th anniversary of Farah’s founding of the WCJ. Rush Limbaugh has been invited to present the award.
What? Has Brown ever read WND? It's hard to find anything on the website that doesn't have bias and an agenda.
And even that didn't go off as planned. Despite the claimed star power of Trump and Farah, along with "former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, Sheriff Joe Arpaio, Rep. Trent Franks, R-Ariz., former NRA president Sandy Froman, and Scottie Nell Hughes of the Tea Party News Network," it collapsed rather easily: the conference's website states, "Due to an unfortunate medical issue we are not able to go forward with the Western Conservative Conference on March 1819t, [sic] 2016." The conference doesn't explain whose "unfortunate medical issue" this was or why it could result in the cancellation of an entire conference.
Such vagaries suggest that the medical issue is a cover and that the real reason the conference was canceled was a lack of attendees or the withdrawal of one or more of its top-billed speakers. Farah probably wasn't one of them, since he probably wanted that award, no matter now incestuous.
From there, WND was reduced to hanging out at county Republican banquets. From a Jan. 31 article:
WND founder, editor-in-chief and CEO Joseph Farah will return to familiar territory on Feb. 13 as the keynote speaker at the Josephine County, Oregon, Republican Central Committee’s 2016 Lincoln Day Dinner.
The county is indeed where WND originated, at a ranch owned by talk-radio mogul and accused cult leader Roy Masters. But you have to read down for the key information:
Also in attendance will be noted research scientist Art Robinson, co-founder of the Linus Pauling Institute and the Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine. Robinson, who is [county Republican chairman] Joshua Robinson’s father, is the former chairman of the Oregon Republican Party and three times ran for Congress, unsuccessfully, against U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio, co-founder of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. Art Robinson will also speak during the event.
And for each of Art Robinson's failed runs against DeFazio, Kupelian wrote an endorsement column for WND -- essentially the same one with minor updates through the years -- touting Robinson while spinning or ignoring inconvenient truths about him ... like how his homeschool curriculum teaches public-domain 19th-century adventure novels that are a tad racist, or how the climate-denier petition his Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine has promulgated is kind of a joke, or the right-wing sugar daddy who bought hundreds of thousands of dollars in ads to benefit his campaigns.
Farah and Kupelian were effectively getting rewarded for their loyalty to the Robinson family by getting this (very tiny) boost of credibility of hanging out at a county GOP banquet and schmoozing with old friends. A nice junket, perhaps, but a rather desperate stab at credibility.
But that's exactly what WND is reduced to these days.