WorldNetDaily's Favorite Criminal Ex-Congressman
WND loves Steve Stockman so much, it's promoting a conspiracy theory that the former congressman was sent to prison on financial fraud charges because he's a victim of the "Deep State."
By Terry Krepel
WND is such BFFs with Stockman that even his conviction on numerous fraud charges earlier this year isn't shaking its faith in him. In fact, WND is constructing conspiracy theories to claim that the corrupt ex-congressman is an innocent victim of the "Deep State."
An anonymously written April 12 WND article offered up a mostly straight, if vaguely written, account of Stockman's conviction on 23 charges "related to financial crimes," with the details of the offenses limited to claiming that "Essentially, he was charged with using charitable donations for projects and activities unrelated to the charities to which they were donated." WND spent more space recounting Stockman's right-wing-friendly record -- i.e., noting that "he called for a congressional investigation into Alfred Kinsey’s 1948 writings about men and sex after learning that Kinsey included in his study the data from the diary of a pedophile" -- then on the details of the charges for which Stockman is currently in the news.
The truth is that Stockman used that money from donors for a wide variety of strange and eclectic purposes, including to "spy on political rivals with Inspector Gadget-style tools, to pay off his credit card debt, to go on dolphin boat rides, and to buy up copies of pop-up Advent books published by his brother." Stockman pledged to use the money to establish a center for conservative interns in Washington, which never happened.
But the truth doesn't matter to WND editor Joseph Farah, who used his April 15 column to proclaim Stockman innocent, despite the overwhelming evidence against him:
I’ve known Steve for many years. There’s not a corrupt bone in his body. Don’t believe anything else you read about this case anywhere including Fox News, which hung him out to dry.
Farah then quoted Stockman's wife supporting her husband:
I haven’t talked to Steve, who is in lockup awaiting sentencing. But, according to his lovely and loyal wife, Patti, he’s doing fine under the circumstances, which I am gratified to hear.
Farah concluded his column by publishing Stockman's address in prison and a request from Stockman's wife for prayers, adding "In closing, let me say I hope President Trump pardons Steve Stockman like he pardoned Scooter Libby. I can’t say any more. I’m too choked up."
So a criminal friend getting busted chokes Farah up, but not publishing fake news and pretending that the actual truth is fake does not. Got it.
The conspiracy begins
A couple months later, WND was cranking up the conspiracy machine, as a June 24 article by Bob Unruh painted Stockman as the victim of the "Deep State" and lobbies President Trump to pardon him:
Former Texas Congressman Steve Stockman, having been accused of using money from mega-donors for personal and campaign expenses, was convicted in April by a Houston jury on 23 counts of financial crimes and sent to prison. Case closed, right?
Needless to say, Unruh didn't spend very much time examining the offenses for which Stockman was found guilty; instead, he goes for more conspiracy-mongering, "The family website says the attack on the former congressman was orchestrated by the very IRS (as well as the public integrity division of the DOJ) that earlier had tried to throttle tea party organizations in opposition to Obama.
Unruh also dutifully parroted his boss, quoting Farah's statement that "I hope President Trump pardons Steve Stockman like he pardoned Scooter Libby."
Missing, however, is any objective portrayal of the prosecution's side of the case, which tells us WND is still not into the factual-journalism thing after its years of conspiracy-mongering nearly killed it earlier this year.
WND doubled down on the conspiracy in an anonymously written Aug. 19 article, the headline of which claimed that Stockman was guilty of nothing more than "sloppy bookkeeping." Again, WND whitewashed what Stockman actually did and ignored all the oddball personal expenses that money was actually spent on:
A significant portion of the criminal indictment focuses on this time frame, charging that Stockman used funds donated to the Center for the American Future, a non-profit set up by an associate, to benefit his political campaign. The Center sent out a newspaper-like mailing to prospective voters contrasting the policy positions of Cornyn and Stockman, but the former lawmaker’s legal defense team argued it did not expressly advocate for him and therefore did not violate FEC law.
The article also framed misuse of money donated to a Stockman-run charity called Life Without Limits as a "straw donor" issue "similar to ones brought against conservative filmmaker Dinesh D’Souza in 2014." In fact, prosecutors said a $350,000 donation to Life Without Limits was diverted to Stockman and two aides, who later pleaded guilty and testified against Stockman; none of the money went for its intended purpose of a "Freedom House" meeting facility for the group.
WND also uncritically quoted former federal prosecutor Sydney Powell -- who had recently appeared on Fox News to nonsensically claim that former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen's guilty plea on numerous offenses "doesn't even mean that Michael Cohen is guilty" -- complaining that Stockman being imprisoned while awaiting sentencing "is a further outrage calculated to impede his ability to appeal and to break him." In fact, Stockman was deemed to be a flight risk, in part because he uses Bitcoin and burner phones and helped an aide avoid FBI detection for years in Egypt, as well as having government contacts in Egypt, the Republic of the Congo and South Sudan.
The article concluded by quoting Stockman's wife calling her husband a "political prisoner" and Farah suggesting Stockman was targeted because he tried to "defeat the Deep State" in his brief stints as a congressman.
The next attempt at minimizing Stockman's crimes was an Oct. 9 article by Rachel Alexander, a writer at the right-wing website The Stream. She beings by ranting about how "The left believes you need to destroy the innocent to achieve a socialist paradise" and cleverly invokes a WND-published book to argue that "President Barack Obama ignored terrorists such as the Boston Marathon bombers" while also claiming that "Obama called both terrorists and Republicans the same thing extremists." Then comes the conspiracy:
If that gets you upset, as it should, you need to know how the news media buried a story regarding how the FBI and Department of Justice suborned perjury and rigged a conviction of former Rep. Steve Stockman, R-Texas. In an explosive story that’s about to be released, a key witness in the trial, Ben Wetmore, lays out in detail how he was repeatedly threatened and pressured to change his testimony and asked to falsely claim he was running a spy network for Stockman. (As most liberals do, they blame others for what they are doing. Ironically, it was Hillary Clinton who hired a spy to snoop on the Trump campaign.) Wetmore was an attorney for one of the nonprofits Stockman was involved with. Prior to Trump, Stockman was on the top of Obama’s enemies list. (According to former government officials, Obama kept multiple enemies lists.)
As far as the "explosive story" Alexander was breathlessly touting, no evidence of it has surfaced as of yet, nor did she identify exactly which "former government officials" assert that "Obama kept multiple enemies lists." Indeed, virtually none of the claims Alexander makes in her article are substantiated, and are basically all about trying to forward the paranoid "Deep State" conspiracy theory.
It's telling of Alexander's lack of journalistic standards that she ended her screed with an appeal to Stockman's defense fund:
Stockman was targeted because he took on corruption within the Obama administration. He signed onto legislation to impeach then-Attorney General Eric Holder, announced his willingness to consider impeachment of President Obama, exposed Hillary Clinton’s violation of the Iran sanctions and called for the arrest of the IRS’ Lois Lerner for her contempt of Congress. Due to activities like this, he appeared on the Drudge Report in 2013 and 2014 more times than all of the members of the 113th Congress combined.
(Alexander's piece was also published Oct. 19 at the Christian Post website -- unsubstantiated claims, paranoid rants and all. Looks like the Christian Post has the same lack of journalistic standards as WND.)
Stockman was sentenced in early November, and WND was still clinging to its conspiracy theory. An anonymously written Nov. 8 article stated:
Former Texas Congressman Steve Stockman, a conservative whose criminal charges, trial and conviction on financial crimes have been characterized by supporters as a “Deep State” attack, has been given 10 years in prison by a federal judge.
Once again, WND censored the prosection's case against Stockman, instead suggesting that his prosecution was retaliation for his trying to have then-Internal Revenue Service chief Lois Lerner arrested in the midst of a controversy over alleged extra scrutiny of nonprofit applications for right-wing special interest groups.
This was followed on Nov. 12 by another rant from Alexander, who was as conspiratorial as ever:
The U.S. Department of Justice is full of deep state operatives. They have continued conducting political witch hunts against vocal conservatives under the Trump administration. Former Attorney General Jeff Sessions did nothing to stop it. The deep state went after Stockman hard because he was a threat. They wanted to silence him and make an example out of him, so others would be hesitant to follow in his footsteps.
Pushing a conspiracy is much easier than reporting facts, but it also means nobody takes you seriously as a "news" organization and you start facing extinction-level events. WND still hasn't figured that out, apparently.