Fake News and Floundering
WorldNetDaily may have spent the past year trying to stay alive, but that didn't keep from publishing a lot of fake news -- one thing that likely led to its severe financial problems in the first place. Plus: Did WND know all along the Seth Rich conspiracy was fake?
By Terry Krepel
When WorldNetDaily editor Joseph Farah was begging for money last February to keep his website alive, he tried to elucidate one difference between his website and CNN: "WND is committed to real news while CNN, due to its hatred of President Trump, is daily drowning in the fake variety."
That, of course, is utter balderdash. We'd be willing to wager that WND has published more fake news in the past couple years alone than CNN ever has . And even as it has spent the last year running two campaigns to raise money to keep WND in business, it has continued to publish fake news -- one key factor that has driven WND to the brink of extinction.
And we haven't even gotten to how Farah's and WND's hatred of President Obama led it to spend eight years publishing the fake news of the birther conspiracy theory, or how its hatred of Hillary Clinton let it to promote Seth Rich conspiracy theories. (More on that below.)
Here are some of the fake-news stories WND promoted over the past year when it could have been revamping its editorial model to publish only stories that are actually true.
Banning the Bible
WND spent a good part of 2018 spreading misinformation and fake news regarding a proposed California law, AB 2943, that would have prohibited the sale of books or videos promoting anti-gay conversion therapy. Typical was an April 22 column by Farah, who ranted: "Is it a stretch to say that AB 2943 could result in a ban of the Bibles and books that do not affirm transgenderism? Not at all. The bill explicitly prohibits the sale of printed materials that do just that."
Meanwhile, religion blogger Warren Throckmorton did what Farah couldn't be bothered to do -- contact the sponsor of AB 2943, Assemblyman Evan Low, who responded that not only would the proposed law not ban the Bible, "the bill doesn’t relate to books or speech." Low later tweeted: "A church or individual may still practice conversion therapy if they do so without charging for this fraudulent service. It does not ban bibles nor does it ban the basic sales of books as some would have you believe." Throckmorton concluded: "What makes me think this could be a reasonable response to the harm reparative therapy can do is that there is nothing in the bill that stops a person from trying to make personal changes outside of a professional context. Furthermore, I don’t see how the bill prohibits counselors from helping clients who pursue celibacy. However, it does remove the stamp of approval of the mental health professions for change therapy."
Despite this, WND doubled down on spreading this bit of fake news. An anonymously written May 15 article misled from the get-go, falsely claiming that the bill is designed so "people with same-sex inclinations don’t hear messages challenging them." Then it uncritically quoted Mike Huckabee ranting at length about how the bill is "one of the most dramatic ideological shifts away from the First Amendment in our nation’s history" and hyperbolically claiming that "it can easily be interpreted to stop the sale goods and services that promote a biblical worldview!” and that "the sale of ANY book that states the practice of homosexuality or transgender identification as immoral actions would be illegal in California. …This could include the Bible!”
A June 5 article by Bob Unruh claimed that "several experts contend the broadly written proposal could ban sale of the Bible," but didn't tell readers the sponsor of the bill says differently.
WND ultimately rebranded the proposed law -- falsely, of course -- as the "'Must Stay Gay' bill." (WND never explained why people must stop being gay.) An Aug. 31 article noting the bill's withdrawal claimed that "studies show" conversion therapy "is effective," but it cited only one, "a Liberty Counsel study showing that such therapies overwhelmingly are effective." In fact, the "study" -- published in an anti-gay Catholic journal and apparently originally published as one researcher's dissertation in 2011 -- was simply a survey of 125 men who had undergone various kinds of conversion therapy, only about a quarter of participants were "exclusively homosexual," and no attempt was made to find out which therapies were actually helpful. Further, the vast majority of participants identified as Christian whose motivation for seeking conversion therapy was cultural and religious pressure.
Justin Trudeau's eyebrows
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's eyebrows are weird, and WorldNetDaily wasted no time in embracing a conspiracy theory about them. An anonymous WND writer stated in a June 10 article:
Social media are abuzzzzz with the question.
The article concluded with "some comments from Reddit" about Trudeau's eyebrows. WND couldn't be bothered, however, to look further into the story.
An Aug. 28 WND article by Art Moore was a rewrite of an anonymously sourced Daily Caller report claiming that "the private email server through which Hillary Clinton transmitted classified information as secretary of state was hacked by a Chinese-owned company."
Just one problem: it appears not to be true. The FBI pushed back on the claim, saying that it had found no evidence that Clinton's servers had been compromised.
Nevertheless, Joe Kovacs wrote an article the next day touting right-wing radio host Rush Limbaugh's repeating of the report and "wondering where the denials are from the former U.S. secretary of state and former President Obama." It's not until the 14th paragraph of his article that Kovacs got around to noting that "The FBI, meanwhile, told NBC News Wednesday the bureau 'has not found any evidence the (Clinton) servers were compromised.'" Then he returned to quoting Limbaugh some more. Yes, Kovacs led with the bogus story and buried the debunking.
Judge loses job for refusing same-sex marriages?
An anonymous WorldNetDaily writer opined in an Oct. 4 article:
The state of Oregon dismissed a judge for refusing to promote same-sex “marriage,” and now the U.S. Supreme Court, which already has ruled for a baker forced to make such an endorsement, is to review the situation.
But in regurgitating biased spin from Vance's law firm without bothering to fact-check, WND has forwarded a falsehood -- fake news, if you will -- in claiming that Day was removed from the court solely because refused to "promote" same-sex marriage (which WND lovingly put in scare quotes).
As an actual news outlet explained, Day not only refused to marry same sex couples, "he instructed his staff to employ a scheme to avoid 'public detection' of his plan." But that's not all: Day also "included a portrait of Adolf Hitler as part of a 'Hall of Heroes' artwork display he erected in the Marion County Courthouse; Day shoved his judicial business card at his son’s soccer referee in an attempt to intimidate the referee into backing off; and Day wrongfully allowed a felon to handle a firearm." WND mentioned none of this.
Meanwhile, another actual media outlet reported that Day's bogus attempt to portray himself as a victim of liberal culture warriors is a key part of the plan to raise money for his defense, soliciting out-of-state contributions and accepting money from a right-wing foundation run by his lawyer, then turning around and paying his lawyer's law firm for work on his defense. WND didn't mention that either.
Still, an anonymously written Oct. 12 article repeated the falsehood, asserting that Day "was punished for refusing to perform same-sex ceremonies." Again, WND dishonestly failed to report the full extent of the charges against Day.
Biden called for violence?
An anonymously written Nov. 1 WND article sure tried to make its case, under the headline "Now Biden calls for GOP congressman to learn 'threshold of pain': More rhetoric calling for violence over 2018 elections":
Former Vice President Joe Biden only a week ago called for an end to “this division, this hatred, this ugliness” around the 2018 midterm elections.
Except that's not what happened at all. WND completely eliminates the context of Biden's remark -- which, surprisingly, was in the Republican National Committee video embedded into the article -- which clearly shows that Biden was responding rhetorically to a specific comment made by the Republican opponent of the Democratic candidate he was stumping for:
Let me tell you, these guys are amazing, and they stand up -- how they stand up and say things that are absolutely mind-boggling. I love this one on trade. This I love, and by the way, I told you I come from an agricultural state. I don't know how you can possibly get elected in an agricultural state with the things he's saying. But -- but, we're nearing the 20th week of zero soybean orders from the Pacific and Northwest and China, and your guy calls farmers' concerns hysteria and says they don't have a very high threshold for pain. Well, I get that president of the trade union's up here and he'll show him a threshold of pain.
In other words, WND is peddling fake news again.
Terrorists at the border
An anonymously written Dec. 13 WND article began this way:
As Democrats continue to resist President Trump’s insistence on $5 billion in funding for a border wall posing the threat of a government shutdown a Republican congressman asserted that more than 10 terrorists and 40 criminals try to enter the United States every day across the southern border.
WND did not fact-check this claim -- but it should have, because it's not accurate.
As an actual news outlet reported, 10 people a day are stopped from entering the country because they are on a terrorist watch list, not necessarily because they are terrorists -- even conservatives have complained about rampant inaccuracies on the list. Further, that number covers all points of entry to the nation, including international airports, seaports and land crossings, not just the southern border.
By contrast, the headline promoting the article in WND's front-page carousel -- "Congressman: 10 terrorists try to enter U.S. every day" -- manages to be accurate because it's vaguely written.
Branding articles true when published as "fake news"
Joe Kovacs wrote in a Dec. 26 WND article:
President Trump has become well-known for blasting the “fake news” media as the “enemy of the people.”
But those stories weren't "fake news" or mistakes -- they were true at the time they were reported, since they were posted several hours before Trump's trip to Iraq was made public.
Kovacs waited until later in his article to admit that both NBC and Newsweek updated their articles to note Trump's trip to Iraq -- but then writes that "Many commenters on social media have been flaying both NBC and Newsweek for their errors." Again, the stories weren't wrong when originally published.
In portraying accurate early reports of Trump not visiting troops as "fake news," Kovacs himself has created fake news.
Obama and Nigeria
An anonymously written Dec. 29 WND article stated:
The former president of Nigeria, a Christian, is charging in his new book that President Obama was involved in “facilitating” the persecution of Christians by prodding voters there to adopt a Muslim-led government.
Since WND can't be bothered to tell the other side of the story, its readers won't know that Jonathan's claim is false.
Obama's video did not advocate for one candidate over another, no matter how much Jonathan claims "subliminal language"; he asked "all leaders and candidates to make it clear to their supporters that violence has no place" in the election process, and he urged "all Nigerians from all religions, all ethnic groups and all regions to come together and keep Nigeria one."
WND made the mistake of relying the right-wing Breaking Israel News for its claim, specifically a highly biased article by anti-Muslim activist Raymond Ibrahim ranting about a "genocide" of Christians in Nigeria and claiming that Buhari is "facilitating jihad." While one Christian group declined to endorse Buhari for re-election later this year, another Christian group has endorsed him.
WND also uncritically repeated Ibrahim's claim that nomadic Fulani Muslims are killing Christian farmers in the country in the name of jihad; in fact, the Fulani themselves insist the conflict is about cattle, and one imam even helped to save the lives of Christians in the conflict.
WND still hasn't learned that publishing bogus claims doesn't help fix its credibility issues.
More adventures in fake news
Meanwhile, past examples of WND's links to fake news continue to pop up.
Buzzfeed detailed how anti-Muslim propaganda travels from Europe to the U.S., citing WND as a conduit. For example, an August 2017 article by the anti-Muslim Gatestone Institute carried the headline ""Muslims Tell Europe: 'One Day This Will All Be Ours'"-- but the article quotes no Muslim saying that (it game from a French Catholic bishop who was purporting to quote unnamed Muslims). WND republished part of the Gatestone article, complete with false headline.
WND has gotten burned by fake news from Gatestone before; ConWebWatch has documented how it promoted an alarmist Gatestone article about how more mosques than churches were being built in France, ignoring that Christianity had a centuries-long head start over Islam in the country and has far more churches than Islam has mosques. Gatestone has since deleted its false article, but WND's article, by Alicia Powe, remains live and uncorrected.
Speaking of Powe, Media Matters reported on the closeness between American conservatives and Macedonian-based fake news operations, noting that one figure in the operations, Trajche Arsov, had recruited Powe to write for one of those fake-news sites during the 2016 election, and that Powe also shared numerous fake-news stories on her personal Facebook page. Powe joined WND as a reporter in February 2017 -- where one of her beats was perpetuating Seth Rich conspiracy theories -- and stayed for approximately a year; she now writes for the even less credible Gateway Pundit.
Throughout all of this, WND still won't admit its dubious editorial policies played a role in leading it to near-death, continuing to whine about Google and Facebook prioritizing other (read: more credible) content. Until Joseph Farah and crew admit they have a problem and apologize to its readers for essentially lying to them, they can't even begin to fix it, let alone regain the credibility it needs to stay alive.
ConWebWatch has documented how WND embraced conspiracy theories around the death of Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich, name that he was murdered because he leaked private DNC emails to WikiLeaks -- then couldn't admit the truth as they were discredited. But it appears that WND knew this was fake news all along.
The Daily Beast reported in November that Jerome Corsi and Roger Stone, despite spending the past two years promoting Seth Rich conspiracy theories, knew as early as August 2016 -- less than a month after Rich's death in what police investigators believe was an apparent botched robbery attempt -- that Russian hackers, not Rich, gave those emails to WikiLeaks.
This raises some uncomfortable questions for WorldNetDaily, one of the chief promoters of this bogus conspiracy theory. Corsi was an employee of WND until January 2017, when he moved to Alex Jones' InfoWars.
To recap: WND was quick to embrace the conspiracy theory that Rich was murdered over the emails. An August 2016 article by Bob Unruh, published a week after Corsi knew Rich had no role in leaking the DNC emails, touted how Rich was among the "people with tangential connections to Bill and Hillary Clinton have died in unusual circumstances" and repeated the suggestion from right-wing columnist Rachel Alexander -- most recently prominent at WND for painting corrupt right-wing ex-congressman Steve Stockman as an innocent victim of the "deep state" -- linking his death to the leak of the DNC emails. Even the slow disintegration of the Rich conspiracy theory on other fronts hasn't moved WND to correct the record.
Now we know that at least one WND employee at the time it embraced the Rich conspiracy theory knew the story was false as WND promoted it. It's possible, if not likely, that others at WND knew that as well.
In short: WND knew or should have know the Rich conspiracy was fake news, yet it spent two years falsely portraying the bogus story as if it was real.
Rich's family and spokespeople have not been shy about filing lawsuits against those who promulgated the false conspiracy theory (even if they don't always succeed). It's clear that with this revelation, Corsi and WND now face legal liability for pushing a story they knew or should have known was false from the get-go.
WND has so far refused to tell its readers about this development, let alone admit its implications. This refusal to take responsibility for its mistakes -- or, in this case, an apparent decision to knowingly publish a false story -- is a big reason why WND has not yet demonstrated that it deserves to live beyond its ongoing financial crises.