Fake News At WND: Election Fraud Edition
WorldNetDaily unsurprisingly embraced Donald Trump's bogus claims that voter fraud cost him the election -- but, surprisingly, some claims were so egregiously false that WND actually felt compelled to correct the record.
By Terry Krepel
Fake news has always been part of the menu WorldNetDaily served up to its readers -- its years of pushing Obama birtherism is ample evidence of that. So when President Trump made factually dubious claims that the 2020 presidential election was stolen from him through Democratic fraud, WND was eager to play along and not do things like fact-checking, even though some basic journalistic sense would have stopped WND from being so utterly credulous.
For instance, an anonymous Dec. 4 WorldNetDaily article claimed:
State senators in Georgia on Thursday were handed a hot political potato: a video showing election workers being sent home before supervisors pulled out hidden boxes of ballots from under a table and counted them.
But the video is not what WND claims it is. Numerous fact-checkers have debunked right-wing claims about the video; in fact, as FactCheck.org summarized, the ballots in question were opened and prepared for counting earlier in the night in full view of observers, and affidavits from Republican field organizers discredited the claim that GOP poll watchers were directly told to leave. Georgia election officials also debunked claims made about the video by WND and others, pointing out that the video has been investigated and shows normal ballot processing.
A few days later, WND stole a commentary from the right-wing site The Federalist loudly insisting that the fact-checks aren't real because "relying solely and uncritically on government officials’ claims" was something fact-checkers shouldn't have done.
Letting bogus claims stand
Art Moore dutifully reported in a Dec. 17 WND article:
The Bush v. Gore election dispute in 2000, centering on some 500 votes in one state and "hanging chads," was easy for the American people to digest.
Moore is strictly in stenography mode here -- he doesn't bother to fact-check anything in Navarro's report. If he had, not only would he have provided something of added value to the nascent WND News Center that might make some other website actually want to publish it, he would have learned that pretty much the entire report is bogus. Meanwhile, an actual news outlet did the fact-check that Moore wouldn't:
He also repeated obvious mistakes that have been pointed out by judges and national media outlets, such as mixing up Michigan and Minnesota.
Another fact-checker summed up the report this way:
The burden of proof here lies with Trump and Navarro, the ones claiming fraudulent activity for which they have presented no credible evidence. The key word there is “credible,” of course they’ve presented lots of evidence that is the electoral equivalent of shadowy photos of the Loch Ness monster. Navarro’s report is the functional equivalent of one of those shows where ghost-hunters bring various homemade electronic devices into abandoned townhouses before declaring authoritatively that the photo they took of a dust mite is, in actuality, a poltergeist.
Despite the fact that Navarro's report was discredited almost immediately, WND continued to tout updates Navarro issued. A Dec. 22 article by Bob Unruh touted an update claiming that it was "insisting that a full review is required of 2020 election misbehavior." Unruh didn't note that the original report was debunked, though he did admit (though not until the 13th paragraph of his article) that the Washington Examiner found that "Navarro's conclusions clash with claims from state and local officials that there may have been problems due to clerical errors but not vote fraud."
On Jan. 5, Unruh gushed that Navarro "has released chapter 2" of his "comprehensive report' claiming election fraud, uncritically repeating Navarro's assertion that "Volumes 1 and 2 of the Navarro Report The Immaculate Deception and The Art of the Steal together make the strong case for a full investigation of the election irregularities and strategic gaming of our political process that in all likelihood have led to a stolen presidential election." Unruh, like Moore, was in stenography mode; he didn't tell readers that since the first report was discredited, this one likely would be too.
WND wasn't making any money trying to attract readers to its own website to read this kind of stuff. It's hard to imagine anyone else wanting to publish it.
Embarrassing walkback #1
Sometimes, however, the claims WND published were so egregiously false that WND felt compelled to walk them back after publication. Bob Unruh wrote in a Dec. 29 article:
State lawmakers in Pennsylvania have discovered a serious problem with the 2020 presidential election.
This story flopped so badly -- and was so counterfactual -- that WND itself beat ConWebWatch to the punch and performed a walkback on its own. Unruh's story now begins with an editor's note:
UPDATE Jan. 3, 2021: This story has been updated to include more information concerning a report alleging the certification of the Pennsylvania presidential vote was premature and in error amid claims there were thousands more ballots counted than there were voters who voted. According to a LeadStories fact check, the analysis, released by a handful of state Republican lawmakers, was based on partial data, according to the Pennsylvania Department of State. The number of voters used by the lawmakers did not include completed totals from several major counties. The agency defended its certification, stating: "State and federal judges have sifted through hundreds of pages of unsubstantiated and false allegations and found no evidence of fraud or illegal voting." The original headline for this story has been amended from "Pennsylvania lawmakers find there were more votes than voters" to "Did Pennsylvania lawmakers find more votes than voters?".
Later in the article is another note:
UPDATE: According to a LeadStories fact check, the analysis, released by a handful of state Republican lawmakers, was based on partial data, according to the Pennsylvania Department of State. The number of voters used by the lawmakers did not include completed totals from several major counties. The agency defended its certification, stating: "State and federal judges have sifted through hundreds of pages of unsubstantiated and false allegations and found no evidence of fraud or illegal voting."
That's brutal. Yet Unruh still has a job at WND despite making such an egregious and sloppy error.
Embarrassing walkback #2
An anonymously written Feb. 9 article pushed an election fraud conspiracy theory, under the headline "Election-night mystery: Film shows van delivering ballots after deadline":
A video released by the Gateway Pundit shows a white van delivering dozens of boxes of ballots to be counted in Detroit's TCF Center hours after the deadline on election night in November.
Later that day, WND felt compelled to add a lengthy correction to the top of the article and change the article's headline:
CORRECTION Feb. 9, 2021 at 10:11 p.m. ET: A fact-check by LeadStories on the Gateway Pundit video on which this story is based found that "while the article may very well be correct in identifying the objects taken from the van as ballots, it is not correct in asserting that those ballots were illegal. They were legal votes that had been cast before the 8 p.m. Election Day deadline. Note that the deadline is for casting votes not counting them. Absentee ballots can arrive at counting boards, such as the TCF Center, after 8 p.m. on Election Day.
You'd think that being around for more than two decades would have taught WND something about basic fact-checking before publication so it didn't have to do these massive walkbacks after the fact.
It seems that WND's newfound consideration for accuracy is driven by its newly launched Daily Caller-clone nonprofit WND News Center, in which it's trying to get other websites to publish its articles. Nobody wants to publish false or fake stuff -- the kind of thing that was WND's stock in trade before this -- so that increases pressure on WND to get it right, something it has apparently not been concerned with before.
The fact that WND published these kinds of articles without bothering to fact-check first not only makes it look bad, it makes one wonder about the viability of its new WND News Center, on both the soliciting-donations side and getting-others-to-publish-their-work side.
Now, if WND would correct the two biggest, most notoriously false stories it published -- Obama birtherism and Seth Rich conspiracy theories -- then its journalism might start to be taken seriously.
MyPillow-related fake news
While it's good that WND is (occasionally) getting more proactive about correcting false articles, there are others that still need correction. Moore wrote in a Jan. 28 WND article:
Amid a boycott in response to its politically motivated decision to drop Mike Lindell's MyPillow products, shares of Bed Bath & Beyond plunged 36.4% at the close of trading Thursday.
Just one problem: There's no actual proof that a boycott or any Lindell-related action resulted in the steep share drop. As Media Matters summed it up:
The supposed “collapse” of retailer Bed Bath & Beyond’s stock has obviously got nothing to do with its decision to not carry MyPillow products. Rather, the company's stock price had recently become artificially high as part of the current online craze of small investors buying up stocks that had been short-sold by large hedge funds. The stock price then eventually fell from those heights. (The most famous example of such stocks is video game retailer GameStop, but it also includes other companies such as AMC, Blackberry, and Nokia.)
Moore also failed to tell his readers that Lindell's conspiracy theories aren't "conservative speech" -- they are falsehoods. So there's a lot of work to be done to make a full correction here.
Moore followed up by getting stuck in bland PR stenography mode with minimal background information in a Feb. 5 article:
One of President Trump's most fervent supporters, MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell, released on Friday a two-hour video documentary titled "Absolute Proof" presenting the claim that fraud and irregularities affected the outcome of the 2020 election.
But Moore refused to do a fact-check of Lindell's film; rather, he just promoted its existence -- even though fact-checks are out there that prove the film is filled with lies. Moore undersold the disclaimer OAN put on Lindell's video, which was much lengthier than he described.
Moore also repeated his earlier falsehood that Lindell saw the "withdrawal of his products by several major retailers in response to his claims of election fraud. The consumer organization Media Action Network launched a boycott of Bed, Bath & Beyond, which saw its stock plunge 36% in one day of trading last week."
Moore also noted that "Newsmax TV and others also have distanced themselves from claims that Dominion and Smartmatic systems were designed for fraud and were manipulated to steal the election from Trump" -- but he didn't mention that WND has left itself open to a lawsuit because of a column by James Zumwalt repeating an apparently false and inflammatory attack on a Dominion official (which somehow is still live and uncorrected on WND's website as of this writing despite the fact that the Dominion official has sued others for publishing it).
Shocker: WND does a fact-check
WND, however, can actually check facts when it wants to. Art Moore served one up in a Dec. 18 article, but rather than go after anything WND has previously published -- James Zumwalt's libelous election-fraud smears, to name just one recent example, about which WND has continued to remain silent despite the fact that other right-wingers have been sued for publishing the exact same things -- he went after an obscure, easy to debunk claim:
A claim repeated by a Texas elector that Chief Justice John Roberts was heard from an adjacent room at the Supreme Court building screaming at colleagues for considering the Texas election-fraud case has a fundamental flaw.
As with the prominent corrections it made, this may be just a front to drum up business for the WND News Center and portray it as something legitimate rather than a last-ditch bid to keep WND alive by offloading its reporters from the core for-profit operation.