(submitted by Matt Kaufman)
On Tuesday, WorldNetDaily posted an Insight magazine story titled “Clarke’s Friends Say He’s Lost Credibility.” Curious to know just who these “friends” were, I went to find out: Being a journalist myself, I naturally assumed what any average reader would also assume – that a headline like that would back up its claim. The first paragraph repeated the charge, assuring us that it was speaking of “many” friends (“Many of former White House counterterrorism czar Richard Clarke’s friends are saying his anti-Bush diatribe has cost him his credibility”), but another paragraph passed, then two, then three – and still no names. I got down to the eighth paragraph, and there was the charge again (“many of his longtime friends are saying publicly that his anti-Bush diatribe has cost him his credibility”) – but STILL no names.
By now you won’t be surprised to learn that the names never did show up – nor even did a quote from an unnamed source, much less any of the “many” “friends” who’d spoken “publicly.”
But wait, this gets better. I e-mailed WorldNetDaily to call them on their blunder (the text of my e-mail is at the bottom of this note), and apparently it made a difference. When you go to the current version of the story you’ll find one thing has changed: The headline now speaks not of “friends” but of “colleagues” – referring, presumably, to people like Condoleeza Rice, who gets plenty of space in a story that’s essentially a hit job on Clarke. (He’s described by author J. Michael Waller as, among other things, “vitriolic”). But the text of the story hasn’t otherwise changed: Both references to “friends” are still there.
What about the Insight version of the story? Alas, I didn’t think to look on their site when it was first posted; it only occurred to me today (two days later), after I noticed WND’s change. Insight‘s story runs under a less sensational headline (“Holdovers Held Up Security Strategy”) and omits the first paragraph’s reference to “friends” – but it keeps the second reference (it’s the fourth paragraph, in Insight’s copy) and also repeats the “friends” charge in a photo caption at the top of the page.
Since I didn’t see Insight‘s original, I don’t know if someone at WND told someone at Insight, leading them to scramble to change their version (hurriedly cutting out the first paragraph but sloppily neglecting to change the later reference and the photo caption) or if they had the slightly less egregious version all along, while WND took raw, unedited copy straight from Waller. I find either explanation credible; Insight’s at least a bit more professional than WND. But if any of your readers have access to the latest Insight in its print edition, perhaps they can let us know. Insight‘s Web site makes it clear this is also the print cover story, so if they cleaned up online version after posting, they probably didn’t have the chance to do the same before they went to press. Anyone out there want to check it out?
Any way you slice it, this is a classic example of war hawks so eager (desperate, even) to smear anyone who spills the beans on the Bush administration that they’ll grab any accusation and run with it, bypassing even the most rudimentary journalistic standards. But then, there’s no real reason to be surprised. WND’s top headline, as I write, is “UFO Blasts Sky Like 50,000 Spotlights.”
TEXT OF MY E-MAIL TO WND (3/30/04):
Your site carries the headline “Clarke’s Friends Say He’s Lost Credibility,” and J. Michael Waller’s story under the same headline twice repeats the charge – adding that he’s speaking not just of a few friends, but of “many” of Clarke’s “longtime” friends. There’s just one tiny problem: The story never names a single one of them – nor does it even a quote a single unnamed “friend.” I know you’re eager to discredit Clarke (and all the other former government officials who’ve criticized the Bush Administration), but didn’t anyone on your staff bother to READ the story before posting it, especially under that sensational headline? Someone really should have, if only for your own sake. As it is, it’s WND that’s just taken a blow to its credibility.
~ Matt Kaufman