Here’s one for the old résumé. I used to work for the commentary and news website WorldNetDaily.com. For seven months in 2000, to help pay the bills for college, I helped edit the company’s then-lackluster monthly print magazine. Every month, I’d get articles from several regular writers and then spend two days pulling my hair out, trying to make the essays sound more coherent and less conspiratorial. (Once, an article came in at over 6,000 words when it was supposed to be three. So I highlighted the first 3,000 words and hit the “delete” key.)
The dot.com bust and a desire to put out a better magazine finally finished me off, but during the term of my employment, I got to know the operation. I still have friends and good acquaintances on staff at WND. Consequently, I check back occasionally on what my cantankerous old company is up to. It rarely fails to amuse.
Case in point: the recent sniping contest between LewRockwell.com columnist Karen De Coster and WND commentary editor Tom Ambrose. After apparently privately badmouthing WND for months, De Coster finally let it rip on Sunday. On her own weblog, she wrote that starting in 2000, WND had begun the downhill slide from libertarian oasis to “neocon, warmongering, statist hell[hole].”
Close observers, De Coster argued, “could see the focus shift from libertarian theory, private property defense, and unPCism, to Israel, Israel, Israel, war, war, war,” and this process was only accelerated by the events of September 11. Once a thorn in the side of the Clinton administration, WND had become a tool of the Bush White House (“a gnat on an elephant’s ass”). Dissent was stifled and war drums were beat. She insinuated that this shift came in response to investor demands, which is a nice way of subtly alleging a moneyed Jewish conspiracy without coming right out and saying it.
Ambrose was incredulous. He accused De Coster of “fabricat[ing] her facts with practiced skill.” WND publishes and links to opinions that run the gamut, he said. They publish warmongers and peacemongers alike — from Joe Farah to Pat Buchanan to Ilana Mercer to Ellen Ratner. And they regularly link to sites as far apart as The New Republic and Antiwar.com. Further, he said, “WorldNetDaily is not a conservative newssite.” “What De Coster fails to realize while engaging in her malicious fit of terminal self-righteousness is that WND doesn’t tell our writers what their viewpoint[s] should be.”
He is both very right and very wrong. WND does not dictate a party line to its writers. When I was on staff, I wrote a few things that had people in management in hysterics, but they still ran. (An article bashing Colin Powell’s speech to the Republican National Convention, for instance, argued that “The Stupid Party [has] officially become the Stupid Self-Hating Party.”) Even in the wake of September 11, WND published some very harsh commentary and stood by its writers when the media storms set in. In a phone call about this story, Ambrose said other than for libel, the only time that an article is removed is at the author’s request.
But of course WND is a conservative news and views site, and it seems silly to say otherwise (similar to the right leaning Fox News Channel selling itself as “fair and balanced”). Most of the employees are conservative Christians and I’m betting that a tally of their ballots cast in 2000 would have revealed roughly the reverse of Slate’s lopsided pro-Gore consensus. Editors aren’t allowed to link to articles from Salon because of the latter’s use of erotic artwork galleries as part of the premium package for subscribers. Likewise, any profanity in an article renders it immediately unlinkable. The offerings from WND Books — a collaboration between WorldNetDaily and Thomas Nelson — mostly sound familiar conservative themes (liberalism bad, traditional values good).
WND also benefits (or suffers, depending on your point of view) from a kind of reverse Wall Street Journal arrangement. Whereas the Journal‘s editorial pages lean right and the news division tilts left, WND‘s opinion page is more eclectic and the news more predictably conservative. The headlines on Secretary of State Colin Powell’s address to the United Nations were, “Powell presents U.N. ‘irrefutable’ evidence”; “Baghdad trashes Powell remarks”; “Kuwait opens U.S. invasion route”; and “‘New’ Europe backs war.”
De Coster has a point when she says that the WND crowd is more inclined toward war nowadays than it used to be but, given the world events of the last few years, that’s hardly surprising. Indeed, I’d be shocked if that wasn’t the case. Polls consistently demonstrate that Americans are a) very trusting of President Bush and b) various qualms notwithstanding, quite willing to go to war to try to prevent future acts of terror. And WND employees, as attitudinal red staters, are not simply dispassionate observers of the news.