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Joseph Farah's Birther Factory

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In 1996, Columbia Journalism Review published an article called "The Vincent Foster Factory," detailing the role played by Joseph Farah, then head of the Western Journalism Center, in promoting conspiracy theories surrounding the death of Clinton White House counsel Vince Foster. It states:

One of the Center's major activities is trying to inject the dark view of Foster's death into mainstream reporting and thinking. Last year, to this end, the Center bought full-page ads in several major newspapers, including The New York Times, to showcase Ruddy's work and to offer for sale special Vince Foster reports, including a compilation of Ruddy's stories, titled "The Ruddy Investigation," for $12, and a forty-minute "riveting new video documentary" titled "Unanswered -- The Death of Vincent Foster," which Ruddy helped produce, and which goes for $35.

Sound familiar? That's the same playbook -- promotion, conspiracies and selling trinkets to true believers -- Farah is running against Barack Obama on the birth certificate conspiracy.

As he did back then, Farah insisted his work isn't partisan. In 1996, Farah claimed the WJC was merely "a vigorous watchdog on government"; on July 29, he asserted that "this is not a left-right issue. This is not a conservative-liberal issue. This is not a Democrat-Republican issue. This is not an ideological issue. This is a matter of what's true and what's not."

Both claims are, in essence, false. Farah's WJC was interested in being "a vigorous watchdog on government" only when Democrats were in charge; the organization was dormant throughout the Bush presidency, and only recently sprung back to life under the leadership of right-wing political operative Floyd Brown just in time for a new Democratic administration. Brown, like Farah, is obsessed with the birth certificate issue.

The WJC's disdain for holding Republicans accountable carried over to WND. WND stayed away from the issue of Bush's service in the National Guard in early 2004 when others were reporting on the issue and Bush's reluctance to release relevant information (though WND found time to smear Bush's eventual 2004 opponent, John Kerry, by publishing false and discredited rumors of an affair). It arrived late to the game with a single article that was more interested in covering for Bush than acting like a watchdog on the issue.

WND was completely silent, however, on another recent birth certificate-related issue. Blogger Andrew Sullivan crusaded throughout the 2008 presidential campaign and beyond demanding that Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin release the birth certificate of infant Trig; Palin has presented Trig as her son, but rumors swirled that Trig was actually the son of Palin's teenage daughter, Bristol. WND devoted no articles to the Palin controversy, and Palin to this day has refused to release the birth certificate.

Yet, in an August 2 article, WND praised Sullivan for joining "the rising chorus of voices across the political spectrum calling for Barack Obama to release his original, long-form birth certificate to put aside growing doubts about his eligibility for the presidency." WND made no mention of Sullivan's longtime demand that Trig Palin's birth certificate be released.

Farah's pursuit of Foster and the Obama birth certificate share another trait -- a fondness for false claims. CJR reported in 1996:

As 60 Minutes reports, Ruddy has acknowledged one serious error. In two chapters of "The Ruddy Investigation," both copyrighted in 1994, he questions how the fatal gun could have been found in Foster's right hand when Foster was left-handed. In fact, Foster was right-handed. Farah says, "Ruddy and I have been at the forefront of the information trail to correct" this error. But in early 1996, the Center was continuing to sell "The Ruddy Investigation" with the error still standing.

Further, Ruddy's book stemming from the WJC-linked Foster investigation was rejected even by conservatives like Ann Coulter, who wrote in her book "Slander": "Even if Christopher Ruddy's The Strange Death of Vince Foster was considered a conservative hoax book, it was also conservatives who discredited it."

All of that, of course, was counter to the numerous investigations by people without an ideological ax to grind -- and, in independent counsel Kenneth Starr, someone who arguably did -- that all came to the same conclusion: Foster committed suicide in Fort Marcy Park.

In that same vein, Farah and WND have reported numerous claims regarding the birth certificate that have been proven false, but WND has made no effort to correct the record. WND has also told numerous falsehoods about Obama in general.

Since the truth does not appear to matter to Farah, WND's falsehood-strewn trail would seem to put the lie to his assertion that "This is a matter of what's true and what's not."

Yet it's also about something else Farah is loath to mention: It's a matter of dollars and cents.

At the end of Farah's July 29 column was this note: "Want to turn up the pressure to learn the facts? Get your signs and postcards asking for the president's birth certificate documentation from the Birth Certificate Store!"

Indeed, WND has a cornucopia of items related to the issue. Among them:

In a rehash of the WJC's purchase of full-page newspaper ads to reprint Ruddy's dubious Foster reporting, WND is buying space on billboards across the country (and asking readers to pitch in) asking the question, "Where's the birth certificate?" The question, of course, can just as easily apply to Sarah Palin.

WND even sold readers a letter it would send to Obama in time for his birthday Aug. 4 for the low, low price of $6.95. But even that letter contained a falsehood: It asserted that "The problem with the short-form certification is that it could easily be obtained for a birth that took place out of the state or out of the country. All it would take is the word of one parent."

That claim has been debunked by none other than the Western Journalism Center -- the Farah-founded organization that attacked the Clinton administration over Foster.

WND later claimed that it sent out "more than 1,200 personalized letters." At $6.95 a letter, that's a gross of more than $8,340. It most assuredly did not cost WND $8,340 to personalize those letters, print them out and FedEx them to the White House -- meaning that WND made a tidy profit on the venture.

CJR noted that "About half of the $500,000 that came into the Center last year [1995] came from individuals who bought Foster merchandise." The same pattern appears to be recurring with WND's birther pursuit. All those trinkets must keep the money rolling in. And unlike the nonprofit WJC (Farah claimed not to take a WJC salary), WorldNetDaily is a for-profit venture, so Farah -- as WND's majority owner -- is making coin in a way he reportedly didn't from the WJC.

Since WND is privately held, it doesn't have to release financial records. That's ironic given Farah's demand for transparency from Obama. Indeed, WND has operated in a very opaque manner regarding its birth certificate coverage, almost as if it were hiding something.

Which would not be a surprise. After all, it was largely unknown at the time that the WJC was essentially a closed circle of promotion -- it accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars from right-wing philanthropist Richard Mellon Scaife to finance and promote reporting by an employee of a Scaife-owned newspaper.

It's also not a surprise that Farah would run the Foster playbook on Obama. To Farah, Foster and the birth certificate are indistinguishable, serving only as a tool, a means to the end of smearing a president with whom he disagrees. Only this time, he profits directly from his activism. And if WND ever starts telling the truth and admits the birth certificate issue is bogus, a burgeoning source of revenue evaporates.

Simply put, it's not in Farah's financial interest to tell the truth about Obama's birth certificate, and WND's coverage has borne this out.

Ultimately, Joseph Farah's record shows all too well what he really is.

He is not a journalist -- he's a partisan political operative, just as he was before.

He is not looking to uphold the Constitution -- he wants to destroy a duly elected president, just as he tried to do before.

He does not care about the truth -- just as he did before, he peddles lies.

(A version of this article appears at ConWebWatch.)