Newsmax Condones Columnist's Fake Obama Quote

Newsmax has been basking in the glow of recent positive coverage in the kind of mainstream media it typically professes to despise.

A March 6 article called Newsmax "A Great Right Hope," touting it as "a news powerhouse and a must-read on the conservative media circuit." Forbes even claimed that Newsmax founder Christopher Ruddy "should have been" invited 'to President Barack Obama's dinner with conservative columnists at George Will's Maryland home in early January." A March 13 article at the financial website MarketWatch claimed Newsmax is "emerging as the most prominent online voice of the conservative movement." and uncritically repeated Ruddy's claim that Newsmax is "bigger than Rush and Drudge online."

Ruddy and Newsmax are the beneficiaries of a more than a little whitewashing here.

As Media Matters noted, the Forbes article quoted Dick Morris calling Newsmax "the most influential Republican-leaning media outlet in the country" without mentioning Morris' ties to Newsmax: Among other things, he writes a column for both Newsmax's website and magazine and is also listed as a speaker during a planned Newsmax-sponsored Mediterranean cruise later this year. (Forbes has retroactively added Morris' link to Newsmax to the article.)

Both articles note Richard Mellon Scaife's current ownership stake in Newsmax -- a stake I first reported in 2002 after years of Newsmax staying mum about where its money came from -- but don't mention that Scaife was a Newsmax investor from the beginning.

Forbes noted the current cordial relations Ruddy and Scaife have with Bill Clinton and a "surprisingly dispassionate cover stor[y]" Newsmax magazine did on Clinton without describing just how virulently anti-Clinton Newsmax has been for most of its history, or mentioning the millions of dollars Scaife donated to conservative outfits in the 1990s for the express purpose of digging up dirt on Clinton and hounding him out of office. MarketWatch doesn't mention the Clintons at all.

While both Forbes and MarketWatch mention that Ruddy was formerly a reporter with the New York Post and Scaife's Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, they fail to note what Ruddy was doing there -- namely, smearing the Clinton administration and concocting conspiracy theories about the death of Vincent Foster. Even Ann Coulter dismissed Ruddy's 1997 book on the Foster case, based on his newspaper reporting, calling it a "conservative hoax book" that was "discredited" by fellow conservatives.

Despite touting Ruddy's journalistic credentials, neither publication touches the issue of the quality of Newsmax's journalism. As I've previously detailed, Newsmax has been reverting to Clinton-esque smears of President Obama, with reporter David Patten leading the way in repeatedly making false claims about Obama's policies.

But it gets worse, in the form of a Newsmax columnist who is repeating a fake quote about Obama.

James Humes is a former presidential speechwriter hanging out at a satellite campus of the University of Colorado with a clear hatred of Obama. Last September, Humes wrote a column published by Newsmax referring to "Barack Hussein Obama, who was schooled in Kenya home of his Islam-raised father, who had four wives." In fact, Obama did not visit Kenya until he was 26 years old, in 1988. Newsmax quietly excised that false claim from Humes' column after publication.

In a March 11 column, Humes ratcheted up the hate. Discussing a bust of Winston Churchill loaned to the U.S. government by Great Britain that President Obama had returned to the British Embassy shortly after he took office (Humes falsely claimed the bust was "a gift from the British people"), Humes wrote:

That offensive act without explanation gave substance to the reported story that when President Obama walked into the Oval Office for the first time and saw the Churchill piece, he said, "Get that goddam thing out of here."

Humes offers no source for this claim. A ConWebWatch search using Google and Nexis, however, uncovered no evidence at all that Obama ever said this.

As if apparently making up an Obama quote wasn't enough, Humes repeated his previously retracted falsehood and wrapped it in a smear: "Perhaps Obama, who grew up in Kenya, took umbrage at Prime Minister Churchill's actions in 1953 of wiping out the Mau-Mau, the Kenyan terrorists who made a specialty of slitting throats of sleeping white and Black Kenyans."

That ugly smear is reminiscent of another former Newsmax columnist, Norman Liebmann, who was not above likening the Clintons to Nazis and hurling other vicious insults, and who ultimately left Newsmax in a fit of pique over its refusal to print a nasty anti-gay column.

(Liebmann's still around, albeit mostly limited to his own personal website, Firehat. And his hatred toward Obama manages to surpass even that of Humes. A sample comment from one recent column: "It is fitting that Hillary, the Bitch Goddess, has been replaced by Michelle - the Bride of Blackenstein. During the campaign Obama cautioned, 'My wife is "out of bounds"'. Maybe he should have asked around.")

Back to Humes: A couple days later, after I (at ConWebBlog) and Media Matters' County Fair took note of Humes' baseless Obama quote, Newsmax was moved to once again quietly alter Humes' column without alerting readers. The false claim that Obama "grew up in Kenya" was replaced the statement that he is "the son of a Kenyan." The bogus Obama quote stayed, though with an new paragraph following it:

While the story was never fully substantiated, despite frequent repetition on radio talk shows, the sentiment seems to have been confirmed by Obama's subsequent actions.

Translation: I can't prove Obama said this -- in fact, I can't even name anyone who said he did, despite "frequent repetition on radio talk shows" -- but I'll pretend he did anyway because it meshes so well with my smear of Obama.

Basic rules of journalism demand that a quote -- especially one as inflammatory as this -- be sourced. If it can't be sourced, it shouldn't be used.

Humes is standing by a quote he can't substantiate -- and Newsmax is letting him do it.

Is that really proper behavior for a news organization to engage in even as it's feted by financial websites? Or is being "A Great Right Hope" ultimately peddling false claims and ugly smears?

It appears that Ruddy will try to take advantage of this positive coverage. Just three days after MarketWatch praised Ruddy for demonstrating "a stronger commitment to the bottom line than to presenting himself as an ideologue" and quoting him saying that "I'm not looking for a cult of personality of Chris Ruddy," Ruddy made his first TV appearance in recent memory on the Fox Business Network. He tried to smear Obama, claiming that he, like Franklin Roosevelt, "couldn't improve the economy, so he started this class warfare thing."

Even Ruddy, it seems, can't follow his own whitewashed script.

(A version of this article appears at ConWebWatch.)