Joseph Farah admitted it in his August 5 WorldNetDaily column: "A few months ago, I stepped beyond my role as a journalist and media entrepreneur to become an activist, a crusader, some might even say a 'birther.'"
That's not quite correct. Farah, WND's founder and editor, actually "stepped beyond" his role as a journalist years ago. He has been "an activist, a crusader" for a long time now -- and not just about Barack Obama's birth certificate.
Farah is using the same playbook against Obama he used against President Clinton in the 1990s in using his Western Journalism Center to promote conspiracies over the death of White House aide Vincent Foster. Of course, Farah claimed he was a journalist back then, too.
As if we needed more evidence that Farah and WorldNetDaily have not operated in a journalistic manner regarding Obama's birth certificate, its treatment of a purported Kenyan birth certificate for Obama demonstrates not only activism but gross irresponsibility as well.
On Aug. 2, WND reported that "California attorney Orly Taitz, who has filed a number of lawsuits demanding proof of Barack Obama's eligibility to serve as president, has released a copy of what purports to be a Kenyan certification of birth and has filed a new motion in U.S. District Court for its authentication." According to the article, "Taitz told WND that the document came from an anonymous source who doesn't want his name known because 'he's afraid for his life.'"
WND has a history of collaborating with Taitz, as well as refusing to disclose to its readers the extent of the collaboration -- a significant breach of journalistic ethics -- so it would not be a surprise if the two collaborated on promoting this certificate as well.
WND gave the certificate the sheen of authenticity, suggesting it was the "smoking gun" of the birther issue and adding, "WND was able to obtain other birth certificates from Kenya for purposes of comparison, and the form of the documents appear to be identical" -- though it did not publish any of those "other birth certificates from Kenya" so readers could see for themselves. But that statement, and another one claiming that the document "bears none of the obvious traits of a hoax," are the only evidence that WND offered to support its authenticity. Lacking was any expert testimony -- or any evidence that WND sought out such experts before publication.
That would be another irresponsible breach of journalistic ethics: WND published something it did not know to be factual. Nearly every other responsible news organization would have attempted to verify the authenticity of the document before publication. Not WND.
Despite that, WND endeavored to defend the possible authenticity of the certificate. Updating the article to respond to a Media Matters blog post (to which it did not link) pointing out that while the certificate, dated Feb. 17, 1964, read "Republic of Kenya," Kenya did not officially become a republic until December 1964, WND stated:
But Kenya's official independence was in 1963, and any number of labels could have been applied to government documents during that time period.
At Ameriborn Constitution News, the researcher noted that the independence process for the nation actually started taking as early as 1957, when there were the first direct elections for Africans to the Legislative Council.
"Kenya became an Independent Republic, December 12, 1963, which gives more [credibility] that this is a true document," the website stated.
The 1963 independence is corroborated by several other information sources, including the online African History.
Even the People Daily news agency cited, on Dec. 12, 2005, the "42nd independence anniversary" in Nairobi. "The country gained independence from Britain on Dec. 12, 1963," the report said.
An online copy of the Kenya Constitution, "adopted in 1963, amended in 1999," states: "CHAPTER I - THE REPUBLIC OF KENYA, Article 1, Kenya is a sovereign Republic. Article 1A, The Republic of Kenya shall be a multiparty democratic state."
But that defense is misleading; the date of independence is not in dispute. Besides, as Media Matters further reported, Kenya did have an official designation between December 1963 and December 1964: dominion. WND did not report that to its readers.
WND followed up the next day with an article conceding apparent problems with the certificate's authenticity but continuing its misleading defense of it. Another article, on Aug. 4, noted the Washington Independent's detailing of how the document is apparently a altered version of an Australian birth certificate, but quickly set that aside, devoting more text to detail how a website linked to Taitz "provided replies to the point-by-point criticisms."
Except that it didn't, really. That particular website's responses are largely unsupported or speculative, it did not at the time not address the Australian certificate, and it made a previously discredited claim even more false by asserting that Obama's grandmother made a "sworn statement that she was present at Obama's birth in Kenya." In fact, she made no such claim, let alone issue a "sworn statement" to that effect.
Both the Aug. 3 and Aug. 4 articles repeated the claim that "WND was able to obtain other birth certificates from Kenya for purposes of comparison, and the form of the documents appear to be identical."
Farah, meanwhile, weighed in with an Aug. 4 column disingenuously defending WND's publication of the purported certificate. He stated:
No one at WND - not me, not Jerome Corsi, not any columnists, not any reporters - have defended the authenticity of the Kenyan birth certificate. No one here has made a judgment that it is real. What we did was report a fact - that California attorney Orly Taitz has filed a motion in federal court to determine its authenticity.
But by publishing the certificate, WND confers a certain level of legitimacy on something that he cannot (and did not) claim to be factual. There are enough people in the world who will believe -- any WND caveat aside -- that if it's on the Internet, it must be true. And given Farah's history in publicizing unproven claims later found to be false and his determination to smear Obama no matter how false the claim, that is likely the effect Farah is counting on.
Farah went on to assert: "It did occur to me that the fastest and most efficient way to determine authenticity was to show it publicly -- and let the scrutiny begin." That, of course, runs counter to most news organizations that try to determine authenticity before publication. Farah did not explain why WND couldn't be bothered to do its own investigation beforehand.
Farah then claimed: "The first I saw of this document was Sunday night when Orly Taitz put it on her website." That's impossible, since WND published it Sunday morning. Further, Farah asserted in a message on his Twitter account the previous Friday, July 31: "Trust me for now: More coming next week on Birth-gate. You will be stunned. No more will anyone say there's 'no evidence.'" That's presumably a reference to the "Kenyan birth certificate." Which means Farah may have had knowledge, if not actual pictures, of the certificate nearly two days before WND published it. That should have given it more than enough time to try and authenticate it -- that is, if WND actually cared about the truth.
(Farah tweeted later on Aug. 4: "The big story I promised you last week on eligibility issue was NOT the Kenyan birth document. I didn't even know about that last week.")
Farah then misleadingly casts doubt on the authenticity of Obama's Hawaiian birth certificate: "the people who claim it is won't get any help from the state of Hawaii, which has steadfastly refused to confirm it is official Hawaiian issuance." Farah linked to an August 2 WND article by Jerome Corsi contained no supporting evidence for the claim that Hawaii officials "refused to authenticate" the certificate -- only Corsi's assertion to that effect.
Most interesting, however is this claim by Farah: "The Kenyan document could be real. I haven't seen a single disqualifying error pointed out in the last 24 hours. But I still strongly suspect it is not."
Call us crazy -- or just adherents to sound journalistic practice -- but if Farah could not authenticate the document he doubts is authentic (and, indeed, made no apparent effort to do so), WND had no business publishing it.
So why did Farah publish it? Because he seems to believe that any publicity is good publicity, even if the certificate later proves to be a fake.
Indeed, that's what WND was forced to concede two days later. An Aug. 6 article by Jerome Corsi stated: "The Kenyan birth document released by California attorney Orly Taitz is probably not authentic, according to WND's investigative operatives in Africa." Corsi added that "WND obtained several samples of Kenyan birth certificates in use around Aug. 4, 1961, the date of Obama's birth, showing differences from the Taitz document."
This appears to be a direct contradiction of the previous claim that "WND was able to obtain other birth certificates from Kenya for purposes of comparison, and the form of the documents appear to be identical." As the image of the "authentic 1961-era Kenyan birth certificate obtained by WND" included in Corsi's article demonstrates, it looks completely different from the Orly Taitz-linked "Kenyan birth certificate." There is absolutely no way a reasonable person could claimed that the two "appear to be identical." (Then again, who said that WND employees were reasonable people?)
Corsi did not explain how the Kenyan documents it claimed to have in its possession went from "appearing to be identical" to having "distinct differences."
Nor did Farah in his Aug. 6 column. He did, however, claim that "I am not making accusations about where Obama was born." Wrong -- he has repeated the false claim that Obama's grandmother said Obama was born in Kenya.
WND has also refused to report to its readers the fact that, as Salon.com reported, a federal court ordered Taitz's submission of the now-discredited Kenyan "birth certificate" to be stricken from the record, stating that Taitz's motion was improperly filed "for the following reasons: Lacks proper notice; improper form and format; Counsel failed to identify her Cal. State Bar No.; description of motion conflicts or differs from that which counsel entered on Court's e-docket." Salon added: "The electronic court record for the case, in which she's representing Alan Keyes, among others, is filled with similar procedural errors on her part."
Throughout all of this, WND has not explained why it decided to act so irresponsibly by publishing something it made no apparent effort to authenticate beforehand. That the "Kenyan birth certificate" was discredited in such swift fashion indicates not just mere laziness but malicious intent on WND's part to smear Obama by publishing something it should have known was false. Thus, WND has managed to further discredit itself (not that Farah seems to care much about credibilty, only about destroying Obama).
But has WND been chastened by this exposure of its gross irresponsibility? Heck, no -- at WND, gross irresponsibility is Job 1. WND has already published numerous lies about Obama and the birth certificate; why would it stop now?
Indeed, WND not only hasn't stopped, it has doubled down on the irresponsibility. An Aug. 9 article touted a report "proclaiming Barack Obama's 'official birth document' a fake and suggesting the president may actually have been born in Canada."
Where did this report that WND has embraced appear? In the Globe, a supermarket tabloid. Like so many of WND's reports, "unnamed" sources are cited. But any attack on Obama is music to WND's ears, even if it comes from a supermarket tabloid of dubious reliability.
With that article fresh on its front page, Farah stunningly devoted his Aug. 10 column to complaining that he and his fellow birthers are being ridiculed for their obsession.
Farah appears to be oblivious to the fact that when you exercise gross irresponsibility in publishing something you can't prove is true and embracing a supermarket tabloid's anonymous reporting, people are going to subject you to ridicule. If you behave like a clown, don't be surprised if a circus breaks out around you.
Farah then defends the birther movement yet again: "It's a leaderless movement -- the hardest kind to crush. And it's righteous because it is rooted in the desire for truth and upholding the Constitution."
Well, no. Farah cares more about hating Obama and running his partisan playbook and selling trinkets than he does the Constitution.
Remember, he's an activist, not a journalist.
(A version of this article appears at ConWebWatch.)