Salon and WorldNetDaily Go Head to Head Over Dubious Obama Stat

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Players: Editor and CEO of WorldNetDaily Joseph Farah; Salon Reporter, Justin Elliott. WorldNetDaily published a series of articles in 2009 claiming that President Obama had spent nearly $2 million in legal fees to keep the truth about his birth certificate hidden from the public. The number was brought up this week by potential presidential candidates Donald Trump and Sarah Palin as proof of their speculation about President's nationality.

Opening Serve: This week, Elliott argued at Salon that the $2 million claim is a false statistic created by WorldNetDaily. "The implication of the WND stories -- though not explicitly stated -- is that because Perkins Coie worked on a birther suit, and because the Obama campaign paid Perkins Coie $1.7 million, therefore the campaign paid $1.7 million fighting birther suits. That's an obvious logical fallacy," wrote Elliott. "Yes, it's clear that the Obama campaign has spent some money fighting so-called eligibility lawsuits. But the $2 million figure is baseless."

Return Volley: WND's editor and CEO Joseph Farah angrily shot back that "one of the worst things about today's new media is the large number of worthless, clueless and truthless online bloggers who call themselves journalists but, frankly, bring nothing but dishonor and shame to the profession by their misappropriation of the term." He noted that Elliott had contacted him in search of evidence for the $2 million figure but had only given him "one hour and 26 minutes to respond" before posting the claim that WND had lied. Farah notes that "never once in his article does Elliott explain who WND has been 'discredited'" and clarifies that he and WNO stand by the three reports in question--"every word of them."

Elliott returned later that same day for round two, referring to an email exchange between him and Farah following the Salon story's publication "in which Farah acknowledged that WND publishes 'some misinformation by columnists,' which he claimed all opinion journals do." Elliott said this was "telling for what it says about the standards of one of the most influential news websites on the right." Elliott was then backed up by fellow Salon writer Alex Pareene who declared "WorldNetDaily is magnet for the dumbest, dullest wingnuts in America. Even their lawyer is a baffoon...their lawyer was Larry Klayman, who is not allowed to appear before courts in much of the United States because of his 'total disregard for the judicial process.'" He also mocked Farah's response: "WND is right because its 'investigation' into the matter is a three-part series, and no one can possibly be wrong at such great length."

What They Say the Fight's About: Whether the figure Trump and Palin are throwing around--that Obama spent $2 million to keep his birth certificate hidden--is truth or a myth authored by WND.

What The Fight's Really About: With today's never-ending influx of shared information over the Internet, how do you know who to believe? Pareene and Elliott disregard WND's claim partly because they can't find any other publication or trusted source to back it up. Those who tout it attribute it to WorldNetDaily. Farah asks his readers to judge who he believes based on the writers' biographies, "As I said, I'll take principled, professional reporters like Chelsea Schilling any day over sissified, left-wing bloggers pretending to do journalism."

Who's Winning: Elliott does make a more convincing argument, and Twitter and blog reactions to the spat thus far largely lean in favor of Team Salon. Still, we have to wonder whether Pareene would have stepped in so ferociously if it hadn't been such a slow news day over there.

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