A project of the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD), SourceWatch describes itself as an “encyclopedia of people, issues and groups shaping the public agenda.” The subjects of these entries are individuals, issues, and organizations whose objectives and ideologies run the entire left-to-right political gamut.
SourceWatch also seeks to expose what it calls the “propaganda activities of public relations firms” and the activities of organizations working “on behalf of corporations, governments and special interests.” These “exposes,” which tend to be critical of their subjects, deal predominantly with conservative entities.
Founded in 2003 under the name Disinfopedia, SourceWatch (which took its current name in 2005) reports that from April 2006 to April 2007 it received some 73 million page views. As of April 2007, the SourceWatch database contained more than 15,600 entries.
As with the online reference Wikipedia, the contents of SourceWatch are written and edited by ordinary Web users. Says SourceWatch: “You don’t need any special credentials to participate — we shun credentialism along with other propaganda techniques.” While stating that it seeks to maintain fairness in the profiles and articles appearing on its website, SourceWatch does acknowledge that “ignoring systemic bias and claiming objectivity is itself one of many well-known propaganda techniques.”
The SourceWatch database is composed (as of early May 2007) of some 612 topics, 27 of which are classified as “main topics.” These include: Academia, Activism, Aviation, Communication, Corruption, Countries, Economics, Environment, Events, Government, Health, Human Rights, Ideologies, Industry, Information and Privacy, International Issues, Issues, Lists, Media, Organizations, People, Politics, Religion, Site Administration, Sociology, Sources, and War/Peace. Within each of these categories, SourceWatch provides information on related groups, individuals, and issues of concern. The perspectives are mostly leftist; the entries rely heavily on leftist and far-leftist sources.
Consider for instance the “Activism” category, wherein there is an article depicting expressions of concern about violent acts of ecoterrorism as nothing more than right-wing fear-mongering and selective outrage: “Since 1990, there have been numerous attempts by industry front groups, PR firms and conservative think-tanks … to associate environmental activism with terrorism. … While conservative groups routinely denounce both peaceful protests and vandalism as the equivalent of terrorism, they remain silent about violent attacks against environmentalists and animal rights activists.”
Most of SourceWatch’s “Human Rights” category focuses on allegations of U.S.-perpetrated prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay.
In the category titled “Axis of Evil,” SourceWatch derides President George W. Bush’s use of that term in reference to Iran, Iraq, and North Korea. Declares SourceWatch: “To say that these nations are ‘evil’ depends in part on your theology and in part on your politics. There is no question that Iran, Iraq and North Korea have all committed significant violations of human rights, although Iran has recently been undergoing internal democratization (a process that may be disrupted as the U.S. invasion of Iraq fans the flames of Islamic fundamentalism). The singling out of these particular nations as evil, however, invites the question of why the Bush administration failed to include U.S.-supported nations that violate human rights on a similar scale, such as Saudi Arabia or Egypt …In reality, ‘axis of evil’ is a term used to stigmatize countries against which the U.S. contemplates military action in the near future.”
The section on Hurricane Katrina focuses heavily on the Bush administration’s alleged indifference to the crisis. For example, one entry quotes Michael Giltz of AMERICAblog, who wrote in September 2005: “When the worst natural disaster in our nation’s history attacked us, George Bush STAYED ON VACATION … in Crawford, Texas. … [And] vice president Dick Cheney STAYED ON VACATION in Jackson, Wyoming. … Sec[retary] of State Condi Rice WENT ON VACATION in New York City and went to a splashy Broadway musical and bought obscenely expensive shoes. She went shopping …”
Consider also how SourceWatch describes the organization Holy Land Trust (HLT), which spreads false propaganda about Jews robbing Arab lands and brutalizing Arabs in a repressive state of military occupation. Rather than mention any of these facts, SourceWatch merely cites HLT’s self-description as “a Palestinian not-for-profit organization established … to promote and support the Palestinian community in its struggle … to achieve political independence … and … to assist in building an independent Palestine that is founded on the principles of nonviolence, democracy, respect for human rights and the peaceful resolution of conflicts.”
The founder of SourceWatch is Sheldon Rampton, who also serves as CMD’s Research Director. Rampton was formerly an outreach coordinator for the Wisconsin Coordinating Council on Nicaragua, a group established in 1984 to oppose President Reagan’s efforts to stop the spread of Communism in Central America, and currently dedicated to promoting a leftist vision of “social justice in Nicaragua through alternative models of development and activism.”
Although its profiles and articles are user-created, SourceWatch employs an editor, Bob Burton, to oversee the project. Prior to his work at SourceWatch, Burton served as a researcher and campaigner on environmental issues for the Wilderness Society in Australia. He is the co-author of Secrets and Lies: The Anatomy of an Anti-Environmental PR Campaign.