Washington/N Virginia: Sipping coffee in a strip mall, Joseph Farah looks like something out of a spy novel -- suave, mysterious, bushy black mustache -- surprisingly relaxed, considering he believes his life is in danger because of his occupation. He runs a must-read website for anyone who hates Barack Obama.
Once a little-known Los Angeles newspaper editor, Farah has become a leading impresario of America`s disaffected right, serving up a mix of reporting and wild speculation to an audience eager to think the worst of the president.
"Minister: Obamacare kills African-American babies . . . Sign at homeless camp: Welcome to Obamaville . . .," the headlines holler at WorldNetDaily.com, an online tabloid thatr elentlessly skewers the administration and its every move.
The topic it pursues with tireless zeal, though, is the claim that Obama was born not in Honolulu but in Africa, and is therefore ineligible to be president. Farah has used his widely followed website to launch an electronic petition demanding proof of Obama`s birthplace, a national billboard campaign ("WHERE`S THE BIRTH CERTIFICATE?") and more than 400 articles suggesting America`s first black president might not be a "natural born" citizen.
If Farah believes Obama is bad for the country, the president has been indisputably good for Farah`s business.
WorldNetDaily`s unique visitors nearly doubled to 2 million a month after Obama took office, according to Nielsen`s ratings. Farah says his traffic is at least twice that, citing private data from Google Analytics, a traffic-counting service. By either count, that`s higher than the online readership of the conservative mainstay National Review, not to mention many of the nation`s regional newspapers.
Revenues are on track to hit $10 million annually, Farah says. (That figure could not be independently verified.) His success comes in no small part from the storehouse of "birther" T-shirts, books, DVDs and postcards for sale in his virtual "Superstore."
WorldNetDaily`s book division publishes titles from high-profile conservatives such as former Rep. Tom Tancredo of Colorado, a leader in the anti-illegal-immigration movement, and former Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris, whose role in George W. Bush`s disputed 2000 presidential victory made her a conservative heroine. Perhaps one of Farah`s greatest assets is the WorldNetDaily mailing list, recently rented by the Republican National Committee for a fundraising appeal.
Some Republicans wish Farah would abandon the birther issue, fearing his work makes the entire conservative movement seem wacky.
"The fever swamps can be a very profitable market," said Jon Henke, a Republican strategist who, through his blog, thenextright.com, has called on GOP groups to boycott Farah`s website and mailing list. "There is a business model in that, but it doesn`t make it good politics."
Fox News commentator Glenn Beck, a pull-no-punches critic who once lumped Obama and Hitler in the same sentence, called the continuing citizenship crusade "the dumbest thing I`ve ever heard," predicting earlier this month that it would backfire in a "dream come true" for the president. (Farah, for his part, said Beck often uses WorldNetDaily scoops without attribution, something a Beck spokesman denied.)
Farah has won fans in unexpected corners. In a 2008 testimonial, "Why a Liberal Jewish Feminist Likes WND," college journalism instructor Donna Halper praised Farah`s "interesting and honest writing" and his reluctance to "blindly follow the `party line.` " She makes the site required reading for her students at Lesley University in Cambridge, Mass.
But Halper was puzzled by Farah`s dogged quest for documentation of Obama`s birth, which she considers "so documented and so proven."
"I really wonder how much of what`s in WorldNetDaily is just `Let`s be provocative,` " she said.
The site has the feel of a scandal sheet ("Companies get even gayer as U.S. economy plummets") and an infomercial ("How to hide your guns from criminals"). Faith and survival are regular themes. There are tips on how to grow a "crisis garden" and tallies of "2009`s worst attacks on Christianity."
Farah, 55, is an evangelical Christian whose politics would be called conservative by any measure. But he resents the label -- noting that he is devoted to muckraking journalism no matter which party is in charge -- and likes to think of himself as a lone wolf in a pack of complacent reporters, particularly where Obama is concerned.
"I`m going to go where I feel I`ve got to go as a newsman to uncover the truth," he said, nursing his iced coffee. The secretive Farah declined to meet at his home or office but agreed to sit down at a Starbucks in northern Virginia as long as the name of the town wasn`t given.
"Just because one newsman or one news agency decides to pursue a story that nobody believes doesn`t mean we`re fringe," he said. "When Woodward and Bernstein started pursuing Watergate, had no one else gotten on the story . . . Woodward and Bernstein would probably be viewed today as some kind of fringe characters."
Farah was born in Paterson, N.J., and grew up in a middle-class home with parents of Syrian and Lebanese descent. His father was a schoolteacher. Farah studied communications at a local university, then honed his skills as a newsman working from one end of California to the other.
The liberal-leaning Herald Examiner, an irreverent competitor to the Los Angeles Times, was an improbable launch pad for a man who would go on to make his fortune giving voice to conservative fury. Back then, Farah was executive news editor and about the only thing that agitated him was being interrupted while watching "Miami Vice," his colleagues recollect.