WPost’s ‘Fact-Check-Gate’

Exclusive: On Sunday, the Washington Post published a column accusing President Obama and his campaign of lying for calling Mitt Romney a “corporate raider” who outsourced jobs. But the writer, Glenn Kessler, now acknowledges that he was aware of new evidence that buttressed the campaign’s charge, writes Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

The Washington Post’s political “fact-checker” Glenn Kessler offers a curious defense of his Sunday column in which he gave the Obama campaign “four Pinocchios” for telling a “whopper” in an ad that called Mitt Romney a “corporate raider” who had outsourced American jobs, even as new evidence emerged that Romney was guilty on both counts.

After reading Kessler’s column on Sunday, I noted that it was published two days after an article on Friday by his Post colleague Tom Hamburger, describing how Romney’s Bain Capital owned companies that were “pioneers” in the practice of outsourcing jobs, and one day after a New York Times article on Saturday, detailing how Romney structured Bain’s corporate takeovers to guarantee that Bain profited even when the companies failed.

Washington Post's political "fact-checker" Glenn Kessler. (Photo credit: Singerhmk)

I pointed out that it was Kessler who was ignoring the facts, including Hamburger’s front-page article in the Post on Friday. In my view, it was Kessler who deserved the “four Pinocchios.”

On Tuesday, in responding to my article, Kessler argued that he was justified in his condemnation of the Obama campaign because an earlier version of his column was posted on the Web on Thursday before the new information was available. But he acknowledged being aware of Hamburger’s story before he published a slightly modified version in the Post’s print edition on Sunday. Kessler wrote:

“My article that appeared online on Thursday was reprinted in the Sunday print edition of The Post and I took note of Tom’s article. But again, the column was specifically about whether the Obama campaign could back up the facts in the campaign ad, not whether Romney was an outsourcer or not.”

Huh? So, this “fact-checker” knows that an accusation is true but still denounces a campaign for telling the truth because it supposedly was operating with less evidence when it made the accurate statement? By the way, the Obama campaign did cite evidence to support its ad; Kessler just wasn’t impressed with the documentation.

Regarding Hamburger’s investigative article, which was based on an examination of Securities and Exchange Commission filings and led the Post’s Friday editions, Kessler “took note” of the story by calling it “an interesting area for inquiry.” For an average reader that would suggest that Hamburger’s article was either irrelevant to the point of Romney’s role in outsourcing or was half-baked, when it was neither.

By any rational journalistic standard, Kessler should have pulled or rewritten his Web posting when it was disproven by additional information that came into the public domain on Friday (i.e. Hamburger’s article) and on Saturday (i.e. the Times article on how Romney’s Bain Capital won even when its takeover targets went bankrupt).

But it’s even more egregious for Kessler to have allowed his misleading blog posting to be republished in the Washington Post’s Sunday print editions, with only a passing and dismissive reference to Hamburger’s Friday article.

Kessler seems to think he is justified in calling President Barack Obama and his campaign liars because they voiced accurate criticisms of Romney, albeit based on less conclusive evidence than is now available. And Kessler lodged this harsh accusation in the Washington Post while knowing that new evidence had emerged buttressing their portrayal of the Republican presidential candidate.

To put it mildly, it is not the job of any journalist (and especially someone who holds himself out as a “fact-checker”) to publish a critique that he knows beforehand is incomplete and inaccurate. On Sunday, Kessler surely knew that most readers would take away from his column an impression that Romney was not a “corporate raider” and not involved in outsourcing jobs.

Yet, by acknowledging that he was aware of Hamburger’s article on Friday (and he should have known about the Times’ article on Saturday), Kessler, in effect, admits to misleading the Post’s readers on a point of importance to the presidential election.

As I wrote after reading Kessler’s “fact-checking” column on Sunday, he “is turning the concept of his job inside out.” In the old days, editors would not tolerate some quibbling defense like the one offered by Kessler. Indeed, a journalist caught consciously misleading readers would be fired.

To read more of Robert Parry’s writings, you can now order his last two books, Secrecy & Privilege and Neck Deep, at the discount price of only $16 for both. For details on the special offer, click here.]  

Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Neck Deep: The Disastrous Presidency of George W. Bush, was written with two of his sons, Sam and Nat, and can be ordered at neckdeepbook.com. His two previous books, Secrecy & Privilege: The Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq and Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & ‘Project Truth’ are also available there.

12 comments for “WPost’s ‘Fact-Check-Gate’

  1. interested person
    June 27, 2012 at 12:50

    Call the Washingotn Post and take them to task for having this guy on the fact check beat. Call the managing editor let she know what you think. We have to learn to not just complain to each other but to go to the source and let them know we want better journalism.

  2. June 27, 2012 at 10:29

    We’ve obviously reached the stage where we need a fact-checker to check out “fact-checkers.”

  3. Eleanor
    June 27, 2012 at 07:08

    The WaPo’s failure to administer appropriate consequences (i.e. firing Kessler) reflects how hollow the MSM is today. A reputable newspaper would not have tolerated this. I am a former newspaper reporter and am ashamed at the current state of media today. Keep up the excellent reporting, Mr. Parry.

  4. June 26, 2012 at 20:20

    Glenn Kessler’s explanation is disgusting and logically fraudulent. If X says someone is lying, regardless of whether they “should know” or not, and their statement is true; then X is lying! The bastard ought to be fired, and WaPo is basically fish wrap. Call and complain, write letters, people do have power: we Wahoos basically forced reinstatement of our shabbily ousted President Teresa Sullivan, it was great! Don’t give up.

    Glenn has done this sort of crap before, hasn’t he? What’s his background, who is he really sucking (and I mean, sucking) up to?

    PS if you are interested in science then you might like my own blog, see name link. No selling, just cogitation and a bit of humor. I could use some comments.

    BTW StPete, what happened to PolitiFact, I thought they could be trusted. Can anyone?

  5. Kenny Fowler
    June 26, 2012 at 20:16

    That’s a joke right. Using the words WPost and fact-check in the same sentence. The WPost is a right wing propaganda rag. They’re not interested in facts, especially in an election season.

    • July 6, 2012 at 21:01

      Do you read Gene Robinson’s and EJ Dionne’s columns? They are progressive and labeled as such. The WP is certainly not a Republican “rag.” They never endorsed presidential candidates until doing so for Obama. So it isn’t a partisan paper. And to my mind very interested in facts. I would agree with you if Charles Krauthammer were their only opinion writer but they are way too smart to let that happen.

  6. StPete
    June 26, 2012 at 17:28

    What a strange time we’re in. Newspapers have become so ambivalent about what is true and what is not that they need “fact checkers” to tell us something less dissembled than what is already in their pages purporting to be the “Truth.” Like the disgraced “Politifact,” Mr. Kessler is full of crap and we don’t need a “fact checker” to tell us that.

  7. Ellen
    June 26, 2012 at 17:24

    The Republicans know that most people will not follow up on this story, so they are willing to tell lies, hoping that they will ‘stick’ with the public. A Karl Rove trick!

    • Andrew Jackson
      June 27, 2012 at 09:43

      *A Joseph Goebbels’ trick

  8. GENE
    June 26, 2012 at 16:10


  9. Frances in California
    June 26, 2012 at 15:34

    Next let’s tackle the mendacious and self-aggrandizing Daryl Issa, OK?

  10. Lou Desser
    June 26, 2012 at 14:34

    This is another outstanding, and important, piece by Mr. Parry. It completely destroys this so-called “fact-checker” attack on Obama and his campaign.

    Kessler was inexcusably sloppy and, worse, he basically refused to withdraw his charges.

Comments are closed.