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.
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.