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Obama and Wright: Kristol Compounds Kessler’s Error

Ronald Kessler reported in a Sunday evening column for Newsmax that Barack Obama attended a controversial Jeremiah Wright sermon.

The Obama campaign has told members of the press that Senator Obama was not in church on the day cited, July 22, because he had a speech he gave in Miami at 1:30 PM. Our writer, Jim Davis, says he attended several services at Senator Obama’s church during the month of July, including July 22. The church holds services three times every Sunday at 7:30 and 11 a.m. and 6 p.m. Central time. While both the early morning and evening service allowed Sen. Obama to attend the service and still give a speech in Miami, Mr. Davis stands by his story that during one of the services he attended during the month of July, Senator Obama was present and sat through the sermon given by Rev. Wright as described in the story. Mr. Davis said Secret Service were also present in the church during Senator Obama’s attendance. Mr. Davis’ story was first published on Newsmax on August 9, 2007. Shortly before publication, Mr. Davis contacted the press office of Sen. Obama several times for comment about the Senator’s attendance and Rev. Wright’s comments during his sermon. The Senator’s office declined to comment.

It turns out that Obama was on his way to Miami that morning. So, Kessler’s source was either feeding him a bald faced lie that would soon be discovered or was simply confused on the dates. Perhaps Wright said something similar on July 15 or July 29?

At any rate, Bill Kristol seized upon this example for a column filed, presumably, a couple of hours later and published in this morning’s NYT.

Ronald Kessler, a journalist who has written about Wright’s ministry, claims that Obama was in fact in the pews at Trinity last July 22. That’s when Wright blamed the “arrogance” of the “United States of White America” for much of the world’s suffering, especially the oppression of blacks. In any case, given the apparent frequency of such statements in Wright’s preaching and their centrality to his worldview, the pretense that over all these years Obama had no idea that Wright was saying such things is hard to sustain.

Marc Ambinder quickly discovered the discrepancy and Matt Yglesias, John Cole, Hilzoy, Andrew Sullivan, Josh Marshall, Steve Benen, and others quickly jumped on this to demonstrate that Kristol is a lousy journalist and that the NYT should be ashamed for having him on their roster.

Isn’t this criticism misplaced? Kristol didn’t make up a fact; he cites the “claims” of a fellow journalist. Do journalists — especially opinion columnists — routinely fact check reports made by other journalists, especially if they trust said journalist’s reputation? Especially given a tight deadline? (Now, Brendan Nyhan has a point about whether one should cite Newsmax as an authoritative source. But I don’t know Kessler’s work that well and he could be an exception.*)

Kristol was using a late-breaking “fact” to buttress a conclusion that’s blindingly obvious. Of course Obama knew the type of rhetoric Wright was spouting. I seem to be in a decided minority in not being particularly excited about that fact but it’s simply inconceivable that Obama attended the man’s church for two decades and had no clue that he spouted paranoid, anti-White Establishment rhetoric on a regular basis. Obama’s denials on this score are positively Clintonian. If ever there were a case of the cover-up being worse than the crime, this is it.

Several of those above observe that, despite Ambinder’s post coming out at 7:15 this morning, the Times hadn’t bothered to correct it several hours later. As of noon Eastern, it still hasn’t. But speedy correction of factual errors is a blog thing, not an MSM thing. And that’s doubly true of opinion pieces.

*UPDATE: He would appear to be. While I won’t vouch for his work at Newsmax, he has had a distinguished career. According to his WikiPedia entry,

Kessler has won sixteen journalism awards, including:

* Two George Polk Awards, one for national reporting and one for community service.
* The Sigma Delta Chi Award for business and financial reporting given by the Society of Professional Journalists.
* The Public Affairs Reporting Award from the American Political Science Association
* The Sevellon Brown Memorial Award from the Associated Press.
* The Washingtonian of the Year award from Washingtonian magazine.

This guy doesn’t sound like a hack whose every word should be doubted.

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About James Joyner
James Joyner is the publisher of Outside the Beltway, an associate professor of security studies at the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, and a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. He has a PhD in political science from The University of Alabama. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter.

Comments

  1. Ted says:

    Couldn’t Obama merely claim that he happened to be sleeping during those Anti-America or Antisemitic or anti-white portions of Wright’s sermons?

    That would be easier to believe. I know I frequently sleep through sermons.

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  2. Andy O says:

    Newsmax is not a journalistic enterprise. It’s a partisan smear sheet. And, yes, Bill Kristol and the NYT have a responsibility not to lie to the public as Kristol has done here.

    You don’t seem to care about facts, it’s the smear that’s the important thing to you.

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  3. James Joyner says:

    Newsmax is not a journalistic enterprise. It’s a partisan smear sheet.

    I tend to agree but Kessler himself is a respected journalist. He’s had a long, distinguished career including long stints at the WSJ and WaPo. According to WikiPedia:

    Kessler has won sixteen journalism awards, including:

    * Two George Polk Awards, one for national reporting and one for community service.
    * The Sigma Delta Chi Award for business and financial reporting given by the Society of Professional Journalists.
    * The Public Affairs Reporting Award from the American Political Science Association
    * The Sevellon Brown Memorial Award from the Associated Press.
    * The Washingtonian of the Year award from Washingtonian magazine.

    He strikes me as citable.

    You don’t seem to care about facts, it’s the smear that’s the important thing to you.

    Not at all; that the facts were wrong was noted in the headline and very early in the piece. I’m just saying that the originator of the error should be criticized, not the one who cites it.

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  4. KJ says:

    Whether Sen. Obama was in church or not on that particular Sunday, I am really happy to learn that The Rev. Wright was only a racist on that one particular Sunday.

    As Rev. Al has pointed out more than once, it is really uncommon for someone to be a racist one day and not the next. I would suppose it is even rarer for that “off” day to be the one that is publicized through the release of DVD’s.

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  5. Triumph says:

    If ever there were a case of the cover-up being worse than the crime, this is it.

    What crime was committed? I’m not even sure why this is an issue. Since when are churchgoers responsible for what their pastors say?

    Giuilani didn’t have to account for Pope Benedict’s opposition to the US war on Iraq.

    Regardless, isn’t Obama a Muslim anyway?

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  6. James Joyner says:

    What crime was committed? I’m not even sure why this is an issue. Since when are churchgoers responsible for what their pastors say?

    That’s been my position from the beginning of this controversy but I’m in a decided minority. Most people who care seem to think that Obama’s attendance confers upon him some responsibility. That’s not entirely unreasonable — it’s not like this is the only church in Chicago — but I’m willing to give him and Wright the benefit of the doubt.

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  7. Michael says:

    it’s simply inconceivable that Obama attended the man’s church for two decades and had no clue that he spouted paranoid, anti-White Establishment rhetoric on a regular basis.

    By what method do you derive the idea that he says these things “on a regular basis”?

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  8. Daniel says:

    This is almost as terrible as your fallicious “obama denounces pastor” post.

    this wasnt some simple, small mistake james.

    this was a pretty significant point that kessler and kristol were trying to turn the campaign on.

    BOTH reporters had an obligation to doublecheck such a significant assertion, especially Kristol since he writes for the NY Times, a respectable newspaper already facing fire for the McCain lobbysit story.

    Besides, as Ambinder points out, it wasnt exactly difficult to fact check kesslers assertion. All it took was a quick google search.

    kessler may be a good journalist, but that doesnt make him immune from subjectivity. He and the newspaper he works for clearly value right-wing sensationalism over truth.

    *also, I find it laughable but so typical that you would use wikipedia to cite information in a post specically about the credibility of certain citations.

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  9. Fat Man says:

    Kessler has added the following to the Newsmax story linked in the main post.

    Clarification: The Obama campaign has told members of the press that Senator Obama was not in church on the day cited, July 22, because he had a speech he gave in Miami at 1:30 PM. Our writer, Jim Davis, says he attended several services at Senator Obama’s church during the month of July, including July 22. The church holds services three times every Sunday at 7:30 and 11 a.m. and 6 p.m. Central time. While both the early morning and evening service allowed Sen. Obama to attend the service and still give a speech in Miami, Mr. Davis stands by his story that during one of the services he attended during the month of July, Senator Obama was present and sat through the sermon given by Rev. Wright as described in the story. Mr. Davis said Secret Service were also present in the church during Senator Obama’s attendance. Mr. Davis’ story was first published on Newsmax on August 9, 2007. Shortly before publication, Mr. Davis contacted the press office of Sen. Obama several times for comment about the Senator’s attendance and Rev. Wright’s comments during his sermon. The Senator’s office declined to comment.

    Furthermore, being in Miami giving a speech in the afternoon does not logically exclude going to church in Chicago in the morning. Especially when the subject has use of a private jet aircraft. Flight time is about 2.5 hours. No security, drive up to the plane, get off drive away.

    Ted: “I know I frequently sleep through sermons.”

    If you have seen the clips of Wright’s sermons on television you would know that I slept through it would be a very lame excuse.

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  10. Daniel says:

    james,

    why did you delete my comment?

    It was a rational disagreement I had with this article and another one you wrote a few days ago.

    are you afraid to debate this?
    are you afraid that readers may get other points of view?

    i said that both kristol and kessler had an obligation to doublecheck a “fact” so significant. it wasnt even that hard to ckeck it.

    instead of deleting this new comment, how bout you man up and respond to it.

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  11. Daniel says:

    well the original post seems to have reappeared so it makes me look like an idiot now. but still id appreciate it if you would respond.

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  12. Elly says:

    The latest I heard was that the Obama team admits that he WAS in Chicago that morning, made an appearance at an event but did not attend church.

    From the reaction of the congregation to Wright’s rants, that was how he always preached. Obama looks the fool in denying he knew.

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  13. legion says:

    Even if his source was respectable, it was still another journalist, and therefore hearsay. Any first-year J-school student would have the common sense to call the Obama campaign before running with something that flimsy, but Kristol couldn’t be bothered.
    It’s not the “crime”, or even the cover-up, but why does the NYT continue to pay good money to someone like Kristol, who has a long history of failure to perform basic fact-checking, writing with an obvious bias, and just overall journalistic incompetence? I’m sure he’s got enough name-recognition to generate a few page-views, but do they really not care what an object of ridicule this makes them? Or even the potential legal liabilities he opens them up to?

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  14. Christopher says:

    Andy:
    New York Times is not a journalistic enterprise. It’s a partisan smear sheet.

    Daniel:
    Omamessiah wasn’t just passively sitting in church. He has been a member for 20 years. He calls Wright his “mentor”. The guy has been a significant campaign adviser. The guy is a racist. What you are saying as that it took running for president for Omamessiah to realize it? The pope might disagree with the Iraqi war, but his different opinion from Guiliani and Guiliani not minding is a lot different from Omamessiah conveniently ignoring Wright’s racists beliefs.

    There is no other conclusion to arrive at that Omamessiah is indeed a racist and electing him would be a profound mistake, both for social policy and national security. Also, Rev. Wright’s close ties with Nation of Islam even brings doubts about Omamessiah not being a Muslim. Scary guy, this candidate of yours.

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  15. These efforts by Mr. Yglesias, et al, seem to be a sleight of hand attempt to dismiss the problems swirling around Rev. Wright and Senator Obama through a kind of reverse guilt by association, or maybe it should be called the appeal to anti-authority. If Mr. Yglesias, et al, can prove that one fact about Senator Obama and Rev. Wright cited by Bill Kristol is wrong than clearly, there is nothing to any fact cited by Bill Kristol or anyone else about Rev. Wright and Senator Obama.

    Of course, the logical extension of this kind of reasoning would be to extend it to the NY Times itself, but I digress.

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  16. sapec says:

    A wonderful article about double standards in the Wright controversy
    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/frank-schaeffer/obamas-minister-committe_b_91774.html

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  17. Bob Owens says:

    Besides, as Ambinder points out, it wasnt exactly difficult to fact check kesslers assertion. All it took was a quick google search.

    Luckily, someone did just that.

    Barack Obama was in Chicago that morning, a fact even his campaign now admits. They are now claiming he was in Chicago, but not at church that day.

    It will be interesting to see if that claim holds.

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  18. Zelsdorf Ragshaft III says:

    Seems Ms. Winfrey ran, not walked away from the right Rev. Wright’s church of hate some years ago when she realized hate mongering was not in her best interest. Wright critized her for abandoning “traditional faith”. Why is it she could see what B. Hussein Obama cannot?

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  19. sam says:

    There is no other conclusion to arrive at that Omamessiah is indeed a racist and electing him would be a profound mistake, both for social policy and national security. Also, Rev. Wright’s close ties with Nation of Islam even brings doubts about Omamessiah not being a Muslim. Scary guy, this candidate of yours.

    Time to get your meds recalibrated.

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  20. Jim Cerullo says:

    Using Wikipedia as a basis for the writer’s status is nonsense. Anyone can add anything to that trash receptacle. Kristol sucks- always has- always will. Seems he has not allowed the Times to give readers a way to respond to him- asshole that he is.

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  21. Was He In The Pews On July 22nd? Like That Matters….

    So now the Obamamites are spinning the Wright story into a story about one particular speech on one particular day:
    Bill Kristol’s New York Times column about Barack Obama this morning contains a major, prejudicial error.
    Paragraph five:
    But Rona…

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  22. Aliam says:

    Fat Man,

    Reverend Wright didn’t preach during the 7am service. He only preached during the 6pm service, when Obama had already landed in Florida. Unless you’re claiming he flew back specifically for the 6pm service?

    Whatever other issues you might have with the issue, the “Obama was there that morning” claim has been debunked. This Jim Davis person is lying.

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  23. [...] Outside The Beltway [...]

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  24. Christopher says:

    So what, Aliam?

    Your guy, Obamessiah, is a racist and hatemonger! If he wasn’t, why would he call another racist his lifelong “mentor”? Why would he stay in such an obviously racist church if he wasn’t a racist? Why would he allow his children to be baptized there? As we watch the video over and over again of Rev. Wright, we can hear the church members screaming in agreement! This is Obamessiah’s church. A church of outright racists.

    Obamessiah just lost the white vote, except among liberal extremists like you, Aliam, and (thank GOD!) you are too few to matter.

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  25. legion says:

    Oh man, the schadenfreude just never ends. James mentions that Kessler’s rep (unlike NewsMax’s) is rather solid in the journalism department. Then commenters give him crap for using Wikipedia as a reference to check a guy’s rep.

    Well, earlier today Kessler was busted for trying to edit his own Wikipedia entry to remove references to the article of made-up Obama crap he wrote that started this whole dust-up.

    I think we are approaching a Spin Singularity…

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  26. sam says:

    Obamessiah just lost the white vote, except among liberal extremists like you, Aliam, and (thank GOD!) you are too few to matter.

    Idiot.

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  27. rpk says:

    I think the facts have not yet been established as of yet. Obama could have been in church and also made the speech date. Let’s see what unfolds. I am sure passenger manifests are available for the flight.

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  28. Fat Man says:

    “Reverend Wright didn’t preach during the 7am service. He only preached during the 6pm service, when Obama had already landed in Florida. Unless you’re claiming he flew back specifically for the 6pm service?”

    I claim nothing about the facts. All I claim is that private jet airplanes are wondrous things. Speech in Miami at 1:30 pm EDT back in in Chicago by 6:00 Central. No problem. Finish speech at 2:15. MIA and Wheels up by 3:00. MDW at 5:00. Remember the time change. Home at 5:45 Michelle and kids get in limo, and church by 6:00. No sweat.

    “Let’s see what unfolds. I am sure passenger manifests are available for the flight.”

    Private plane, but the flight plans might be available. Of course if it were a charter, it could have been followed by another charter.

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  29. mzkitty07 says:

    As a citizen of the great state of Illinois, I can attest to the fact that there is NO PROOF in the pudding yet for Obama. He has done more harm to his campaign and the Democrats. Why wouldn’t he just be up front from the start? Me thinks he doth protest too much. Like minds? Scares hades out of me

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  30. Jim Cerullo says:

    Even after 7+ years of dumbya and dickless cheney we have dumbass Amereicans still backing them and claiming everyone else is wrong. Repugnants are selfish, greedy bastards and they should all be deported- preferably to Iraq or iran where there are many like minded people.

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