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.