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January 15, 2012
Glenn Kessler
"The Fact Checker" Columnist, The Washington Post
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Info: Our guest this week is author and reporter Glenn Kessler. He discusses his role as The Fact Checker columnist for The Washington Post. In his newspaper column and online, Kessler examines the statements of political figures and diplomats. Based upon his evaluation of the accuracy of the statements, he awards as many as four “Pinocchios” to the speaker, and explains his reasoning in the story. He talks about the criticism of fact checking columns and websites from both the left and the right, particularly in this political season. He reviews some of his “8 Worst Pinocchios of the Year,” including an internet ad from the Agenda Project suggesting that Republican plans for Medicare restructuring would endanger senior citizens. Kessler shares stories about growing up in Cincinnati, Ohio and his emerging goal to be involved in journalism. He details his role in testifying at the trial of I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby in 2007. He tells the story of being with his children at the elephant house in the National Zoo, while having to take a 30 minute call from Libby. In addition, he explains the difference between a person speaking to a reporter on the record, on background, and off the record.

Uncorrected transcript provided by Morningside Partners.
C-SPAN uses its best efforts to provide accurate transcripts of its programs, but it can not be held liable for mistakes such as omitted words, punctuation, spelling, mistakes that change meaning, etc.
BRIAN LAMB: Glenn Kessler, of The Washington Post, Fact Checker, you have a blog site or Web site on Fact Checker, and I’m going to read you what one of the comments came from the public at large and get you to explain what we’re talking about.

This ”average Pinocchios” list strikes me as absurd and meaningless. If anything, it exists just to be manipulated by partisans, if not grind partisan axes itself. The writer doesn’t evaluate every statement made by every politician to do so is impossible giving the volume of misstatements. Instead Kessler picks and chooses what statements to evaluate and it’s very easy to choose less outrageous comments from one person, or more outrageous ones from another; thereby, manipulating the ”average.”

We could on, but this. What is he talking about?

GLENN KESSLER: Well, he’s talking about something that we recently introduced to my column which is called ”The Pinocchio Tracker” where we – what I do is I rate different comments by politicians on a one to four scale. If you say something really outrageous, that’s completely inaccurate you’re going to get four ’Pinocchios’. If you say something that is a little slightly misleading or out-of-context, you might get as low as one ’Pinocchio’.

What we’ve done is for all the candidates running for president, including Barack Obama, I list all the columns I’ve written where I’ve evaluated their statements, and then there’s an average. I take all, you know, I’ve done 23 evaluations or comments by Obama, he averages about two ’Pinocchios’. He’s had some fours, he’s had some threes, he’s had a lot of ones. It comes out as an average of two.

The comment that that reader made is not entirely inaccurate. We’re not saying that that, you know, average ’Pinocchio’ is anything scientific. It’s just a way that kind of track where people stand.

LAMB: Where, what’s ’Pinocchio’ have to do with this?

KESSLER: Well, you know, there’s a children story, ’Pinocchio’. He was a person who when his – when he told a lie, his nose would grow. I don’t go out of my way and say that politicians are lying. I can’t make a judgment about the motivation for why they say the things that do.

However, what I do is I will take a statement. Say Barack Obama says something about the Chrysler bail-out. I will evaluate his statement and determine what are the facts behind that statement, and how accurate is the president being. And then I will assign, you know, ’Pinocchio’ scale is – it’s kind of like a, you know, a Michelin guide to – to the comments that politicians make.

And – regardless you can see, oh, this is a whopper. Now I’ll find out why this person says that there’s a problem with this statement.

LAMB: You’ve come out of the international reporting and a book on Condoleezza Rice and a lot of the other things at The Washington Post. How did you get into this and did you name this column, I mean, did you name the idea of using ’Pinocchio’?

KESSLER: No – well, first of all, the – this is -we revived the column we had had briefly during the last election campaign.–

LAMB: 2010?

KESSLER: Well 2008.

LAMB: 2008.

KESSLER: The last presidential campaign. And we’ve now made it a permanent feature. That original column was focused just on the presidential campaign. I take a much broader approach – I’ll write about what people say in Congress. I’ll write about what diplomats might say, that sort of thing.

The idea of the ’Pinocchios’ was to -was to, you know, the brain child of the person who originated this column, Michael Dobbs , who is a former Washington Post reporter, now a book writer, also with a career actually writing about foreign policy.

LAMB: How did you get into it?

KESSLER: Well the editors came to me and said that they wanted to revive the idea as a permanent feature with a broader focus and I had been covering diplomacy for nine years; however, before that, I had covered Congress, I had covered the White House, I’d been chief political correspondent for News Day, I’d covered budget and economics, I had basically covered just about every building in Washington.

I’d done a little bit of Pentagon stuff, I even covered the transportation department. So the thinking was after 30 years of writing about Washington institutions, and very many in a great deal of subjects, I was in a position to try to tackle this on. And, you know, so I kind of feel like I’m taking the basic knowledge I’ve built up over all these years of reporting, and I now apply it on a daily basis to a wide range of subjects. You name it, I will write about it.

LAMB: How often do you give a ’Geppetto’ out and what is that?

KESSLER: A ’Geppetto’ is when the statement is true. And one thing that Michael Dobbs had said to me before he, you know, before I took the job was that one of his regrets was that he didn’t give enough ’Geppettos’. And frankly, after doing this a year now, I regret not giving as many ’Geppettos’ as I could. And the problem is there’s so many untrue statements out there that I haven’t really found the opportunity to do it. I have given maybe four or five in the course of a year.

LAMB: Who is ’Geppetto’?

KESSLER: Who is ’Geppetto’? Well, again, it’s back to that children’s tale. ’Geppetto’ that was the – the -the, you know, ’Geppetto’ was the, now I’m blanking.

LAMB: The woodcarver?

KESSLER: The woodcarver. He told the truth, I guess. The idea is a ’Geppetto’ checkmark, means that the statement is correct.

LAMB: Well assess, you’ve been around this game now for how long total…journalism. KESSLER: Journalism? Thirty-two years.

LAMB: So you say you don’t like to say when people are lying. Have you – do you often say to yourself, ”That person’s lying”? Or how often do you say that?

KESSLER: Well, I guess, I’ve always joked to friends that if I ever write an autobiography, it’ll be titled, Waiting for People to Lie to Me. And that comes from having covered politics and Washington and before that Wall Street. And you know, it’s in the nature to kind of embellish or exaggerate, or if you want, particularly in politics or on Wall Street, you know, if you want to spin things your own way.

Now whether or not they’re deliberately lying, I mean, I do think that if a politician says the same thing over-and-over again, even when it has been pointed out that’s untrue, that they know that they’re saying something untrue. And they’re just going to say it anyway.

LAMB: How do you – what do you think of this job so far?

KESSLER: Some people say I have the best job in journalism. You know, like – I – I -I enjoy it. I – I get up in the morning and I kind of decide what I want to write about. I look for things to write about. I try to write columns that are of broad interest to people that deal with weighty subjects.

I feel that I – I provide a complement to the – to the day-to-day reporting that we have because I can focus very closely on a particular statement. Whereas, a reporter writing about the day-to-day news will only have, you know, a paragraph to address the facts behind it. I can write as much as I want.

LAMB: What kind of help do you have?

KESSLER: I have an assistant now. The column has become very popular, so they found money – they gave me an assistant.

LAMB: So if somebody in far away from Washington, and doesn’t read The Washington Post wants to check on your ”Fact Checking”, how do they find it?

KESSLER: They go to washingtonpost.com/fact checker. It’ll take you right there.

LAMB: What is this thing, PolitiFacts?

KESSLER: PolitiFact is another fact-checking organization. It is run by the Poynter Institute, St. Petersburg Times, I guess it’s now called the Tampa Bay Times. And it started around the same time we first started that column during the 2008 election. It’s organized by a guy I know pretty well, Bill Adair , and he’s actually created a little fact-checking empire because he’s contracted with different local newspapers to fact check local politicians.

LAMB: Well then what’s the outfit up at Pennsylvania, up at the Annenberg Center supports…

KESSLER: That is the original fact-checking organization called is called factcheck.org. And that’s run by Brooks Jackson, who had a long career at the Wall Street Journal and before that – and then after that CNN. We’re – I would say we’re competitors. We’re – I wouldn’t say we’re competitors, I think we view each other as part of the same peer group.

But I – if – and we sometimes get a little ruffled when we come to different conclusions, which this happens on an occasional basis. But generally we tend to see eye-to-eye on things. And they do very good work. My – my column is a bit more – it’s mostly me and my assistantandt I will edit his things.

It’s a bit more of a personal edge – a bit more of a personality than I think what they do. On the other hand, they – PolitiFact may have two dozen people around the country doing this, so they produce much more than what I can do, which is at least one column a day.

LAMB: One quick thing then I want to show a video Bill Adair and the crowd at PolitiFact, they have a ’pants-on-fire’ thing. Is that the thing as four ’Geppetos’ – not four ’Geppetos’ – four ’Pinicchios’?

KESSLER: Yes, well it’s roughly equivalent. Roughly equivalent.

LAMB: Let’s watch a one-minute piece. This was done by the Crossroads group, that’s a Karl Rove group, the SuperPac, run this and it’s including both Elizabeth Warren and Ben Nelson in two different spots. We’ll run this and get your opinion, tell us what this is all about.



KESSLER: The first thing I’m going to promise is that I’m going to be a voice in the room on behalf of middle class families.

UNIDENTIFIED PARTICIPANT: Really? Congress asked Warren to see how your tax dollars were spent, bailing out the same banks that helped cause the financial meltdown. Bailouts that help pay big bonuses to bank executives from middle class Americans lost out. Lender, , and was some of the same banks who got bailed out. Tell Professor Warren, we need jobs, not more bailouts and bigger government.

UNIDENTIFIED PARTICIPANT: One vote will decide it. Obama’s healthcare takeover for fight for Nebraska.

UNIDENTIFIED PARTICIPANT: That critical sixtieth vote, Ben Nelson .



UNIDENTIFIED PARTICIPANT: He demanded a payoff. Accused of selling his vote, cynical what’s in it for me-type politics? What’s wrong with Washington? Look at the damage he did. Higher taxes, cutting Medicare spending, embarrassing Nebraska. Ben Nelson sold out to Obama when it counted most. Senator, it’s time to make it right.


LAMB: And you know at the bottom of the screen and they – both sides do this – they tell you where it’s coming from. What do most people do when they see something like this and what did we just watch?

KESSLER: Well, these are both very hard-hitting ads. The Warren one is – I’d put that on my list as one of the worst ads of the year. It’s because it’s really – I mean it turns something completely upside down. You know, Elizabeth Warren who everyone pretty much believes was a consumer advocate who was fighting the banks. And it turns her into a tool of the banks.

Which is just plain silly. And you can see those little clips there. And I actually asked, you know, Crossroads GPS for their evidence of that. You know, how were they going to justify those – those statements. And it – it adds up to actually nothing.

LAMB: Do they have any responsibility to be accurate, or do the people that are running them on the different television stations have any responsibility if they’re not accurate?

KESSLER: , I don’t know what the FCC regulations are about that. You know, I think that the feeling seems to be that if it’s a political ad, anything is fair game. But I would think that if I were running a TV station, I would want to be sure that those ads are, at least, in the ballpark.

That Warren ad is just really out of control.

LAMB: Had you seen the Ben Nelson ad?

KESSLER: I had not seen the Ben Nelson ad. You know, you can always count – you can say that any Senator when it’s been at 60 votes, any Senator is the deciding vote. That’s – just , that’s a bit of a stretch. And these things like 500 billion dollars in cuts in Medicare. I have written about that. I mean that is a debatable statement. I forget exactly what else was in there.

But you have – the ways this ads are construct of these quick little clips, these little statements. And yet they really dig deep beneath where that’s coming from to understand whether or not it’s accurate. And I should note that both sides do this. I mean you pick this Karl Rove thing that the Democrats have really done a number on Romney and –

LAMB: I’ve got stuff on the other side. But what would you – what would you recommend a citizen watching an ad like this. You know, the fine print, says this ad paid for by Crossroads GPS . How do you find out who Crossroads GPS is, and who funds them?

KESSLER: Well, this is what is one of those Super Pacs so which was created as a result of the Supreme Court ruling a couple of years ago. You can’t find out much about, you know, who’s backing them. And that particular group is going to spend tens of millions of dollars in the coming election.

LAMB: It’s Karl Rove and others either behind it or lead it or –

KESSLER: Well or help put it together.

LAMB: Help raise the money?

KESSLER: Help raise the money.

LAMB: And this wouldn’t have happened without that Supreme Court decision?

KESSLER: Yes, that’s correct.

LAMB: What do you think of it? What do you think of this development in politics?

KESSLER: Well, you know, it’s another outlet for misleading advertising. I mean, you know, I look at it from my narrow prism as, you know, someone who tries to check the facts. Just trying to keep up with the ads from the Super Pacs is going to be very difficult.

And, I mean, one of my columns I wrote that readers should simply just turn off the TV or mute the TV whenever there’s any ad involving Medicare. Because both sides are going to demagogue that as much as they can. And they’re going to be factually inaccurate.

These Crossroads GPS ads or the, I forget the name of the Barack Obama Super Pack , those things they’ve really I think, you know, tearing at the fabric of our, you know, political system.

LAMB: Here’s another ad on the other side that was picked by another organization. It’s kind of the ad of the year. Not a positive designation, but let’s watch this and tell me what you see here.


(All music soundtrack)


LAMB: Now that’s put out by something called the Agenda Project, run by, I think, a woman by the name of Erica Payne. Do you know anything about this operation?

KESSLER: No, I don’t, I don’t.

LAMB: What’s your reaction to that?

KESSLER: Well, they literally through granny off-the-cliff. That’s pretty amazing. And they – the – the person pushing the wheelchair looks suspiciously like Paul Ryan, who’s the Congressman from Wisconsin, who – who is the primary author of the Democratic – of the Republican – House Republican Plan for Medicare.

LAMB: The Tampa Bay Times folks would a fact would call this their lie of the year 2011.

KESSLER: That’s right, and I put that on my list of the eight worst ’Pinocchios’ of the year. And it’s – it’s – and again, it’s extreme rhetoric. And which I think is just not helpful in our – in our political system. You can have a disagreement about how Paul Ryan would want to restructure healthcare. And I should note, they want it restructured for people – the Republicans want it restructured for people who are under 55.

That granny in that ad she would not be affected by the Republican plan for Medicare. So right there you have an image. Granny being thrown off – off the cliff, which is completely inaccurate because their plan would not affect the woman over age 55. And then secondly, I mean, actually in the last couple of weeks, Congressman Ryan has come together with a Democratic Senator, Ron Wyden, of Oregon to adjust that plan. To begin the discussion as to how you could take things that are important to Democrats and combine them with things that Republicans want to do.

Which is how the political process should work? But these kind of ads, which kind of demonizes one side are really not helpful.

LAMB: The you folks, meaning the fact-checker types are getting criticized from the left and the right big time. This particular decision on the part of The Tampa Bay Times was criticized by a couple of people including a fellow named Steve Benen from The Washington Monthly, and he talks about – he said, ”Politifact has chosen the Democrat’s claim as the 2011 lie of the year.” And then he says, ”This is simply indefensible claims that are factually true shouldn’t be eligible for the lie of the year designation.”

The Washington Monthly comes at things from the left. Again, help , I have all this stuff. I’m drowning. And I’m saying, ”How do I – how do I keep track of it all?” How do you keep track of who’s doing what to whom?”

KESSLER: Well, there’s two things there. The – but obviously, the designation of the lie of the year – it should be noted that the last two lies of the year that Politifact named were Republican attacks on Obama’s healthcare law. And then I believe the left was quite happy with those designations.

Here they’ve chose something- and like I said, it’s something that, you know, I mean I don’t do a lie of the year. That’s not my style, I did pick the eight worst statements of the year and the Republicans killing Medicare was one of them. Factcheck.org came to the same conclusion as well. They put that on their list. I would think it’s a very defensible designation because to say that the Republicans killed Medicare is just not accurate.

When you look at – if you – if you look at the particular statements that Democrats have put out and why they justify that designation that this means killing Medicare, it just doesn’t add up and it’s just an extreme statement. Now in terms of – of trying to keep track of it. You know I get up every morning and I look around and see what people have been saying. And then I try to evaluate it.

LAMB: On the your Wikipedia site that you have nothing to say about or write about, it says the conservative leaning Power Line political blog devoted three articles to critiquing one of Kessler’s articles calling him a ”liberal reporter”, and noting that ”these fact-checkers”, nearly always turn out to be liberal apologists who don a false mantle of objectivity in order to advance the cause of the Democratic party.

KESSLER: Yes, so we are criticized both from the left and right. And that – that particular – this particular series of columns had to do with a fact check I had done regarding some statements by Rick Perry concerning Israel. You know, I – I – I actually have a very thick skin, so I don’t pay much attention to the – I mean- well these kind of attacks from the left to the right, you know, it’s kind of water-off-my-back. I do pay attention to the critiques they make, and I had a long conversation with the guy who wrote those particular articles.

And actually since then, he’s written a few things where he’s actually praised things I’ve written. For instance, when I wrote about the taking apart a Democratic attack at on Mitt Romney. He said that the article I wrote was emminently fair. So – but I pay attention to the factual things that they question about and – and if necessary, it brings in points-of-view and it helps me inform my thinking.

But – that if you’re just going to attack me always from the left, there are people that write – the – what is this radical conservative doing writing a fact-check column for The Washington Post? And then there are things like Power Line or Weekly Standard that say I’m part of some liberal agenda to dominant the political discourse.

That kind of claims, I just don’t take seriously.

LAMB: You said this – you wrote a letter to Power Line. And I want to ask you if you’ve gotten any feedback on this. You say, ”I have no political convictions but to the truth. Don’t assume my politics, because either from the left or right, no one really has any clue and I’m strictly non-partisan which to some people appears to be the most irritating thing of all.” Now did you – how much did you think about that before you wrote that, and did you get any feedback from them?

KESSLER: Well I don’t think it was persuasive to the people of Power Line. I believe they responded and said, ”We still think he’s a liberal”. But I mean I figured it would – when I write something in a public forum like that that it would be picked up. And so I did think very seriously about it. And then I do look at each of these statements in a very wholistic fashion.

And – and-and I try not to think about the politics of the person saying it. But just look at it very factually.

LAMB: You said that you had a thick skin and these things don’t both you. Where did you develop that?

KESSLER: Many years of reporting.

LAMB: Can you remember the first time you got stung and you said, you know, this didn’t feel good, but I don’t care.

KESSLER: Well, you know, I’ve always had – no I can’t think of a first time like that. I mean, I don’t know, my brother said, when I took this job, said it was the perfect job for me because he grew up the dinner table always listening to me say how right I was. So maybe I was born with that thick skin.

You know, I – I -I, you know, family members will sometimes disagree with, you know, when I – when I hit some targets that they feel close to, they’re not happy with me. But, you know.

LAMB: But it really doesn’t – if somebody is attacking you, it doesn’t bother you?

KESSLER: Well, if – if they point – I mean if they point out that I made a factual error, yes, that would bother me. I mean, or if they – if they point out that there’s a weakness in the – in the logic that I made or that I gave short-shrift to a particular argument that – that is bothersome and I will act quickly to correct that.

I’m only human, and I don’t want people to think that, you know, that I’m – that I’m Mt. Olympus bestowing four ’Pinocchios’ on people. And then, you know, those judgments about the ’Pinochios’, particularly if I’m trying to decide between is it two ’Pinocchios’ or is it three? And that – it’s a judgment call.

LAMB: You do it all yourself?

KESSLER: Yes, yes.

LAMB: All right. You’ve done some videos for The Washington Post Web site. And I – here’s one where you’re talking about Rick Perry and climate change and I want to ask you how you do this?


KESSLER: In this episode of Fact Check video, we’re going to take a look at Rick Perry’s surprising comments on climate change and the scientists behind the research.

RICK PERRY: I think there are a substantial number of scientists who have manipulated data so that they will have dollars rolling in to their – to their projects and I think we’re seeing it almost weekly or even daily, scientists who are coming forward and questioning the original idea that man-made global warming is what is causing the climate to change.

The fact that of the matter is the science is not settled on whether or not the climate change is being impacted by man to the point where we’re going to put America’s economics in jeopardy.

UNIDENTIFIED PARTIPANT: Governor Perry is wrong to suggest this growing skepticism among scientists. To the contrary, various surveys show that as many as 98 percent of climate researchers believe in the concept of man-made climate change. Governor Perry’s also wrong to claim that a substantial number of these scientists were found to have manipulated data. Actually, only a handful face this charge and they were later found to be falsely accused. That’s four ’Pinocchios’ for you Governor Perry.


LAMB: Why the video?

KESSLER: It’s just another way to reach out to people

LAMB: Who are you trying to reach with that video?

KESSLER: People that prefer to watch videos rather than read a long article. I mean, the statements I made there were from a particularly long article that I had written examining Perry’s statements on climate change. And the, you know, and this is actually an interesting exercise.

I mean after I wrote that, there were a number of people that were – who are not fans of the science behind climate change who said, ”How can you defend this?” And what I was looking at, you know, that debate – I’m not a scientist. I’m not going to say whether or not there is man-made climate change or not.

But the – but the particular assertions that Perry were making was a, a substantial number of scientists were coming forward day-by-day to question it; b, lots of scientists – where they were manipulating data to get dollars and that they were, you know, convicted and brought up on charges on this. So that – those are facts that can be checked. And I did go to the Perry campaign, and said, ”Well, give me evidence of the substantial number of scientists.”

And they could only provide me with a really old petition where there had been very little growth over the last number of years, and many of the people signing the petition, you know, the – the – the – it was not a very credible universe.

LAMB: What kind of reaction have you gotten out of doing the videos, and how long have you done them?

KESSLER: We’ve been started doing them around the time I guess around the time, I guess was in October. We started doing them in October.

LAMB: Take you a long time?

KESSLER: Well you know. There’s lots of takes involved. And then you have to get the language exactly right. It’s a different – TV is – and video is a different medium.

LAMB: And the reason I’m asking is that the newspapers didn’t used to do any of this stuff.

KESSLER: Right, right.

LAMB: And how’s it working for The Post behind-the-scenes on video? Do the folks like it over there? Are you doing a lot more of it than this? Not just you but the other folks at The Post?

KESSLER: Yes, I think – I think it’s a different way to reach people. I mean it’s – the buzz word in journalism is multiple platforms. Yes, you write for the mobile device, you write for the TV, you write for the print edition, you write for the web? And it’s just a different way of – of – of appealing to people, a different way of presenting information.

And the advantage of a video is you can actually see the candidate say something, and then – and then – where we actually got the idea – there was -there was a news organization in Texas that had done this during some of the Texas campaigns, where they had people popup or things popup.

You know, one of the candidates would be saying something and there’d be a popup that would say, ”Well not really, here’s what’s really going on.” So we thought it was a very clever idea – just a way to bring it to people. The one thing we haven’t done, which I want to do, is also take a look at some of the president’s statements.

We’ve been so focused on the Republican race; but, of course, President Obama, like any politician, has his share of bloopers. And I would like to do a video about his.

LAMB: Here’s another one that you did on Governor Romney and the Obama apology tour.



KESSLER: It’s candidate’s week on Fact-Check video and everyday this week we’re going to take a look at the statements that earned the candidates their biggest ’Pinocchios’. Starting it off, Governor Mitt Romney.

MITT ROMNEY: The president went about this all wrong. He went around the world and apologized for American. I will not and I will never apologize for America. A few minutes into office, he traveled around the globe to apologize for America.

KESSLER: Governor Romney likes to claim that President Obama apologized for America overseas. He even titled his book, No Apology. This claim actually started with a column by Karl Rove of The Wall Street Journal. If we track down every statement that partisans say constituted an apology, and we concluded that every single one of them had been misquoted or taken out of context. Take it from us the apology tour never happened. Four ’Pinonicchos’.


LAMB: How much of that would be a judgment call?

KESSLER: Well, and that’s an interesting question. You know, there have been people that have criticized my analysis on this saying, ”Well, you know, the president never ’apologized’.” He never said the word apology and that’s what you’re ’hanging your hat on’.

And that’s really not the case. I mean I went back to the original Karl Rove column and he cited three examples. But he took those quotes out of context. And then I went back and looked at all the original speeches, and looked at the way in which the president made those remarks.

And then there was a list done by, I believe, the Heritage Foundation, where they gave 10 examples of Obama apologizing. Again, I went through all of those. A lot of them were misstatements or taken out of context. Finally, I then looked at, you know, how Obama’s comments that these people claimed were apologies and compared them to the way other presidents talked about things overseas, particularly George Bush.

And, you know, there was really no difference. They were looking at it in a very partisan lens to try to create this myth or image that Obama had been apologizing. So I feel – as a-as a- as a fact-checker -someone who tries to cut through the muck for -for, you know, Americans that don’t have the time to do that. That, you know, you cannot make the case that this – any of this constituted an apology. I mean someone might be able to argue he had an apologetic tone. OK I could –

LAMB: Question though, why didn’t you use video of Barack Obama interspersed in there to show what he had actually said. I – not the- I mean you can do anything you want to but- anyway how far you go with editing?

KESSLER: Well, no, that’s, I mean that’s – this particular video was – was accompanying a series of articles we had. And notice at the beginning I said, ”It’s candidate’s week.” The Washington Post did a thing that on Sunday, it was Romney; on Tuesday, Perry. And they – I produced a video to go along with each of those.

So it’s very much a focus on – on those candidates. I mean, I hadn’t thought about the idea of -of – of taking Obama. I mean there was an instance where Romney really misquoted something that Obama did. So I guess one thing we could have done is taken how Romney took that quote and then showed the full Obama statement.

And there’s a – Annenberg has a new thing called flackcheck.org , where they actually look at TV ads and how they’re constructed. It’s actually very clever. So they will take that little snip-it that you see in an ad and then they’ll say, ”Well actually here’s what the person actually said. And it’s very – it’s very effective.”

LAMB: How many people do you have involved in doing the videos you do them in-house?

KESSLER: Yes, we do them in-house. It’s me and another guy.

LAMB: Here is –


LAMB: Here is a different kind of criticism coming from a conservative Web site, Media Research, which is Brent Bozell. And they spend their time criticizing the, what they call, the mainstream media as coming from the left. Watch this and tell me what you see, and whether or not this ever comes to your mind when you’re watching television.



UNIDENTIFIED PARTICIPANT: We thought we’d bring you up-to-date. On those protestors – the occupy Wall Street movement, as of tonight it has spread to more than 250 American cities, more than a thousand countries, every continent but Antarctica.

UNIDENTIFIED PARTICIPANT: This is a surprisingly functional little city. Let me give you a tour. It starts here with the information desk for people who are newly arrived. Behind that, this whole area back here, this is the media area. It’s filled with bloggers, and other people getting the word out, and it’s powered by donated generators. And this is the food station, it’s all free and all donated, including some cookies that came in today from a grandmother in Idaho.

KESSLER: Good evening, we being tonight with what has become by any measure a pretty massive protest movement while it goes by the official name, Occupy Wall Street, it has spread steadily and far beyond Wall Street, and it could well turn out to be the protest of this current era.


LAMB: Their point is it’s hyped – that when the Occupy Wall Street organization – I mean these different groups around the country that- I think Diane Sawyer said they were in a thousand cities and the idea that it’s going to be the demonstration of the century and all that stuff.

And their point is that it wasn’t worth it. The media research people.

KESSLER: Well, what I would be interested to see, and this is where they might been more effective in making their point is to compare that these same people said about the Tea Party protests . And my recollection is there was a fair amount of coverage of the Tea Party protests , particularly during the summer when they started, you know, arriving at town halls that members of Congress were doing about the healthcare legislation. But if those talking heads could have kind of downplayed it or had not said that is was, you know, spread to every part of the world except Antarctica, or was the protest movement of the year, then that would have been a very interesting comparison.

LAMB: Well the conservatives groups said that the mainstream media accused the Tea Party of being racist.

KESSLER: Well, and I have a recollection that there were elements of that. I mean, you know, was it in every program. I don’t know. But they all have recollection that that was a story line that emerged at some point. So you know, I think they – I certainly – they certainly have a point there.

That it’s the kind of hype that you often see in my business.

LAMB: Let me go back to where we talked about earlier – how much impact is the fact-checking having you think on campaigns? Do you have any evidence at all that they’re – that it’s making a difference?

KESSLER: In small ways. First of all, you see those little things you mention in those ads where they try to give a – an indication that yes, this is based on something. Secondly, many of the ads – campaigns are quite prepared to try to defend what they say. I mean they recognize that the fact-checkers, particularly the three of us are going to vet their claims.

And so there are people that are designated to deal with the fact-checkers. In fact, a guy that did it for Obama, in 2008, is now spokesman for the National Security Council. So maybe this spokesmen that deals with fact-checkers, you know, it’s a career move up and, you know, the deputy campaign manager at Obama’s campaign and someone that I deal with on a regular basis.

When I call the White House – it’s pretty – senior people there at the White House. So there are, you know, they do feel they have to deal with it. And I do see, if I call the president out on something, he tends not to repeat it. It depends, sometimes he will. Obama – Romney keeps repeating that ”Apologize for America” thing, that there are other things that he has dropped after I or the other fact-checkers have pointed out that there were problems with it.

LAMB: How did you get into this in the beginning in your life? The whole business of journalism?

KESSLER: You know, I knew I wanted to be a journalist from when I was a fifth grader. I also wanted to be a journalist.

LAMB: Why though? Where was the –

KESSLER: Well it’s not do – it wasn’t in my family background. I – you know – I liked being with – I was always fascinated in history and, in fact, my major in college was history. And I wanted to be a witness to history. And journalism was a way to do it. And I have been privileged in my career in journalism to be, you know, to be on the floor in the New York Stock Exchange when the stock market crashed in 1987. To be in Baghdad, Fallujah, Kabul, places under, you know, during war.

I have met and interviewed presidents. So those, you know, it has allowed me to be a witness to history, and that’s why I was interested in journalism. Another thing is I guess I had a very – interestingly when I was a fifth grader, I produced a newsletter for my neighborhood which I titled, ”The Cincinnati Fact”, because I was interested in the facts.

LAMB: Was that your city, Cincinnati?

KESSLER: Yes, I grew up in Cincinnati. So, and even though it was a newsletter for only a few blocks in the neighborhood, I guess grandly called it the ”Cincinnati Fact”. But I’ve always been very fact-based. And, in fact, you know, long before fact-checking became a trend – when I was political reporter or one of the – I did , I believe, one of the earliest fact-checking articles ever written in a newspaper in 1996, when I was covering the Bill Clinton campaign.

And I said to my editors that I was very frustrated by the fact that Bill Clinton would make a charge, or Bob Dole would make a charge, and I never had the space to actually tell readers why these things were incorrect. So they gave – before the first debate, they gave me a huge amount of space to basically say, ”All right, you’re now going to see the debates, it’s the equivalent of Broadway.” But they’ve been touring the country and then testing out lines, you know like off Broadway production.

And now I’m going to sit here and tell you, ”Here’s what you’re going to hear. And here’s why it’s wrong.”

LAMB: And your family was what? What did your mom and dad do while you were growing up in Cincinnati?

KESSLER: My mother is a psychologist. My father was an executive for Procter and Gamble. And they had immigrated to the United States from the Netherlands.

LAMB: There’s – on Wikipedia, there’s a connection to your Dutch oil ancestry. What’s that?

KESSLER: My great-grandfather was essentially the creator of what is now Royal Dutch Shell. He – he built it into a major oil company and then my grandfather was actually supposed to inherit – or not inherit, but become the next, you know, executive of Royal Dutch. My great-grandfather died very early. Just one day shy of his 47th birthday, and you know from working deep in the jungles of what is now Indonesia.

And so my grandfather was expected to basically – he was known as one of the crown princes of the Royal Dutch. He was going to be the next executive, but he not like working for the man who was my great-grandfather’s deputy.

And my grandmother basically said, ”You either choose me, or you choose the Royal Dutch.” I mean in the books it talks about she put his love to the test. So he left Royal Dutch and founded what is the equivalent of U.S. steel in the Netherlands.

He became head of the steel industry. I mean he didn’t do badly. His younger brother ended up becoming the chief executive of Royal Dutch Shell.

LAMB: Why did your parents come here?

KESSLER: You know the Netherlands is in that upper echelon of society. It’s a very small country. Everyone knew everyone. I mean my family was pretty well-known in the Netherlands. And they wanted to set off on a new adventure. You know it was after World War II. And, you know, my father had trained as a chemical engineer.

Procter and Gamble was looking to expand as an international company, and originally, they looked at Canada. And my father had a conversation with one of his professors who said, ”Now if you’re going to leave Holland and go to North America, you can’t go to Canada. Canada’s like halfway. It’s kind of like partially European. If you’re going to do it, go all in. Go to the United States.”

So they switched from going to Canada said – chose the United States.

LAMB: Holland’s what? Ten to fifteen million people at most?

KESSLER: Yes at the time, yes. And all my relatives are still there. I have aunts –

LAMB: Do you speak Dutch?

KESSLER: No, I can kind of vaguely understand. My parents spoke Dutch at home, but they were afraid I was a very late talker. And they thought I was confused. We now know that children exposed to different languages are late talkers, but they then eventually learn both languages. But they switched to English when I was three.

LAMB: Go back to a statement you made about first of all you wanted to be a journalist from age five. What was the year you started the newspaper in the neighborhood?

KESSLER: Well I was in fifth grade, it was fifth grade.

LAMB: And then you made a comment about your brother at the dinner table telling you before that you have all the answers to everything. How many children in the family?

KESSLER: I have one brother and one sister. I was the oldest.

LAMB: What are they doing?

KESSLER: My brother is an organic farmer – actually produces organic flowers in California; californiaorganicflowers.com. They’re wonderful flowers. He does – very successful at that.

My sister lives in Kentucky. She does ad sales, that sort of thing. She lives in Lexington, Kentucky.

LAMB: I found this on Google, and it’s really out of context of what we’re talking about. But it was an interesting personal asideand I’m going to read it. This goes back to your time when you’re involved in the Scooter Libby controversy. I’ll just read this. This is from Professor Kim’s news notes. I have no idea who Professor Kim is. But it doesn’t matter this will explain it.

He received a call from Scooter Libby , while taking his three children to the zoo. I think probably from the grand jury investigation. He took the call in the elephant house where this two-year-old in a harness and while issuing periodic commands to his older children, ”Scooter said to me he was talking to me off the record.” In a previous conversation with Kathy Martin. They said that when scooter said, ”Off the record”, he really meant on background.

There’s a lot in those two paragraphs. First of all what’s this all about.

KESSLER: Well the, you know Scooter Libby was put on trial for misleading prosecutors, perjury, that sort of thing. As to whether not he leaked to reports the name of a CIA operative, Valerie Plame . And the allegation – the prosecutors questioned me because they believe that Scooter had told me about Valerie Plame, when called me when I was at the zoo.

I had some questions for him about a particular story. I was with my kids at the zoo, and I did have my youngest, who’s now 11, wishing the time was two. My oldest is now in college, you know, was 10 or so. And so I had to take this call. I mean, Scooter’s a busy guy. You couldn’t always get a hold of him.

So I literally sat there in the Elephant House for half an hour listening – taking – interviewing him while keeping an eye out, make sure my little daughter didn’t get absconded by someone. And the reason the prosecutors thought – I told the prosecutors it was never raised. That we did not talk about Valerie Plame. The reason – I later found out because the prosecutors kept saying we have a source, we know, we’re very certain that he’s talked to you about Valerie Plame .

And I later found out the reason they thought he spoke to me about Valerie Plame , is because that was Scooter’s testimony. Scooter testified that he told me about Valerie Plame , even though and he was put on trial because he claimed he didn’t talk about Valerie Plame with other people.

However, in my case, he testified that he did tell me about Valerie Plame.

LAMB: And you say he didn’t.


LAMB: But go back to the other part of this – off-the-record versus on-background –

KESSLER: Yes, for most people that would be very confusing.

LAMB: Explain what it is, and why would Scooter Libby be confused about those two? Or would he?

KESSLER: Yes, Scooter told me after my testimony that when he said off-the-record, he meant off-the-record. So.

LAMB: What’s the difference between off-the-record and –?

KESSLER: OK, well, well, to explain, on-the-record means, you know, I could quote you ”Brian Lamb” said such and such. On background means I could say ”an executive at CSPAN” told me such and such. And there’s phrase deep background. Which I wouldn’t put any quotation marks there. ”Officials at CSPAN” says such-and-such.

Off the record would be I couldn’t write a thing. I might know what’s going on at CSPAN. But I couldn’t use any of that information. So – and I think a lot of people get confused by the off-the-record thing. Like they think off-the-records means don’t quote me. If someone tells me something off the record I can’t – I can’t use it and why would Scooter Libby , the Chief-of-Staff, to the vice president of the United States, be on the phone for me two hours. I once had a two hour phone call with hm.

Why would he be on the phone with me for two hours telling me about the administration’s position on various issues, if I couldn’t use any of it? And that’s why I asked if Kathy Martin was a spokeswoman. I asked her, ”Kathy, you keep saying this off-the-record.” And Kathy no, no, no don’t pay attention to that he really means background. He doesn’t understand what it means.

LAMB: How often do you run into a couple of things? One, the person you’re talking to has no idea about these kind of rules. And two, you say don’t go off the record. I’m not going to listen to you all the time.

KESSLER: Well, often people are confused. I mean it’s less of issue with bread in this fact-check column. I mean I’m not necessarily quoting people. Unless I’m just getting their particular perspective. But a lot of it my analysis of the facts that when I was covering diplomacy or the White House, there was often confusion. And, you know, except at for higher levels. I mean no one in the state department has ever quoted on-the-record except the Secretary of State generally.

I mean there’s just a way of diplomacy. But it’s just – people are just very confused about it.

LAMB: Speaking of that you did a book on Condoleezza Rice, called, The Confidant . Did you have a lot of people talking to you off-the-record? Or were they talking to you on Deep Background ?

That book was written essentially on deep background. And in fact, I had five hours of interviews with Condoleezza Rice herself.

LAMB: On deep background?

KESSLER: Yes, on deep background. And that book was written to be, you know, a ”You Are There” – a fly-on-the wall. I recreated things that happened behind closed doors. And part of it is my frustration is a day-to-day journalist – I would write about things in the hear-and-now. He said, she said.

So I wanted to know what was going on behind closed doors. Set some insight into the policymaking of the Bush administration.

LAMB: Here’s you on our call-in show when you talked about the book a couple of years ago.


KESSLER: What I was hoping to do with this book was to give people insights into the behind-the-scenes conversations between Secretary Rice and the president with her aids, with other foreign leaders and I wanted to give general leaders, even those who didn’t know much about foreign policy. It’s insighted how – how it’s like to be at the, you know, on the stage at the center of foreign policy making.

Who, you know, if you were just curious about what has happened over the last seven years, it was intended to be a very readable and easily accessible guide to foreign policy.


LAMB: How would you compare?

KESSLER: At least I’m consistent.

LAMB: How do you compare what you wrote with what she has written in her books since then?

KESSLER: Ah that’s interesting. I think it’s relatively consistent. There are – it was very difficult – recreating scenes is a very difficult journalist enterprise. I would interview six or seven people that were in the room. And sometimes they’d have very different memories about what happened. I tell you people remember best what they said as opposed to what other people.

So I tended to stick with mostly with that.

LAMB: How value did you find her book?

KESSLER: well I her a positive review for The Post. I thought that what was interesting to me was that, I think the true character of Condoleezza Rice came out in terms of – it seems – in many ways like – she’s not a politician but she’s a political animal working at very high-levels of government. And when she was in office, at least publicly, she was – didn’t really look back or indicate any regrets about things.

Now I know that from having private conversation with when she was Secretary of State, that she was much more open about mistakes they were making. For now, she put it on the record in a way that people can see. No, of course, she’s going to defend their policies, but I think that she’s still is a more optimist to look back in a way that I hadn’t see her do politically before.

LAMB: As you know, the political rumor started near the end of 2011 that she was going to get picked up as the vice presidential candidate for the Republican ticket. What are the chances based on what you know about her that she would say yet if you even got asked to do that.

KESSLER: You know I thinking creativity, you I think increasingly less and less. I think she’s moved beyond that. And I think that – I mean she talks about how wonderful it is to be able to look at headlines in the newspaper and not have to worry about that problem.

LAMB: People want again to go find the fact-checking work that you’re doing, what’s the easiest way to get to it on the Web site?

KESSLER: Just type in washingtonpost.com/fact-checker. You can also – if f you go to front of the – of the washington post Web site, there a little bar at the top. If you go to politics a little tool will pop up and one of the options will be the fact-checking.

KESSLER: You talked about Cincinnati and you have three kids?

LAMB: And their ages?

KESSLER: My oldest is about to turn 19. My middle one is about to turn 15, and my youngest just turned 11. I always joke my wife only got pregnant in the electric years.

LAMB: And you went to Brown Undergraduate and Columbia for your Master’s Degree in international relations. Glenn Kessler, thank you very much for joking us.

KESSLER: You’re welcome.


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