Newsmax's Ronald Kessler took liberties with a Jewish leader's views on Obama, and got called on it -- so Kessler had to hunt for another Jewish leader to advance his anti-Obama agenda.
By Terry Krepel
Newsmax's Ronald Kessler was -- unsurprisingly, given that he works for a right-wing website -- working against Barack Obama's election in 2008.
As ConWebWatch detailed, Kessler made his dislike for Obama clear from the beginning by highlighting inflammatory statements by Obama's former pastor while downplaying or ignoring completely Obama's criticism of those remarks. As the election approached, Kessler insisted that "Most polls may be overstating Barack Obama’s support by 5 to 10 percentage points because those surveyed may not be telling the truth about voting for him" and even dug up an alleged former schoolmate -- anonymous, of course -- to claim that Obama "didn’t hang out with a group I thought was the right group to hang out with."
After Obama took office, Kessler was eager to smear and attack Obama and his policies. ConWebWatch has previously noted how Kessler was among the Newsmax writers who promoted misleading or false claims about Obama's stimulus plan. Kessler has misled on other issues as well:
Kessler has not been monolithically negative -- a June 4 column surprisingly praised Obama's speech in Cairo as the "right way to diminish recruitment of terrorists," adding that "Obama sounded like an American president who we want to succeed."
But that was an anomaly: Ten days later, Kessler was trying to undermine Obama's support among Jews.
After Kessler's article appeared, however, Hoenlein tried to distance himself from it. The Forward reported that Hoenlein's remarks "drew immediate criticism from Jewish activists," who said that they are "a mistaken reading of Jewish public opinion," and that Hoenlein was now claiming that his "quotes were taken out of context."
The Jewish Telegraphic Agency reported that Hoenlein was claiming that Kessler "conflated the questions with the answers":
"My point was" the community "is not monolithic," he said, noting that the article never directly quotes him saying what the lede of the piece claims, that "President Obama’s strongest supporters among Jewish leaders are deeply troubled by his recent Middle East initiatives, and some are questioning what he really believes."
In response, Newsmax posted the transcript of the relevant segment of Kessler's interview with Hoenlein under the headline "Transcript Confirms Jewish Leader's Comments That Jews 'Very Concerned' About Obama," noting that Hoenlein "has backtracked, claiming to Jewish news outlets that his comments were taken out of context." (Newsmax also released the audio of the interview.) But Hoenlein never directly says what the headline claims he said -- even though, as the transcript shows, Kessler was actively trying to get him to do so. He didn't, so Kessler used a bit of inference to get to that assertion:
Kessler: Are you finding that Jewish leaders are starting to have buyer’s remorse about Obama?
It appears that Kessler came into the interview with an specific agenda: to use Hoenlein to portray Jews, who voted overwhelmingly for Obama, as regretting that support. While Hoenlein didn't completely cooperate despite Kessler's leading questions, he said things that were close enough that Kessler could make the claim anyway and, thus, stay on message with his agenda.
While Kessler and Hoenlein are each trying to portray themselves as innocent victims, they both share the guilt. Kessler had an agenda, and Hoenlein cooperated just enough with it.
His interview with Hoenlein -- and, thus, his attempt to drive a wedge into Jewish support of Obama -- having backfired, Kessler had to scrounge up a new Jewish leader who could be counted on to more reliably mouth the talking points he wanted to get out. He found a reliable mouthpiece in Morton Klein, head of the right-wing Zionist Organization of America.
With Klein, Kessler didn't have to resort to the inferring he did with Hoenlein. In Kessler's June 22 interview, Klein comes right out and states that Obama "may become the most hostile president to Israel ever" and that "leaders in the organized Jewish world ... are deeply concerned about Obama’s actions and policies toward Israel, and now they’re rethinking their support for Obama during the campaign and the election."
Those were the words Kessler was trying to put in Hoenlein's mouth. Interestingly, Kessler makes no reference to his Hoenlein interview in his article on Klein.
And so, Kessler's Obama attack machine got (albeit less effectively) back on track -- that is, after all, what Newsmax is paying him to do.