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Kessler and Keene: Logrolling In Our Time

Ronald Kessler lovingly quotes David Keene at Newsmax, and Keene presents an award to Kessler at CPAC. It's a beautiful relationship.

By Terry Krepel
Posted 5/23/2012

In February 2010, a Newsmax article announced that Newsmax's Ronald Kessler "was given the first Robert Novak Journalist of the Year Award on Friday at the 37th annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC)." It continued:

Dave Keene, chairman of the American Conservative Union, whose foundation runs CPAC, presented the award to Kessler at CPAC’s Ronald Reagan Banquet, where former Congressman J.C. Watts, Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele and others spoke to more than 2,000 attendees.

"Ron was recognized this year because of the quality of his writing, reporting and the hard work he puts in to covering Washington," said Keene. "He is always there, always fair and is one reporter who adheres to standards that are all too frequently violated or ignored by his colleagues."

And why wouldn't Keene want to honor Kessler? He's practically Keene's PR agent. In the months and years prior to receiving the award, Kessler had penned several columns in which he gave Keene the opportunity to opine on the issues of the day. For instance:

Kessler made some dubious claims in his acceptance speech, asserting that Fox News "really is fair and balanced" -- which is demonstrably false.

Kessler also suggested that Newsmax is fair and balanced as well because "runs stores [sic] that are critical of Republicans as well as Democrats." That may be true, though Newsmax's criticism of Republicans usually centers on them being not conservative enough, as most recently demonstrated by its overenthusiastic advocacy for Newt Gingrich's presidential campaign while attacking Mitt Romney,

For his part, Kessler reciprocated the logrolling award by penning a pair of fawning articles about CPAC.

That ACU award essentially codified the relationship that already existed between Kessler and Keene. A month later, Kessler gave Keene yet another platform, this time to rebut complaints that CPAC wasn't conservative enough, as allegedly evidenced by allowing the gay group GOProud to participate. "Keene sees the divergent views as being emblematic of the conservative movement and a sign of its health," Kessler wrote. He didn't mention, however, that he had just received an award from Keene at CPAC.

Kessler went on to note that Keene "becomes president of the National Rifle Association in May of next year, in addition to heading the ACU."

While Kessler continued to lavish attention on Keene's pontifications throughout 2010, controversies were starting to arise around CPAC, the conference his organization runs.

Newsmax rival WorldNetDaily had been repeatedly attacking CPAC in apparent retaliation for CPAC refusing to allow WND editor Joseph Farah to put on a birther panel at 2010 convention. (Farah essentially admitted as much, relating how his animus was motivated by how CPAC officials "boasted publicly about turning down my private request in an interview with the Los Angeles Times – using insulting and degrading language in an apparent effort to ingratiate themselves with the media elite.") WND touted how some right-wing groups were refusing to take part in this year's CPAC due to the participation of the "homosexual activist organization" GOProud and playing guilt by association by smearing CPAC board member Suhail Khan as an "Islamist" who is "infiltrating" CPAC.

More interestingly, WND also suggested that Keene's ex-wife, who WND says was the bookkeeper for the ACU, embezzled "hundreds of thousands of dollars in donor money" from the group.

If ever there was a time for Kessler to run to the rescue and do some fluffy interviews of Keene, this would have been it. Instead, he focused on such weighty matters as Donald Trump's presidential prospects (which Kessler played a major role in advancing) and the "secrets" of a long-retired Washington restaurateur.

Finally, in a column appearing a couple weeks before CPAC, Kessler let Keene predictably dismiss most of the accusations -- Keene defended GOProud, and Kessler asserted that CPAC has more organizations taking part over the previous year -- while maintaining complete silence about embezzlement charges against Keene's ex-wife.

Keene finally made his move to the NRA in early 2011, which of course meant the inevitable Kessler fluff job of Keene in honor of the new job:

You might expect that the man who is incoming president of the National Rifle Association and was chairman of the American Conservative Union would be a double-barrel ideologue.

Not quite.

David Keene’s friends include liberal-leaning types like Al Hunt of Bloomberg News, former ABC correspondent Sam Donaldson, former New York Times reporter Adam Clymer, and former Democratic presidential candidate Eugene McCarthy.

Keene never hesitates to mention that his mother and father were labor union organizers in Wisconsin or that, as a teenager, he passed out literature for John F. Kennedy during the presidential primary.

Moreover, Keene has stood firm against attacks from within the conservative movement over his decision to keep the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) open to participation by such groups as GOProud, an organization of conservative gays.

At the same time, few have had as much impact on the conservative movement and been so successful over the years at promoting Republican candidates at the national level as Dave Keene.

The rest is a fawning biography, complete with his-and-hers stories about how Keene met his current wife, how he "hunted cape buffalo in Zambia," and his favorite brand of whisky.

Kessler made no mention, however, of Keene's ex-wife -- and he never did. When she pleaded guilty to mail fraud in June 2011, Kessler and Newsmax ignored it.

(The Associated Press article that noted the guilty plea also served up the intriguing tidbit that Keene's son "was sentenced to 10 years in prison for discharging a firearm in a crime of violence after he shot at the driver of another car from his BMW on the George Washington Memorial Parkway in northern Virginia. Police said the shot missed the other driver's head by inches. At the time, the younger Keene, then 21, was serving as ACU's director of online communications.")

Even though Keene had left the ACU, Kessler wasn't going to abandon the group that gave him that award. Kessler would similarly suck up to Keene's replacement as ACU leader, Al Cardenas in a February 2011 column, touting how Cardenas is "a mentor of Sen. Marco Rubio" and once told off Fidel Castro.

Kessler also gives Keene a valedictory toast, declaring that he is "one of the country’s most astute political observers" who is "proud that he leaves the 1 million-member ACU on a sound footing." He also baselessly declares the ACU's ratings for members of Congress "the gold standard for assessing the ideology of members of Congress."

Kessler also serves up another dismissal of CPAC controversies: "Given that the conservative movement encompasses those who believe in strong national security, fiscal restraint, and socially conservative values, tensions will inevitably arise among those who wish to advance only one of those causes and don’t recognize the value of combining forces to win elections."

Meanwhile, Kessler continued to call on Keene over at the NRA, usually in support of his favorite presidential candidate (now that Donald Trump isn't running, anyway), Mitt Romney:

  • In a June 13 column, Kessler featured Keene proclaiming that "The Republican presidential candidate is likely to be Mitt Romney."
  • On July 11, Kessler quoted Keene stating that Sarah Palin "is not ready for a run at the presidency," adding that "conservative leaders I have talked to see Romney as the best bet to win the presidency."
  • On Sept. 22, Kessler let Keene pontificate on Republican prospects in the 2012 presidential race, declaring that "Gov. Rick Perry is a riskier presidential candidate than Mitt Romney." Keene peddles establishment conservatism in pushing for Romney, declaring that Perry overextended himself by asserting that Social Security is a Ponzi scheme, and, according to Kessler, thinks that "Perry’s candidacy could help Romney become a stronger candidate."

In December, however, the Kessler-Keene pro-Romney tag team ran into the buzzsaw of Newsmax's attempt to state a debate co-sponsored by Donald Trump. As ConWebWatch documented, a Kessler column using Keene to fluff Romney was posted and then quickly deleted; the next day, Kessler posted a new column lavishing praise on Trump's new book.

After the Trump debate fell through, and a subsequent Newsmax infatuation with Newt Gingrich temporarily fizzled after defeats in Iowa and New Hampshire, Newsmax let Kessler do two columns' worth of Romney-fluffing. IN the second column, he lets Keene defend Romney from the other Republican candidates: “We see Republican candidates turning into quasi-Marxists by attacking Romney’s free-enterprise approach.”

After a brief flareup of Newt-mania after Gingrich's South Carolina primary victory tempered by a crushing defeat in Florida, Kessler was once again allowed to fluff Romney to his heart's content. An April 2 column called in Keene's ACU successor, Cardenas. And on May 9, Kessler presented Keene in full shilling mode:

Mitt Romney will be seen as a Mr. Fix-It and will win the presidency in November, predicts Dave Keene, the former chairman of the American Conservative Union.

Keene is one of the country’s most astute political observers. As far back as last June, Keene told me for a Newsmax story that the Republican presidential candidate was likely to be Romney. After Barack Obama won the presidency, Keene predicted in a Newsmax story that “he can be counted on to overreach, helping to return Republicans to power.”

Keene says that based on historical precedent going back decades, the percentage of people who feel that the country is heading in the wrong direction would indicate the challenger will win. On the other hand, that precedent is offset to some extent by the percentage of voters who support Obama for ideological reasons, no matter what the state of the economy.

Look for this as the year goes on: 1) Kessler will keep quoting Keene at Newsmax, mostly in the service of Romney-fluffing, and 2) if the NRA has an appropriate award it can give to Kessler, he'll probably get it.

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