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Monday, March 17, 2008
Did Kessler Make False Claim About Obama?
Topic: Newsmax


In a March 16 Newsmax column, Ronald Kessler -- citing Newsmax correspondent Jim Davis as a source in a article he wrote last August -- claimed that, contrary to Barack Obama's suggestion that the Rev. Jeremiah Wright "had not used such derogatory language in any of the church services Obama attended over the past two decades," Obama "was present in the South Side Chicago church on July 22 last year," when, according to Kessler, Wright referred to the "United States of White America" and that the "illegal war" in Iraq was "based on Bush’s lies" and is being "fought for oil money."

But there was a problem: As The Atlantic's Marc Ambinder pointed out when New York Times columnist William Kristol repeated the claim, Obama spent the day campaigning in Miami.

This resulted in a strangely passive-aggressive "clarification" being appended to Kessler's article:

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.

While the "clarification" makes a point of detailing the church's service times that would have purportedly "allowed Sen. Obama to attend the service and still give a speech in Miami," nowhere does Davis or Newsmax state exactly which service Obama is purported to have attended that day, nor is it made clear whether Wright gives a sermon (or the same sermon) at all three services. Newsmax then blamed Obama's office for not returning calls to Davis before publication of his 2007 article.

Kessler clearly has an anti-Obama bias:

  • In a March 14 Wall Street Journal op-ed -- a retooled version of his March 6 Newsmax column -- Kessler selectively quoted a New York Times article to leave out Obama's previous criticism of Wright's remarks.
  • In a March 5 Newsmax column, Kessler claimed that Obama "dissemble[d]" in his denunciation of Louis Farrakhan, while remaining silent about anti-Catholic evangelist John Hagee's endorsement of John McCain.
  • A Jan. 7 article by Kessler attacked Obama's "racist church" because it claims to be "unashamedly black and unapologetically Christian" with a “non-negotiable commitment to Africa” and a "Black Value System." But Kessler ignored that Wright has stated that the church's philosophy does not "assume superiority nor does it assume separatism." Kessler claimed by way of comparison: "Imagine if Mitt Romney’s church proclaimed on its website that it is 'unashamedly white.' The media would pounce, and Romney’s presidential candidacy would be over." He doesn't mention that the Mormon church has arguably been for a good part of its history "unabashedly white," with a history of anti-black racism. (Kessler was a disturbingly sycophantic booster of Romney's campaign.)
  • Kessler falsely suggested that the only statements Obama has made on the issue of Farrakhan was one in which Obama said the decision by a magazine published by the church he attends to honor Farrakhan was "is not a decision with which I agree" and that it "showed a lack of sensitivity to the Jewish community." But Obama has also said that he has been a "consistent denunciator of Louis Farrakhan, nobody challenges that."
  • In a Dec. 31, 2007, column , Kessler claimed that "Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama last August voted against revising the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to allow NSA to continue to monitor calls by foreign terrorists without a warrant even if all parties are situated overseas." As we detailed the last time Kessler did this, Clinton, Obama, and other Democrats who opposed the bill did not do so because they opposed revising FISA in the manner Kessler wanted; rather, the main point of contention was court oversight of the warrantless wiretapping program. Democrats wanted meaningful court oversight; Republicans didn't. Kessler didn't mention the court oversight controversy.

Meanwhile, Kristol has issued a correction for his citing of Kessler:

In this column, I cite a report that Sen. Obama had attended services at Trinity Church on July 22, 2007. The Obama camapaign has provided information showing that Sen. Obama did not attend Trinity that day. I regret the error.

Will Newsmax get around to noting this?

UPDATE: Davis, aka Free Republic poster Philo1962, now says his notes for his story have long since been thrown away and he can't verify what he wrote. Davis adds: "If they didn't see any need to immediately correct a story about Barack Obama attending a sermon filled with hatred and racial animus, then in my opinion, they don't deserve to win a presidential campaign." So it looks like Davis has a anti-Obama bias too.

UPDATE 2: Newsmax has previously embraced Obama smears by Andy Martin.

UPDATE 3: TPM's Greg Sargent notes that Kessler has been trying to scrub references to the controversy off his Wikipedia page.

Posted by Terry K. at 12:57 PM EDT
Updated: Monday, March 17, 2008 6:35 PM EDT

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