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Ronald Kessler: A Return to Romney-Fluffing

Following his dalliance with Donald Trump, The Newsmax writer goes back to his first presidential love, Mitt Romney.

By Terry Krepel
Posted 11/22/2012

Newsmax's Ronald Kessler may have had his dalliances with Donald Trump as a potential Republican presidential candidate, but there was no question he would eventually return to the Mitt Romney fluff jobs he'd become, well, noted for.

Back during Romney's run for the 2008 GOP nomination, Kessler turned into a slobbering Romney sycophant -- he touted how Romney "lights up a room" and noted his "sensational good looks," adding that "Women - who will play a critical role in this coming election - have a word for him: hot." This sort of thing came to a rather creepy climax in a profile of Romney's wife, Ann, in which he wrote:

Ann is warm and very natural. She has the look of an outdoors woman bred to be an equestrian, which she is — good carriage, rosy complexion, square jaw, and blond mane.

When she is not flashing her truly unbelievable smile, she may lower her eyes demurely. But Ann Romney is not demure — she may be modest, but she isn’t meek. She is unpretentious, but she isn’t shy. She lowers her eyes, thinking, and then looks up directly at her interviewer and dazzles him with that smile.

Such purple prose indicates that perhaps nobody outside the Romney family was more heartbroken than Kessler when Romney lost the 2008 nomination to John McCain. Kessler bashed McCain until he clinched the nomination; Kessler then dutifully sold out and made McCain the target of his fluffing throughout the rest of the election season.

From Trump to Romney

Kessler began the 2012 GOP nomination process by trying to pave the way for Donald Trump to become a presidential candidate. Kessler had an in with Trump ever since his fawning portrayal of Trump in his 1999 book on the Palm Beach social scene ("His typical facial expression is to set his mouth in a moue, somewhere between a pucker and a pout. It says, 'I'm a handsome guy. I'm going to WIN'"), which allowed him to serve as spokesman for Trump's presidential ambitions.

In late 2011,
Trump partnered with Newsmax in an attempt to host a Republican presidential debate, but since most candidates refused to commit because Trump was still making noises about running, the debate never happened. In the midst of that, Kessler penned a column touting Romney's prospects that was mysteriously removed from the Newsmax website shortly after publication, replaced a day later with a column lavishing praise on Trump's new book.

After the Trump fiasco, Newsmax devoted its corporate efforts to helping Newt Gingrich's campaign, during which Kessler was able to make a limited return to Romney-fluffing with a column complaining that Romney's leadership qualities were being ignored. Only after Newsmax reeled itself in after essentially turning itself into Newtmax for the primary race in its home state of Florida -- which Gingrich lost badly to Romney -- was Kessler was finally able to fawn a little more over Romney, starting with a Feb. 1 column recounting Romney's saving the Salt Lake City Olympics.

If Kessler was ready to jump back on the Romney-fluffing train, Newsmax itself wasn't -- in March, it was still publishing disparaging articles about Romney, a trend that continued through most of the month.

Finally, in April, Kessler's Romney-fluffing was fully unleashed:

  • In his April 2 column, Kessler hauled out American Conservative Union's Al Cardenas to call for Romney's rivals to suspend their campaigns. Romney lets Cardenas respond to accusations of Romney's flip-flopping and claim that "Romney’s character is flawless."
  • Three days later, Kessler complained that the media has "suppressed" evidence of Romney's "human side," namely the story -- oft repeated by Kessler -- of Romney enlisting his Bain Capital to find the daughter of one of his partners, who had gone missing in New York. This story, Kessler insists, "that could potentially swing many voters to Romney." Which, presumably, is why Kessler kept repeating it.
  • Kessler's April 27 column began: "Senior members of Mitt Romney’s campaign staff view President Obama’s re-election campaign as confused and lacking a message." Kessler spent the rest of his column fleshing out that thought, as well as lovingly detail why Romney's employees think their boss is so awesome, something Romney himself is apparently too modest to tell the voters about.
One-man Romney defense squad

When the Washington Post published a story reporting that Romney, when he was attending an exclusive boarding school in the mid-1960s, took part in an incident in which he cut the longish hair of a student who was presumed to be gay, Kessler rushed to do some damage control in a spin-laden May 11 column:

As a high school prankster myself, I know that pranks can get out of hand. Looking back, we can’t believe that we could have been so stupid and wrongheaded.


Romney said he didn’t remember the Lauber incident from almost 50 years ago, but he didn’t dispute that it happened. He stressed that he didn’t know either student was gay.

Indeed, having grown up in the same era in Belmont, Mass., where Romney later lived, I know that we had only the vaguest idea of what being gay meant. Other Romney classmates have said that Romney was not a bully nor homophobic when a student at the private Cranbrook School. Moreover, as governor and as a presidential candidate, Romney has hired individuals who are openly gay.

Of course, having "only the vaguest idea of what being gay meant" was more than enough license to lash out at anyone suspected to be so, especially in the mid-'60s when such things were simply not discussed in public and vagueness ruled the day.

Kessler then segued into a story from a childhood friend of Romney's about what a "master" prankster the future candidate was.

Kessler laid on the Romney-fluffing especially thick in his May 21 column, in which he enlisted Romney's siblings to spin away the idea that Romney is a "spoiled rich kid" and vouch for the good character of their parents.

Kessler did take a break from Romney in June to pen a pair of articles about Florida congressman Marco Rubio, who had just released an autobiography and was considered to be a potential vice presidential prospect for Romney.

Kessler also performed a little summertime Romney-fluffing:

  • In a July 25 column, Kessler took President Obama's "you didn't build that" comments out of context, claimed Obama "attack[ed] the very essence of what makes America great," and added that "Mitt Romney aptly said the president wants Americans to be 'ashamed of success.'"
  • In his July 30 column, Kessler even more blatantly shilled for Romney, declaring that "Romney would stop President Obama’s practice of bashing businesses and Wall Street, cut regulatory burdens that make it difficult for companies to operate, reduce government employment by 10 percent through attrition, approve the Keystone pipeline project, get rid of the crushing burden of Obamacare, and keep tax cuts in place."
  • An Aug. 23 column was devoted to portraying a meeting between Romney and Paul Ryan prior to Romney naming Ryan as his vice presidential candidate as having been conducted with CIA-level secrecy. It's also a profile of Romney staffer Kelli Harrison, and Kessler brings a little of that borderline-creepy attention to her looks and athleticism. "A blonde who has a self-deprecating manner, Harrison looks like a volleyball star, which she once was on the Tufts team," Romney declared, adding. "According to what her Tufts volleyball captain Lindsey Moses told the Tufts Daily, on the court Harrison 'plays hard, dives for balls, and is never afraid to use her kneepads and leave some sweat on the floor.'"
Convention time Romney-fluffing

The Republican National Convention was too good a fluffing opportunity for Kessler to pass up, and indeed, he reported from Tampa the entire week of the convention. And what kinds of things die he report? Exactly what you'd expect. In an Aug. 28 column, Kessler was in full fawning mode:

Ever since I first interviewed Mitt Romney in 2007, I have been amazed at his one-dimensional portrayal in the press. Few people in public life have contributed as much as he and Ann Romney have to helping others, yet the media rarely tell those stories.

Now the GOP convention is planning to relate some of those stories to spotlight Romney’s human side, raising the question: Why has it taken so long?

The answer is that the press has not been interested in running positive stories that portray Romney’s human kindness and that Romney himself has refused to turn those acts of kindness into political talking points.

Kessler lovingly quoted one of Romney's sons, and he repeated for the umpteeneth time the story of how Romney helped a Bain Capital associate find his missing daughter.

In his Aug. 30 column, Kessler's fluffing target was Romney's wife:

President Obama may be the celebrity president, but Ann Romney showed at the GOP convention that she is the new star.

Unlike Obama, who has offered mainly broken promises, Mitt Romney’s wife came across as genuine. Unlike Obama, she was not divisive. And unlike Obama, she embraced success and offered real hope that this country can be turned around by the man she has known since she was 15 years old.

“This man will not fail,” Ann Romney said. “This man will not let us down.”

Kessler managed to restrain himself from going as far as he did in 2007 in slobbering over her looks.

Kessler was supremely confident in Romney's political prospects, going so far as to write a Sept. 4 column with the headline "Why Mitt Romney Will Win Decisively." He kicks things off with his usual Obama-bashing, complaining that "the press never reported that Obama had no significant achievements." After whining yet again about Rev. Wright, Kessler cranked up his Romney-fluffing jets:

Polls cannot measure how many will actually show up to vote for one candidate or the other. Now that Paul Ryan has been added to the Romney ticket, conservatives are fired up. The crowds of students supporting Obama on college campuses are now nowhere to be seen. Blacks who have borne the brunt of Obama’s dismal employment record are far less enthusiastic about him than they once were. Independents who favored Obama now support Romney.

For months before he was elected, Ronald Reagan was behind Jimmy Carter by double digits in the polls. In the end, Reagan won by 10 percentage points.

Romney and the Republican National Committee have more money than Obama. They are starting to flood the country with ads that portray Obama’s failure and replay his comment that businessmen are not responsible for their own success.

The ads portray Romney as the decent man he is: With the exception of some in the press, almost everyone at the GOP convention in Tampa teared up as they heard from members of his church recounting how Romney took the time to visit and comfort their dying kids.

Kessler concluded: "I have faith in the American people and their ability this time to see Obama for what he reveals himself in his own memoirs to be: a pitchman. My prediction is that Romney will win by 10 to 12 percentage points."

Kessler-Keene lovefest

Kessler made sure to keep up his end of his mutually beneficial relationship with David Keene. Kessler used an Aug. 27 Newsmax article to give Keene a platform to opine that "Mitt Romney is well positioned to win the presidency and should pull it off by five to seven percentage points."

In a Sept. 26 Newsmax column, Kessler gave Keene free rein to spin away criticism of Mitt Romney, such as his "47 percent" comment and the lack of specifics he has offered for his economic policies.

Curiously, Kessler identified Keene only as "the former chairman of the American Conservative Union," neglecting to mention his current post as president of the National Rifle Association. Kessler did fawningly write about Keene's job change when it happened last year.

Obama-bashing, damage control

Romney's remarks at a private fundraiser in which he denigrated supporters of President Obama as freeloaders who don't pay income taxes forced Newsmax to go into full-on defense mode (one article carried the assertive headline "Romney Said Nothing Wrong"). Kessler weighed in on Sept. 18 with, predictably, more Romney-fluffing: "A new video showing Mitt Romney telling donors he will never convince those who are dependent on the government to vote for him demonstrates only one thing: When Romney tells the truth, the press will crucify him for it. When President Obama prevaricates, the press will ignore it." Kessler also likens Romney to Ronald Reagan in repeating his prediction of a huge win in November for Romney.

Kessler uses his Oct. 1 column to attack the Washington Post for a fact-checking item on President Obama and daily security briefings:

A stunning example of how journalists cover up for this president appeared last week in Glenn Kessler’s Fact Checker column in the Washington Post. Kessler — no relation — gave three pinocchios to an ad from American Crossroads pointing out that President Obama has skipped half of his intelligence briefings.

Kessler did not dispute that that was a fact. Indeed, Kessler wrote, during 2011 and the first half of 2012, Obama’s attendance record fell to just over 38 percent. But Kessler went on to offer excuses: Obama could not “skip” a briefing if he had not scheduled one. He reads the President’s Daily Brief. He meets with his national security advisers and asks questions. And some other former presidents also did not attend the briefings.

In a conclusion that is entirely beside the point, Kessler wrote, “Ultimately, what matters is what a president does with the information he receives from the CIA.”

But since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, what president who cares about the security of the country would risk blowing off the briefings? As noted in my story, "Former CIA Director: Intelligence Briefings Are Valuable," President Bush almost never missed one.

The Bush anecdote is, of course, irrelevant. Newsmax's Kessler also conveniently omitted Glenn Kessler's statement that President Reagan attended even fewer briefings that Obama has.

Echoing the right-wing media's war against fact-checkers, the Washington Post pointing out the fact that a lack of in-person briefings with Obama doesn't mean the president is not being apprised of national security concerns is presented by Newsmax's Kessler as an example of "how journalists cover up for this president."

But Kessler is hardly an impartial judge of journalism -- he also repeated the right-wing falsehood that Obama "claim[ed] that roads, bridges, and teachers rather than businessmen are responsible for the success of their own companies."

Kessler baselessly attacked Vice President Joe Biden as well, asserting in his Oct. 15 column that "Biden’s arrogance during the debate also provides a window on his character."Kessler then rehashed an attack on Biden he first peddled in June:

Since becoming vice president, Biden has come down with a malady known by insiders as White House-itis. As described in my book, “In the President’s Secret Service: Behind the Scenes with Agents in the Line of Fire and the Presidents They Protect,” it befalls presidents, vice presidents, and White House aides who are not well grounded to begin with and let the intoxicating power of the White House go to their head.

As noted in my story, "Biden Spends $1 Million Annually for Weekend Trips," every Friday the vice president takes a helicopter designated as Marine Two from the vice president’s residence in northwest Washington to Joint Base Andrews in Maryland. He then hops on Air Force Two to fly back to his home in Delaware. At the end of the weekend, he returns on Air Force Two, usually a Boeing C-32.

On Saturdays in warm weather, Biden regularly returns to Andrews on the airplane to play golf at the base with President Obama. After the game, he flies back to Delaware. On Sunday evening, he returns on the plane to Washington — all at taxpayer expense.

The Boeing C-32 is a specially configured Boeing 757-200 commercial jet. The cost of flying the plane is $22,000 an hour, so each half-hour trip to or from Delaware costs about $10,000. Each golf game costs taxpayers $20,000. At that rate, the annual cost to taxpayers of Biden’s weekend trips is well over $1 million. That does not include so-called deadhead flights when the plane often flies back to Washington empty and then returns empty to pick up Biden.

In addition, the Secret Service rents more than 20 condominiums in the Wilmington area for agents who must accompany Biden when he returns to his home state. Rather than try to find hotel space, the Secret Service decided to rent the condos in part because, even when he knows his schedule in advance, Biden rarely tells agents until the last minute when he will be returning to Wilmington beyond his weekend trips. As a result, agents cannot plan their own lives.

A Secret Service agent says that since Air Force Two parks at Andrews, Obama is obviously aware that Biden is running up a huge government tab for each game of golf they play.

But Kessler, both here and in his original June article, failed to back up his claims, and he relies on an unverifiable anonymous Secret Service agent to make his attacks. That lack of transparency makes Kessler's attack much less than trustworthy.

Ramping up

Kessler finally got to do his Romney-fluffing in person in a Oct. 12 one-on-one interview with Mitt Romney.

In the 11-minute video of the interview attached to the article, Kessler tossed softball after softball to Romney, heavy on "somebody did this, what's your reaction" type of questions that allowed Romney to spout his usual talking points. These are hardly the kind of challenging questions one expects from someone who purports to be a journalist, though they are exactly the kind of questions one expects of a Romney sycophant. Here's a sample question from Kessler:

Ann Romney mentioned to me that when you are at Bain Capital, you almost never brought work home because you were devoted to your family, you wanted to spend time with your kids. Looking back, I wish I had been that way as a father. That's pretty remarkable, and I wonder how that translates into a desire to strengthen families, what you would do in that regard.

At one point Kessler said to Romney that "wholesale gasoline prices went up again today." In fact, gas prices had been trending down in the month prior to the interview.

Kessler took his Romney-fluffing to a new, journalistically dishonest level in an Oct. 29 article. In it, he let Romney adviser Bay Buchanan blather on and on about how well Romney is purportedly doing:

Republican intensity supporting Mitt Romney is now equal to Ronald Reagan’s during his first campaign, Bay Buchanan, a senior adviser to Romney and Reagan’s Treasury secretary, tells Newsmax.

“The intensity level is remarkable,” says Buchanan, who was also the treasurer of Reagan’s presidential primary campaigns in 1976 and 1980 and national treasurer of Reagan’s general election presidential campaigns in 1980 and in 1984.

“It’s not only showing up in the polls, but if you go out in the states as I have, in Florida and in Wisconsin, the excitement level is something that I haven't seen since Reagan,” she says.

At a rally in Colorado, “The forum sat 10,000 people and 10,000 people packed in there and they had to turn people away,” Buchanan says. “In Leesburg, Va., there were 8,000 people in the line to get in, and it was a mile long down into the main part of town.”

Buchanan says Romney’s campaign has become a movement.

Kessler made no apparent effort to verify anything Buchanan said, nor did he quote anyone else in the article. Buchanan is serving up nothing but pure, unadulterated campaign spin, and Kessler is all too eager to regurgitate it in the service of his favorite candidate.

Kessler was not the only journalist treating "Romney fauxmentum" spin as news, but his commitment to the cause is noteworthy, and he played the partisan to the bitter end.

On Nov. 2, he featured Richard Grenell -- whom he identifies only as "the former U.S. spokesman at the United Nations," -- bashing Obama over Libya and asserting that "Obama should have immediately denounced the failure of Libya and Egypt to protect the American embassies there." Kessler failed to mention that Grenell is an adviser to Romney and was his foreign-policy spokesman until forced out of that position by conservatives (like the Media Research Center's Dan Gainor) who didn't like the fact that Grenell is gay.

On Nov. 6, the day of the election, Kessler once again touted the prospect of a landslide win for Romney, declaring that "President Obama’s admonition to supporters booing the mention of Mitt Romney’s name that 'voting is the best revenge' spotlights his character and his motivation" and that it's "the same nasty attitude of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright Jr., his longtime preacher, sounding board, and mentor.

Kessler also declared that "Obama is an elitist with a chip on his shoulder." Pretty funny coming from a guy who pals around with Donald Trump.

Kessler concluded: "The shift to Republicans in the last congressional and gubernatorial elections, the intensity favoring Romney, and the early voting results on his side — not to mention the state of the economy — are all signs that point to the landslide I have been predicting."

Well, not so much -- Obama won re-election rather handily. What does Kessler think about that in regard to his wildly wrong pre-election predictions? He won't say.

Instead, Kessler's first post-election column was dedicated to changing the subject and bucking up Republicans by embracing John Boehner's position on refusing to raise taxes to avoid the end-of-year fiscal cliff. "According to my sources, you can count on this: When Boehner says the Republican-dominated House will not raise taxes on the wealthy, he means it," Kessler wrote.

* * *

It's easy to forget among his torrent of Romney-fluffing that Kessler has a pedigree as a real reporter for the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal.

But Kessler has basically destroyed all of that journalistic credibility since joining Newsmax in 2006, between his embarrassing fawning over Donald Trump and -- in 2007 and now -- his slobbering over Romney.

Is Kessler happy with the trade-off, or is he now such a committed ideologue that he doesn't care about what's left of his journalistic reputation? One has to wonder.

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