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
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.
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,
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:
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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.