Washington Post fact-checker, columnist fact-check each other

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Representatives from the nation's fact-checking apparatus will gather Wednesday at the National Press Club to discuss "the less-than-factual lines President Obama and Mitt Romney are likely to spin" at their debates, Amy Bingham reports. FactCheck.org, the Associated Press, The Washington Post and Politifact, which is owned by Poynter's Tampa Bay Times, all plan to send red-pencilers.

The first debate is scheduled for Wednesday, Oct. 3.

Washington Post fact-checker Glenn Kessler appears to be all set for fact-checking's Super Bowls: Monday morning he published a takedown of a claim in a political ad based on a Marc Thiessen column that ran in The Washington Post.

In the piece, Kessler goes to work on Thiessen's thesis that "more than half the time, the commander in chief does not attend his daily intelligence meeting." He goes into wonk-glazing detail on the presidential daily briefing (PDB) and concludes it's a "a misguided attack because Obama has chosen to receive his information in a different manner than his predecessor." Three Pinocchios, ruleth the fact-checker.

Thiessen fired back Tuesday morning.

What Kessler and the Obama White House do argue is a matter not of fact but of opinion — that it does not matter if Obama attends a daily intelligence meeting because he reads his PDB every day. ...

It is a fact that for eight years before Obama took office, there was a daily meeting to discuss the PDB. And it is a fact that, on taking office, Obama stopped holding the daily intelligence meeting on a daily basis. Kessler may not think that is important, and he is entitled to his own opinion — but not his own facts.

I give Four Pinocchios to the Fact Checker.

Amazingly, this intramural dispute does not end there. Kessler updated his earlier piece, noting that in his new column, Thiessen mentions that a study that was the basis of his first "was done at his request, by his business partner, and that he now describes the Government Accountability Institute as 'nonpartisan' whereas in his earlier column he had called it a 'conservative investigative research organization.' ” He also identifies what he says is an "inconsistency problem" in the Government Accountability Institute's report.

"We had nearly given this data Four Pinocchios and in retrospect we were perhaps too generous with Three," Kessler writes. I asked Kessler via email whether Thiessen was the first Post writer whose work he'd fact-checked. "I didn't think I was fact-checking" Thiessen, Kessler replied. "I was checking an ad that used a report that he cited--but somehow he took it as a fact check of him." He added:

"I generally do not want to get in the business of fact-checking Post columnists."

  • Andrew Beaujon

    Andrew Beaujon reported on the media for Poynter from 2012 to 2015. He was previously arts editor at TBD.com and managing editor of Washington City Paper. He's the author of the 2006 book "Body Piercing Saved My Life," about Christian rock and evangelical Christian culture.


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