Glenn Kessler

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  • Wash. Post Fact-Checker Debunks Trump's Claim Of A "Quid Pro Quo" Over Clinton Email Classification

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    Washington Post fact checker Glenn Kessler debunked claims from Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and right-wing media that the FBI and State Department engaged in a “quid pro quo” in order for Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton to face less scrutiny for her use of a private email server as secretary of state. Kessler asserted “there is no evidence” of any alleged “collusion” between the two agencies.

    Trump and his campaign baselessly claimed that transcripts released by the FBI relating to their investigation into Clinton’s email use show that a top State Department official proposed a “quid pro quo” wherein the FBI would agree to lower the classification level of one of Clinton’s emails if the State Department would agree to allow the posting of more FBI officals in Iraq. Right-wing media asserted that the FBI documents “bolster Donald Trump’s criticism of corruption.” The same flawed analysis made its way to mainstream media and GOP lawmakers, who are using it to call for a State Department official to be fired. But as NBC’s Andrea Mitchell pointed out, there “was no quid pro quo, there was no linkage” and “there was nothing at all nefarious” that happened between the two agencies. Even the FBI official involved in the alleged collusion disputed the pejorative characterization of the interaction, telling The Washington Post it is “a reach.”

    In the October 19 fact-check, Kessler explained that “‘quid pro quo’ was a secondhand description of a conversation — and both people who engaged in the conversation insist there was no collusion. Moreover, there is no evidence that anything happened as a result of the conversation.” Kessler added that summaries of the exchanges between the officials show “that whatever was said in the conversation, nothing happened to change the classification of the emails,” which “certainly undercuts Trump’s claim of ‘collusion.’” From the fact-check:

    Trump rushed out a video statement to supporters claiming that there was “collusion” between the State Department, FBI and the Justice Department “to make Hillary Clinton look less guilty” after news reports that an FBI official spoke of a “quid pro quo” between the FBI and State regarding the classification status of some of Clinton’s emails.

    “Quid pro quo” certainly sounds bad. But as more information has come in, there’s much less to the story than Trump claims.


    The statement about “quid pro quo” comes from an FBI summary of an interview (known as a 302) with a third, unidentified FBI official during the criminal investigation of Clinton’s private email account. But there are other interviews as well, including with [then-FBI director for international operations Brian] McCauley and [then-State Department undersecretary of state for administration Patrick] Kennedy. Moreover, even the summaries with the unnamed official shows that whatever was said in the conversation, nothing happened to change the classification of the emails.

    That certainly undercuts Trump’s claim of “collusion.”


    To sum up, “quid pro quo” was a secondhand description of a conversation — and both people who engaged in the conversation insist there was no collusion. Moreover, there is no evidence that anything happened as a result of the conversation. The FBI did not back down from its contention that the email should to labeled as classified.

  • Right-Wing Media Keep Pushing Myth Of "Partial-Birth" Abortion

    ››› ››› SHARON KANN

    In the 2016 election cycle, right-wing media have spread misinformation about the Democratic position on abortion access by alleging that the party supports so-called “partial-birth” abortions, often invoking the term as a description of an abortion that takes place in the final months or “moments” of pregnancy. In reality, “partial-birth” abortion is a term coined by anti-choice groups to vilify and stigmatize individuals who elect to have an abortion. Here is what the media should know about this common anti-choice myth and why media figures should not deploy it.

  • Trump Pushes Right-Wing Media’s Nonsense Conspiracy Theory That Huma Abedin Is A Threat To America

    ››› ››› BOBBY LEWIS

    Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump implied that Huma Abedin, an aide to Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, is a security risk because of her mother’s current and her own former employment at an academic journal that writes about Muslims. Trump’s attack follows years of smears about Abedin from informal Trump adviser Roger Stone and right-wing media outlets, which said that Abedin is disloyal to the United States and that she is a secret “Muslim Brotherhood” agent. 

  • Media Blast Trump For Criticizing Policies He Once Supported

    Trump's ISIS Speech Ridiculed: He "Supported Every Single Foreign Policy Decision He Now Decries”


    Numerous media outlets criticized and fact-checked the “contradictions” in Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s recent foreign policy speech, pointing out that he once supported several foreign policy decisions that he now claims he opposed. 

  • Wash. Post Fact Checker Debunks Bogus Story Touted By Hannity About Trump Helping Gulf War Troops

    Fact Checker Gives Story, Which The Trump Campaign Confirmed, Four Pinocchios And Demands Hannity Correct It 

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    Washington Post Fact Checker Glenn Kessler “easily debunked” a story featured on Fox News host Sean Hannity’s website that at the end of the Gulf War, Donald Trump dispatched his personal plane to carry returning Marines home from Florida to North Carolina. Kessler explained that the GOP presidential nominee’s now-defunct airline company “had a contract with the military, and this flight home was part of that contract.” This occurred “at a time when Trump barely had control over the airline and was frantically trying to negotiate deals with bankers to prevent the collapse of his business empire.” 

    Hannity is one of Trump’s biggest shills in right-wing media. Hannity has consistently enabled and defended Trump’s lies and false statements, including his claim that the general election will be rigged, drawing extensive criticism from others in the media. 

    In an August 11 fact check of the story, which was posted on in May, Kessler explained, “Despite the rumors on base, it’s clear that Trump had nothing to do with the dispatch of the jet” to carry home returning Marines. Kessler awarded the Trump campaign “Four Pinocchios” -- the worst rating -- for confirming the story to and concluded that “Sean Hannity needs to prominently correct this article.” From the fact check:

    It seemed like such a sweet story — Donald Trump sending his personal plane down to Camp Lejeune, N.C., when 200 Marines were stranded after fighting in the 1991 Persian Gulf War. At least that is the story that Sean Hannity of Fox News has touted on his website for several months.


    The command chronology shows that 209 officers and Marines of the TOW Company (part of the 8th Tank Battalion for Operation Desert Shield) were activated on Nov. 26, 1990. The company arrived in Saudi Arabia on Dec. 22 and served through the end of March, before returning to Camp Lejeune. Stickney is listed as receiving a certificate of commendation.

    After a few weeks in Camp Lejeune, the part-time soldiers were scheduled to return to their base in Broward County. An article in the Sun-Sentinel newspaper on the April 22 homecoming reported that it had been “marred by flight delays,” forcing well-wishers to wait for hours in the sun. The article said the Marines arrived on two flights, one at noon and one after 5 p.m.

    “Stickney recalls being told that a mistake had been made within the logistics unit and that an aircraft wasn’t available to take the Marines home on their scheduled departure date,” reported. But then Trump supposedly came to the rescue: “The way the story was told to us was that Mr. Trump found out about it and sent the airline down to take care of us,” Stickney said.


    So how did the Trump Shuttle end up in Camp Lejeune?

    Well, it turns out when Trump bought the shuttle from Eastern Airlines, he made a bad deal, accepting an additional five planes instead of a lower purchase price because the market had turned south. As The Daily Beast noted, in an entertaining account of Trump’s foray into the airline business, “the shuttle needed only 16 planes to operate a full hourly schedule at its three cities, with one or two jets as spares, and extra aircraft are anathema to an airline — they don’t make money sitting on the ground.”

    So some of those extra planes were contracted out to the U.S. military to ferry personnel in the United States during Operations Desert Shield/Storm in 1990-1991. Lt. Gen. Vernon J. Kondra, now retired, was in charge of all military airlift operations. He said that relying on commercial carriers freed up the military cargo aircraft for equipment transport.


    But Kondra said that the notion that Trump personally arranged to help the stranded soldiers made little sense. “I certainly was not aware of that. It does not sound reasonable that it would happen like that. It would not fit in with how we did business,” he told The Fact Checker. “I don’t even know of how he would have known there was a need.”


    Despite the rumors on base, it’s clear that Trump had nothing to do with the dispatch of the jet to Camp Lejeune. The aircraft that ferried the troops was part of the Trump Shuttle fleet, at a time when Trump barely had control over the airline and was frantically trying to negotiate deals with bankers to prevent the collapse of his business empire.

    Trump Shuttle had a contract with the military and this flight home was part of that contract. Simple as that.

    Sean Hannity needs to prominently correct this article. The Trump campaign, meanwhile, earns Four Pinocchios for confirming a story that is easily debunked.

  • Trump Blames Clinton For Execution Of Iranian Scientist After The Right-Wing Lie Was Debunked

    ››› ››› NINA MAST

    Echoing a myth peddled by right-wing media, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump claimed that there was a link between the execution of Shahram Amiri, a nuclear scientist in Iran, and Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s private email server, which contained a couple emails that appear to discuss Amiri’s case. But there is no evidence either that Clinton’s server was hacked, which would have been necessary for Iran to see the emails, or that the email discussion of Amiri had any connection to his eventual death.

  • Fact-Checkers Rebut Trump’s “Pathetic” Economic Lies In Real Time

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    Trump econ

    Washington Post fact-checkers Glenn Kessler and Michelle Ye Hee Lee rebutted Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s “pathetic, even embarrassing” falsehoods in real time as Trump gave an address before the Detroit Economic Club.

    Kessler has criticized the media for being reluctant to “challenge Trump when he makes a claim that already has been found to be false” and allowing Trump to make “Four-Pinocchio statements over and over again.” According to Kessler, Trump’s willingness to repeatedly lie is “off the charts.”

    As Trump attempted to “reset his campaign” with an August 8 economic speech, Kessler and Lee fact-checked his remarks:


  • Wash. Post Fact Check: Trump’s Claim That He Has “Nothing To Do With Russia” Earns “Four Pinocchios”

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    Washington Post fact-checker Glenn Kessler gave Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s claim that he has “nothing to do with Russia” the paper’s most severe falsehood rating: “four pinocchios.”

    Media figures questioned Trump’s relationship with Russia after he stood by “frightening” statements that he would defend NATO allies only if they “fulfill their obligations to us” and repeatedly expressed his admiration “for all things Putin-esque.” During a July 27 news conference, Trump denied that he had any financial ties to Russian government officials or investors.

    In a July 27 fact check, Kessler wrote that Trump has previously expressed “continuing interest in doing deals” with Russia but was “finding it difficult.” Kessler wrote that although “it may be possible that he has no current investments in Russia,” it is “not for lack of trying.” Kessler called Trump’s remarks “artfully deceiving” and rated Trump’s claim “four pinocchios.” Kessler wrote:

    In a news conference responding to evidence suggesting Russian agencies hacked the email accounts of the Democratic National Committee, the GOP presidential nominee insisted that he had no business dealings in Russia — with one single exception.

    As he put it: “What do I have to do with Russia? … I bought [a Palm Beach, FL,] house for $40 million and I sold it to a Russian. … I guess probably I sell condos to Russians, okay?” 


    But there is other evidence that shows a continuing interest in doing deals not only with Russian real estate buyers, but deals in Russia. “Russia is one of the hottest places in the world for investment,” [Donald] Trump said in a 2007 deposition. “We will be in Moscow at some point,” he said.

    There is some evidence that Trump’s interest in doing business in Russia is unrequited. In 1987, he went to Moscow to find a site for [a] luxury hotel; no deal emerged. In 1996, he sought to build a condominium complex in Russia; that also did not succeed. In 2005, Trump signed a one-year deal with a New York development company to explore a Trump Tower in Moscow, but the effort fizzled.

    In a 2008 speech, Trump’s son, Donald Jr., made it clear that the Trumps want to do business in Russia, but were finding it difficult.


    Trump’s remarks are artfully deceiving. He says he had nothing to do with Russia, pointing only to a Florida real estate sale. It may be possible that he has no current investments in Russia, but not for lack of trying.

  • Media Condemn Trump's "Reckless Conspiracy Theory” About Obama’s Body Language


    Media figures castigated presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump for claiming that “there’s something going on” with President  Obama’s “body language,” calling the comments “another … reckless conspiracy theory” and noting this shows that Trump is “not ready to let go” of his “tinfoil hat-type” thinking. Trump was also roundly condemned for using the same line to question Obama’s response to the attack at a gay nightclub in Orlando in June.

  • How Conservative Media Enabled Trump’s Outrageous Lies


    Presumptive GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump and conservative media figures repeatedly enabled each other to spread baseless smears and outright lies throughout the Republican presidential primary election cycle. Voices in conservative media repeatedly legitimized Trump’s debunked conspiracies, policy proposals, and statistics, some of which echoed longtime narratives from prominent right-wing media figures.

  • An Extensive Guide To The Fact Checks, Debunks, And Criticisms Of Trump’s Various Problematic Policy Proposals


    Over the course of the 2016 presidential primary, presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has laid forth a series of problematic policy proposals and statements -- ranging from his plan to ban Muslims from entering the United States to his suggestion that the United States default on debt -- that media have warned to be “dangerous,” “fact-free,” “unconstitutional,” “contradictory,” “racist,” and “xenophobic.” Media Matters compiled an extensive list of Trump’s widely panned policy plans thus far along with the debunks and criticism from media figures, experts and fact-checkers that go along with them.

  • Wash. Post Fact Checker Slams Media For Their Reluctance To Challenge “Trump’s Repeated Misstatements” 

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    Washington Post reporter and fact checker Glenn Kessler slammed media for their reluctance to “challenge Trump when he makes a claim that already has been found to be false” and allowing the presumptive Republican nominee to make “Four-Pinocchio statements over and over again.”

    Trump has repeatedly hyped falsehoods and conspiracy theories, including his claim that he opposed the Iraq War from the start. Though this is demonstrably false, Trump made this claim 16 times without being fact-checked by the media. Trump also edits other parts of his own record, often with no pushback from reporters. Trump’s preference for phone interviews instead of face-to-face interviews allows him to have “an upper hand” and gives him the power to “diminish the interview.”

    In his May 7 article, Kessler writes that the media have “no excuse” for not challenging Trump on his claims. Kessler even suggested that “TV hosts should have a list of Trump’s repeated misstatements so that if he repeats them, as he often does, he can be challenged”:

    Fact checks are intended to inform voters and explain complicated issues.

    Still, most politicians will drop a talking point if it gets labeled with Four Pinocchios by The Fact Checker or “Pants on Fire” by PolitiFact. No one wants to be tagged as a liar or misinformed, and we have found most politicians are interested in getting the facts straight. So the claim might be uttered once or twice, but then it gets quietly dropped or altered.

    But the news media now faces the challenge of Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee for president. Trump makes Four-Pinocchio statements over and over again, even though fact checkers have demonstrated them to be false. He appears to care little about the facts; his staff does not even bother to respond to fact-checking inquiries.

    But, astonishingly, television hosts rarely challenge Trump when he makes a claim that already has been found to be false. For instance, Trump says he was against the 2003 invasion of Iraq, but research by BuzzFeed found that he did express support for an attack. He said the White House even sent a delegation to tell him to tone down his statements —and we found that also to be false.

    Yet at least a dozen television hosts in the past two months allowed Trump to make this claim and failed to challenge him. There is no excuse for this. TV hosts should have a list of Trump’s repeated misstatements so that if he repeats them, as he often does, he can be challenged on his claims.


    The online version of the Fact Checker keeps a running list of Trump’s Four-Pinocchio statements. He now has 26, which accounts for nearly 70 percent of Trump’s statements that have been fact checked.

  • Fact-Checkers Slam Trump's Latest "False" And "Literally Wrong" Claims About Trump U.

    ››› ››› PAM VOGEL

    Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump doubled down on his debunked defenses of his embattled Trump University, a real estate seminar business, during the Fox News March 3 GOP debate. Trump once again claimed that the now-defunct Trump U. "has an 'A' rating from the Better Business Bureau" and misrepresented the status of pending lawsuits against the business. Fact-checkers have weighed in, once again, on Trump's defenses of Trump U., concluding that his claims are "false," "literally wrong," "inaccurate," and "misleading."  

  • Fact-Checkers Flunk Trump's Defenses Of Trump U.

    Trump's Claims Labeled "Literally Wrong," "Misleading," "False"

    ››› ››› PAM VOGEL

    Donald Trump's now-defunct real estate education business, Trump University, served as fodder for attacks from Sens. Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz at the February 25 GOP presidential debate and as the focus of a new series of attack ads from a right-wing political group. Fact-checkers have weighed in on the Trump University controversy, concluding that the attacks in the ads were "truthful," and that Trump's defenses during the debate and in a later interview were "misleading" and "literally wrong."

  • Washington Post Fact Checker Has A Double Standard On Gun Claims

    Blog ››› ››› TIMOTHY JOHNSON

    Washington Post fact checker Glenn Kessler ruled that a true statement by President Obama on how guns are sold was inaccurate because it was "confusing," just weeks after writing that an unprovable claim about mass shootings made by GOP hopeful Marco Rubio was true.

    Kessler's recent fact check of Obama is his latest botched article on the issue of gun violence.

    On January 5, Obama announced during a speech from the White House that his administration is taking executive action to address gun violence in light of Congress' inaction following several high-profile mass shootings.

    A large share of media coverage on Obama's move focused on the president's plan to expand background checks by clarifying what it means to be "engaged in the business" of selling firearms, although the plan also includes provisions addressing effective enforcement of existing gun laws, funding for mental health treatment, and developing gun safety technology.

    During his remarks, Obama said, "The problem is some gun sellers have been operating under a different set of rules. A violent felon can buy the exact same weapon over the Internet with no background check, no questions asked." Kessler purported to fact check this statement in a January 6 article.

    What Obama said is factually accurate. There are two sets of rules for people who sell guns. People who are "engaged in the business" of selling firearms must obtain a license and perform background checks on customers, while people who claim that they are not "engaged in the business" do not need a license or to run checks. This discrepancy is what is known as the "private sale loophole" or "gun show loophole."

    Obama's "engaged in the business" executive action clarifies the law on what it means to be a gun dealer and requires people who are engaged in high-volume sales or engaging in commercial enterprises to obtain a Federal Firearms License and run background checks on customers.

    Obama's second statement is also true. Due to the existence of the "private sales loophole," a convicted felon could purchase a firearm without a background check through or several other websites that allow private transactions.

    Taken together, the statement is true as a whole. Gun sellers operate under two sets of rules, and as a consequence someone with a felony conviction can buy a firearm online without a background check from a so-called "private seller" who says he or she is not "engaged in the business" of selling firearms.

    Kessler, however, awarded Obama "two Pinocchios" for his statement, claiming that Obama had used "slippery" or "confusing" language while purporting that "many readers" interpreted Obama's remark to mean that the president claimed that on the Internet "it legally permitted violent felons to obtain guns" -- a bizarre interpretation of the plain meaning of Obama's remark. (According to Kessler's rating scale, a "two Pinnochios" claim involves "Significant omissions and/or exaggerations.")

    Kessler was only able to reach his conclusion by misrepresenting what Obama said, writing, "Obama erred in saying the rules are different for Internet sellers. They face the same rules as other sellers -- rules that the administration now says it will enforce better." Obama actually referred to "some gun sellers," not just "Internet sellers" in his statement, before using a felon buying a gun online without a background check as an example of how the two different sets of rules for "some gun sellers" work in the online context.

    Kessler's purported fact check of Obama stands in stark contrast to a December 10 fact check of GOP presidential contender Rubio's claim that, "None of the major shootings that have occurred in this country over the last few months or years that have outraged us, would gun laws have prevented them."

    In his article, Kessler wrote that he was initially skeptical of Rubio's claim but in the end awarded it "a rare Geppetto Checkmark," concluding that the claim "stands up to scrutiny."

    But there is no way to actually verify whether or not stronger gun laws could have prevented recent public mass shootings unless one possessed the ability to accurately project an alternate history where the stronger gun law was in place at the time of the mass shooting plot. (And how do you count the mass shootings that did not occur because the gunman wasn't able to get a firearm?) Kessler -- along with Rubio and other GOP presidential candidates -- is certainly entitled to the opinion that stronger gun laws do not prevent dangerous people from accessing firearms, but there is no factual basis for this opinion. In fact, the evidence suggests the opposite.

    As a September 2015 article in online magazine The Trace explained while summarizing academic research on the topic: "criminals routinely respond to incentives, and policies such as background checks and permit-to-purchase requirements demonstrably save lives by reducing criminal access to firearms." While comprehensive gun laws would not stop every would-be mass shooter, the evidence suggests that strong gun laws meaningfully raise opportunity costs for dangerous people to obtain firearms.

    In addition to his flawed premise, Kessler's accounts of mass shootings he used as examples to legitimize Rubio's claim do not stand up to scrutiny, most notably his treatment of the June 2015 mass shooting at a historically African-American church in Charleston, South Carolina.

    In purporting to prove that no gun law could have prevented the shooting, Kessler wrote that "some analysts believe [Charleston gunman Dylann] Roof actually would have passed the background check if it had been done correctly." Kessler's sourcing for that claim was highly suspect. Any analyst making that claim would be in disagreement with the FBI, the agency responsible for administering the national background check system, which determines whether or not someone should have passed a check.

    In July 2015, the FBI released a statement revealing that Roof was legally prohibited from purchasing a gun because of a pending drug charge. But due to a loophole in federal law, Roof's sale proceeded because an examiner at the National Instant Criminal Background Check System was unable to locate Roof's prohibiting record within three business days, allowing the gun dealer to go forward with the sale without a completed background check. Democrats in the House and Senate introduced legislation that proposes to give the FBI more time to process background checks to prevent this scenario from occurring in the future.

    Apparently made aware of the FBI's actual view of the sale to Roof, Kessler added the following update to this post (while also failing to delete his baseless suggestion that Roof may have been a legal gun purchaser):

    In a statement after this fact check was first published, the FBI said Roof would have been denied a gun based on an "inference of current use."

    Kessler's suggestion that the FBI said Roof would have been prohibited only after his fact check was published is false; it occurred months earlier in July 2015. And the mere fact that Kessler had to make a significant revision to his analysis -- one that undermined a central piece of evidence cited to defend Rubio's claim -- arguably debunks the entire premise of giving Rubio a "Gepetto checkmark." (Kessler never mentioned the legislation introduced to prevent similar future occurrences.)

    Kessler also failed to mention the 2014 mass shooting in Isla Vista, California, at all in his fact check. Following that tragedy, California signed into law legislation to specifically address the circumstances of the shooting. Before the shooting was carried out, the family of gunman Elliot Rodger expressed concern to law enforcement authorities that Rodger was experiencing a mental health crisis, but no legal mechanism existed to remove his firearms at the time. The responsive law, known as a "gun violence restraining order," allows family members or law enforcement personnel to petition a judge for the temporary removal of firearms from individuals who pose a danger to themselves or others. The "gun violence restraining order" law -- which has now been introduced on the federal level -- has applicability to a number of other recent mass shootings where family members or law enforcement knew that someone posed a danger, but lacked a mechanism to remove firearms from that person's possession.

    Kessler's fact check of Obama's statement about online gun sales is his latest in a series of suspect articles on the issue of gun violence. In October, Kessler awarded Obama "two Pinnochios" because Obama included gun suicides within his use of the term "gun deaths" - echoing a common right-wing talking point that gun suicides should not be included in the "gun death" total.