The Senate Intelligence Committee's report on torture reveals that conservative author Ronald Kessler was "blessed" by the CIA, receiving background information from the agency which he used to push false claims about the effectiveness of "enhanced interrogation techniques" and publishing classified information without triggering a leak investigation.
Earlier today the committee released the executive summary of its report, the result of a five-year investigation of the CIA's detention and interrogation program. According to The Washington Post, the document "renders a strikingly bleak verdict of a program launched in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, describing levels of brutality, dishonesty and seemingly arbitrary violence that at times brought even agency employees to moments of anguish."
Kessler was once a reporter for mainstream publications but over the past few decades became a right-wing journalist known for his gossipy style. This past year, he authored The First Family Detail: Secret Service Agents Reveal the Hidden Lives of Presidents, one of a number of right-wing books that sought to smear Bill and Hillary Clinton.
The newly released torture report cites Kessler's willingness to promote false claims about the effectiveness of torture as an example of how the CIA's Office of Public Affairs (OPA) "provided unattributed background information on the program to journalists for books, articles, and broadcasts, including when the existence of the CIA's Detention and Interrogation Program was still classified."
Kessler included such classified information in his book The CIA at War, but internal CIA emails cited by the report reveal that an investigation was never made into these leaks of classified information because OPA "provided assistance with the book" and it "contained no first time disclosure." The agency made the decision to pass on an investigation because CIA cooperation with Kessler had been "blessed" by then-Director of Central Intelligence, George Tenet.
The report states that Kessler's book "included inaccurate claims about the effectiveness of CIA interrogations, much of it consistent with the inaccurate information being provided by the CIA to policymakers at that time." According to the report, claims in the book about the effectiveness of CIA interrogations that used torture techniques were false.
For example, the report describes as "incongruent with CIA records" Kessler's claim that the capture of detainee Khallad bin Attash was the "result" of CIA interrogations of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the architect of the September 11, 2001, attacks. In The CIA at War, Kessler claimed as a result of his interrogation, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed "told the CIA about a range of planned attacks - on U.S. convoys in Afghanistan, nightclubs in Dubai, targets in Turkey, and an Israeli embassy in the Middle East." But the torture report says these claims were also "incongruent with CIA records."
Kessler also was used by the CIA to push back on what a CIA officer called "undue credit" given to the FBI for "CIA accomplishments," in a draft of his 2007 book, The Terrorist Watch. Kessler provided the agency with a draft of his book, and met with the CIA Director of Public Affairs Mark Mansfield who said that after the meeting he believed the agency had "made some headway" in making Kessler's book "more balanced than it would have been." After the meeting, the text more closely reflected the CIA's inaccurate claims that several successes in fighting against terrorism could be attributed to "coercive interrogation techniques."
After his meeting with the CIA, Kessler added the statement that members of Congress and the media "have made careers for themselves by belittling and undercutting the efforts of the heroic men and women who are trying to protect us" and "too many Americans are intent on demonizing those who are trying to protect us."
UPDATE: Politico Magazine added an editor's note to the end of Kessler's piece, claiming readers had "misinterpreted" the conclusion:
Editor's note: Some readers have misinterpreted the original last line of Kessler's article as somehow suggesting that the president should be held responsible in the event of his own assassination. That couldn't be further from the truth, and we're sorry if anyone interpreted Kessler's meaning in any other way.
The note did not explain what a correct interpretation of the line would be.
Politico Magazine published a piece by Ron Kessler, a discredited conservative journalist with a history of pushing conspiracy theories, which suggested that President Obama would be to blame for his own assassination and that the president's death could be necessary for the reform of the Secret Service.
Agents tell me it's a miracle an assassination has not already occurred. Sadly, given Obama's colossal lack of management judgment, that calamity may be the only catalyst that will reform the Secret Service.
As Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo noted, this implies either that "Obama is at fault for his inevitable assassination, or he's the only thing standing in the way of cleaning up the agency responsible for his inevitable assassination," both "bizarre" and troubling suggestions.
But also bizarre and troubling is why Politico published Kessler in the first place. As Marshall pointed out, while Kessler has written several books on the Secret Service and other national law enforcement agencies, "he's made a hard veer to the right" in recent years and is "a bit of a kook."
Kessler, who left credible newspapers to become the chief Washington correspondent for the right-wing website Newsmax, has been widely been criticized for peddling trashy gossip. He previously accused former first lady Hillary Clinton of "pathological lying" and pushed the conspiracy theory that she drove then-deputy White House counsel Vince Foster to suicide, because Clinton "humiliated him in front of all these White House aides." He also promoted the falsehood that Obama was in attendance at controversial Rev. Jeremiah Wright sermons.
As Media Matters has previously noted, numerous book critics have also slammed Kessler for his reliance on "Page Six"-style gossip and innuendo:
National security reporter James Bamford wrote in The Washington Post that for his book In The President's Secret Service, Kessler "milked the agents for the juiciest gossip he could get and mixed it with a rambling list of their complaints," comparing the book's reporting to that of the National Enquirer. New York Times critic Michiko Kakutani called Kessler's Joseph P. Kennedy book The Sins of the Father a "meanspirited, speculation-filled biography ... which purveyed a determinedly poisonous portrait of the man." That book was also described by Globe and Mail's Andrew Cohen as featuring research that "is sometimes suspect" because Kessler "relies too heavily on speculation, gossip, innuendo and secondary sources." Publicity material for Kessler's The Secrets of the FBI, as Bryan Burrough wrote in the Post, even promised it would be "filled with revelations about the Bureau and Page Six tidbits."
Kessler's work over the last few years has solidified his reputation for pushing gossip and conspiracy -- raising questions over Politico Magazine's decision to give him a platform.
From the August 4 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor:
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Discredited author Ronald Kessler's forthcoming book, The First Family Detail: Secret Service Agents Reveal the Hidden Lives of Presidents, lifted at least 13 stories from his previous books -- many times using language remarkably similar or identical to the language he used the first time he told the same tales.
Ronald Kessler reportedly attacks Bill and Hillary Clinton with anonymously-sourced stories in his forthcoming book The First Family Detail: Secret Service Agents Reveal the Hidden Lives of Presidents, according to British tabloids and The New York Post. Critics have described Kessler's previous books as "National Enquirer-style gossip," and claims in his previous book on the Secret Service were "strongly disputed" by the agency and other subjects. Kessler was an established journalist for credible newspapers like The Washington Post decades ago but became chief Washington correspondent for the far-right outlet NewsMax in 2006. He subsequently pushed false smears of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama and led the charge to promote Donald Trump as a presidential candidate. The First Family Detail is part of a trifecta of anti-Clinton books based on anonymous sources published this summer, along with Daniel Halper's Clinton Inc.: The Audacious Rebuilding of a Political Machine and Edward Klein's Blood Feud: The Clintons vs. the Obamas.
Fox News is using anonymously-sourced claims from anti-Clinton authors to inject the rumor that Bill Clinton has a mistress into the media, claims which the network has apparently made no effort to confirm.
Weekly Standard online editor Daniel Halper pushed the rumor in his new book, Clinton Inc.: The Audacious Rebuilding of a Political Machine based solely on anonymous sources, who he claimed told him the former president was engaging in "reckless" behavior with a mistress. On July 21, The New York Post gossip section Page Six reported that conservative author Ronald Kessler will make similar claims in his forthcoming The First Family Detail: Secret Service Agents Reveal the Hidden Lives of The Presidents, apparently also based on anonymous sources.
While the rest of the media has largely ignored the anonymously-sourced gossip, Fox has been using interviews with Halper to promote these claims. Fox apparently has not attempted to confirm the gossip before promoting it on the network's airwaves.
Fox host Megyn Kelly asked Halper about Kessler's report -- which she noted was "unconfirmed" -- during a July 21 interview promoting Halper's book:
KELLY: On the mistress front there was a report from Breitbart -- it's actually from a new Ron Kessler book -- saying that Bill Clinton allegedly had some affair partner who they call the energizer bunny with whom he is still seeing, unconfirmed. You know, these ladies, whatever. Did you interview any of these?
HALPER: I interviewed some. And I can tell you aides told me that they had to advise Bill Clinton in the 2008 election not to bring his mistress on the campaign trail. So he is still engaging in reckless behavior.
As Media Matters has noted, Kelly's reputation allows her to provide a "veneer of legitimacy" that other Fox hosts cannot offer.
Fox & Friends co-host Elisabeth Hasselbeck also asked Halper during a July 22 interview how the "talk that there is still a mistress in play here" could affect a potential Hillary Clinton presidential run:
HASSELBECK: There has been some talk that there is still a mistress in play here. If that were to be the case, how would that affect Hillary's run in 2016?
HALPER: I'm sure it is and I'm sure there are more stories and more scandals to emerge. I try to cover as many -- you know, you have to make -- when you cover the Clintons, you have to make hard choices about which scandals and which mistresses to cover. So I have made mine in the book.
Three recent or upcoming books highlight the way an anti-Clinton cottage industry is trying to manipulate media vulnerabilities to smear Hillary and Bill Clinton.
This summer will see the publication of Daniel Halper's Clinton Inc.: The Audacious Rebuilding of a Political Machine, Edward Klein's Blood Feud: The Clintons vs. the Obamas, and Ronald Kessler's The First Family Detail: Secret Service Agents Reveal the Hidden Lives of Presidents. Rush Limbaugh discussed all three books one after the other on July 22, commenting, "Do we really want to hand the country over to these people?"
While these books are catnip for Limbaugh and Fox News, all three should give credible media outlets reason to pause before amplifying their anecdotes.
Weekly Standard online editor Daniel Halper is currently making the media rounds to promote Clinton Inc.: The Audacious Rebuilding of a Political Machine, which was published July 22 and seeks to "expose" the inner workings of the Clintons' "political machine" and their "unquenchable thirst for wealth and power." He has already appeared for interviews on his publisher's corporate cousin Fox News (on The Kelly File and Fox & Friends) to promote the book, which has been deemed the "'must buy' book of the summer" by conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt and recommended by Karl Rove as the "next summer read."
Halper's book characterizes the Clintons as "dueling CEOs" whose primary goal is to make the Clinton "brand" profitable and politically powerful. He largely focuses on the well-trod period starting with Hillary Clinton's 2000 Senate campaign up to the present, with flashbacks to earlier periods in the Clintons' lives. Clinton, Inc.'s extended business metaphor barely holds together what is essentially a series of unrelated anecdotes and tired conservative tropes (as one critic points out, a right-wing author describing the Clintons as "calculating" does not make for a "groundbreaking revelation"). Many of his questionable anecdotes are provided anonymously -- "out of fear of retribution or attack from ruthless Clinton aides," according to Halper.
For example, Halper promotes a confusing, poorly-sourced, anonymous account to accuse former President Clinton of attempted rape. Halper claims he received exclusive access to never-before-seen documents about the Clintons collected by unnamed "investigators, attorneys, and other Lewinsky advisors" in the 1990s. Halper says that one of "the more promising and detailed nuggets" collected by the Lewinsky team is an allegation that Bill Clinton attempted to assault an unnamed woman near San Francisco in the 1970s. But the allegation does not come from the woman herself, who Halper says never pressed charges. It's based on claims from a "friend" of the woman, who is also unnamed. Halper's third-hand account doesn't explain when or how the unnamed friend became aware of the allegation, whether they had ever relayed the story to anyone other than a Lewinsky representative decades after the alleged crime, or why the Lewinsky team didn't follow up on the story. Nor does he indicate that he made any effort whatsoever to follow up on the claim himself -- even to determine whether the woman exists.
In another instance, Halper seeks to make the case that something happened to Hillary Clinton other than what her doctors told the public in December 2012 -- that she took a fall as the result of severe dehydration from a stomach bug, suffered a concussion, and was hospitalized for a blood clot in the brain, causing her to delay testifying to Congress about the Benghazi terrorist attacks. First, Halper baselessly posits that Clinton may have hit her head after falling down drunk. Invoking a "rumor" from "bloggers and websites" that Clinton drinks heavily, Halper points to "one well-known Clinton hater" for the claim the injury was the result of drinking -- citing no names. He then offers a contrary interpretation, writing that Clinton may have had a stroke but covered it up. He attributes this, variously, to "a number of reporters," "some on the right," "others," "reporters," and "one veteran reporter" -- not one of them named. Amid this discussion he concedes that "the revelation" may be untrue after all.
From the December 5 edition of Fox Business' Follow the Money:
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Following the Justice Department's announcement that an alleged plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the United States has been foiled, right-wing media called for the bombing of Iran. Indeed, conservative media figures have repeatedly endorsed military action against Iran and other countries.
From the August 9 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends:
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We've documented how Newsmax's Ronald Kessler has been one of the chief promoters of Donald Trump's presidential aspirations. Kessler's flattering treatment of Trump and his family appears to be part of a mutually beneficial relationship between the two -- Kessler has detailed a weekend spent at Trump's Palm Beach estate. But Kessler has had a problem nailing down exactly what step Trump will take next and where he got it.
A Newsmax column by Kessler, with the timestamp of 9:51 a.m. on April 13, asserted that Trump "plans to say" on the May 15 season finale of his show The Celebrity Apprentice that "he will be holding a press conference in the next few days. At that press conference in the Trump Tower in New York, Trump will be announcing his candidacy for the presidency."
That column disappeared a few hours later. Then, a column with a 7:45 p.m. timestamp appeared, slightly altering Kessler's claim to read that "Trump will be announcing whether he will run for the presidency." This version changed the date of the Celebrity Apprentice finale to May 22 and altered the headline to pronounce the claim an "exclusive":
Even though that column remained live as of this writing, a new Kessler column appeared, with the timestamp of 9:24 a.m. on April 14. This version deleted "Exclusive" from the headline and more extensively edited Kessler's claim about the Trump Tower press conference: "Although Trump refuses to confirm what he will announce, sources close to the real estate titan tell me that at that press conference Trump will be announcing his candidacy for the presidency."
The sourcing is new; Kessler had previously asserted it without stating where it came from.
Kessler's claim that Trump would announce something on The Celebrity Apprentice finale remained constant throughout all three versions, but statements from Trump and his camp -- as opposed to the anonymous sources Kessler is citing -- have been less than definitive. Mediaite reported that Trump said on a radio show that he's not actually allowed to announce such a thing on The Celebrity Apprentice, and he doesn't know from where rumors to the contrary came. Meanwhile, Trump aide Michael Cohen told Bloomberg that Trump "may" announce something.
To recap: It took Kessler three tries to nail down his claim, and there are still questions about what Trump will do. It looks like there's no love lost; Trump is still tight enough with Newsmax to invoke its meaningless opt-in poll promoting his presidential prospects in an interview with Time magazine (which Newsmax is promoting in turn under the headline "Trump: Newsmax Poll Proves I'm Legit for 2012").
While some people may chafe at the Washington Post's tendency to provide a forum for bigots, uncritically pass along right-wing smears, and publish an opinion section that passes Richard Cohen off as a liberal, it's worth noting that the paper is getting some positive reviews. Here's Newsmax chief Washington correspondent Ronald Kessler:
Besides cutting costs, as outlined in my story Washington Post Has Become a Model for the Media, [publisher Katharine] Weymouth has turned the paper into a fair and balanced publication under Executive Editor Marcus Brauchli. Conservatives have taken notice. Readers now get a report they can trust. That has to be helping to improve circulation.
Given Kessler's praise of the Post as "fair and balanced," you may wonder about his standards for fairness and balance. Well, as it happens, we know what his model is: Fox News.
Looks like the Washington Post's absurd pandering to the likes of Andrew Breitbart is paying off. Must be a proud day in the Post newsroom, to have a right-winger like Ron Kessler praise the Post the same way he praises Fox News.
From the February 12 coverage of CPAC 2011:
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Was it the opportunity to snag a glowing profile from a right-wing outlet?
Could it have been the chance to reach Lou Dobbs' coveted demographic of aging anti-immigrant conspiracy theorists?
Perhaps he was given some sort of clue as to how glowing the profile would end up? There isn't really a harsh word in the piece… they cover his dashingly good looks, his affection for Ailes-Hannity-O'Reilly, his purported fairness to both sides, that he worked at the AP once upon a time when it was still fair, and all of the big politicos appearing on his show. The profile's author, Ronald Kessler, even explains to his readers what it means for King to "keep kosher" since his conversion to Judaism.
The only thing that makes sense is the idea that King agreed to the interview because he knew in advance that it would be a puff-piece. Then again, maybe he didn't know Newsmax's history of right-wing incendiary misinformation. For example, back in September the publication ran a column (eventually taken down) stating that a military coup "to resolve the 'Obama problem'" was not "unrealistic." There's a lot more where that came from.
Check out the interview's gems after the break.
Media conservatives are rushing to BP's defense, attacking the Obama administration for "demonizing" the company after the Gulf oil spill.