In a Sept. 10 Washington Post opinion piece, Thiessen — citing a recent “study” finding that Obama has attended about half his personal daily intelligence briefs (PDBs) — claimed that “national security has not necessarily been” Obama’s “personal priority.” Obama’s right-wing critics picked up the attack and on Monday, Kessler wrote a scathing article, calling the claim “bogus” and “misleading.” “Obama reads his PDB every day, but he does not always require an in-person briefing every day,” Kessler noted.
This particular practice has precedent with previous commanders-in-chief, including Ronald Reagan, whom Kessler noted chose to forgo the CIA in-person brief 99 percent of the time (Thiessen had compared Obama’s practice to President Bush’s, claiming Bush “almost never missed his daily intelligence meeting.”)
Instead of accepting the obvious defeat, Thiessen dug in, responding on the Post’s website today saying basically, “Yeah, well. … 9/11!”:
Kessler ignores one giant difference between then and now: Sept. 11, 2001.
Comparing lax presidential briefing habits before and after 9/11 is like comparing lax presidential security habits before and after the Kennedy assassination. After terrorists killed 3,000 people in our midst, everything changed — and the president’s daily intelligence meeting took on dramatically increased importance. President Bush made it a priority to sit down with his senior intelligence advisers every day to discuss overnight intelligence on threats to the country. President Obama has not.
Hopefully putting the matter to rest, Kessler was again forced to debunk his colleague, calling Thiessen’s response “an interesting, if not very factual argument. (Reagan, for instance, suffered the loss of 241 servicemen in Beirut as a result of a terror act.).” But Kessler also noticed something else. In his original piece, Thiessen claimed he received his data on Obama’s PDBs from a “conservative” research organization. But in his response to Kessler, that story changed:
We also find it curious that he now discloses the study 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.”
Upon reflection, we now realize that the GAI report had a bit of a math problem. The White House public schedule does not list meetings on weekends, so Obama automatically loses 28 percent of the “meetings” because of that fact. Thiessen had earlier claimed Bush had oral intel briefings six days a week–though no actual schedule is available to confirm that–so at the very least GAI should have subtracted one a day week from Obama’s numbers to make a valid comparison.
“We had nearly given this data Four Pinocchios and in restrospect we were perhaps too generous with Three,” Kessler wrote, adding in a tweet today at Thiessen, “9/11 is not excuse to wipe out history.”
Salon’s Alex Pareene writes, “When you, the major daily newspaper, get to the point where your official in-house fact checker is not just calling one of your columnists dishonest but also practically mocking his arguments as ridiculous, maybe you should reconsider some of your hiring strategies.”