American Enterprise Institute fellow and Washington Post columnist Marc Thiessen has been pushing a recent finding that President Obama has not attended about half of his daily intelligence briefings as evidence that “national security has not necessarily been” Obama’s “personal priority.” Theissen based his claim on a recent study by the conservative Government Accountability Institute, which said that Obama has attended only 43.8 percent of his Presidential Daily Briefs, or PDBs. “By contrast,” Thiessen wrote, “Obama’s predecessor, George W. Bush almost never missed his daily intelligence meeting.”
This particular statistic, however, doesn’t mean a whole lot. President Obama may not physically get briefed by intelligence officials every day but he does receive and read the PDBs, a point Theissen himself acknowledged when reporting the White House’s response to the charge.
“This is how it was done in the Clinton administration,” Thiessen’s Post colleague Dana Millbank noted, “before Bush decided he would prefer to read less.”
Yet Dick Cheney, John McCain, the right-wing blogs and others picked up on Thiessen’s hook anyway, not seeming to care that the charge has little credibility. The claim eventually made its way to an attack ad by Karl Rove-led SuperPAC American Crossroads which caused Washington Post fact checker Glenn Kessler to get involved. Kessler called the attack “misguided,” noting that President Reagan rarely attended daily intelligence briefings:
Clearly, different presidents have structured their daily briefing from the CIA to fit their unique personal styles. Many did not have an oral briefing, while three — two of whom are named Bush — preferred to deal directly with a CIA official. Obama appears to have opted for a melding of the two approaches, in which he receives oral briefings, but not as frequently as his predecessor.
Ultimately, what matters is what a president does with the information he receives from the CIA. Republican critics may find fault with Obama’s handling of foreign policy. But this attack ad turns a question of process — how does the president handle his intelligence brief? — into a misguided attack because Obama has chosen to receive his information in a different manner than his predecessor.
As it turns out, no president does it the exact same way. Under the standards of this ad, Republican icon Ronald Reagan skipped his intelligence briefings 99 percent of the time.
It should come as no surprise that Thiessen is hawking “bogus” claims, as his own newspaper described the daily intel charge, and it’s unlikely he will show any signs of remorse. And while the Post should be commended for publicly calling out one of its own and shaming Thiessen, the paper is ultimately responsible for publishing his false claims and baseless attacks. As former Washington Post writer Dan Froomkin said in response to Kessler’s article today on Twitter, the Post op-ed page “is a facts-optional zone. Shame on them.”