Washington Post fact checker calls torture-loving Washington Post columnist a liar

The newspaper's resident truth vigilante gives the Post's Marc Thiessen three Pinocchios

Published September 25, 2012 6:40PM (EDT)

              (AP/Gerald Herbert)
(AP/Gerald Herbert)

Washington Post fact checker Glenn Kessler awarded "three Pinocchios" -- out of a possible four -- to an anti-Obama attack ad based on a claim made, in the Washington Post, by columnist Marc Thiessen. Kessler then updated his post to say that Thiessen's defense of the ad and his original column was dishonest and nearly worthy of a fourth Pinocchio.

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. (Knowing the Post it will probably choose more dishonest former presidential speechwriters and fewer "fact checkers.") This is different from being taken to task by an ombudsman or public editor; they're quasi-independent entities hired specifically to criticize the paper. This is the newspaper's official arbiter of truthfulness saying a paid Washington Post columnist is not just a liar but a shitty one.

The claim is that Obama is "skipping" his daily intelligence briefings. He's not, and the "research" used to make that claim was obviously, glaringly flawed. Here's Kessler's update, in which he basically destroys Thiessen:

UPDATE: Marc Thiessen has posted a response to this column, in which he argues that practices before the September 11 attacks should not be considered. It is 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.) 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.

"Interesting" and "curious" mean "unbelievably stupid." Thiessen is lying, and he is very sloppy and bad at it. Which isn't surprising, because he's always been a sloppy liar. Have you read Jane Mayer's review of Thiessen's book about torture recently? It is a great reminder that neither honesty nor basic decency are considered requirements for holding down prestigious newspaper columnist jobs.

That review came out a month after the Post announced Thiessen's hire. Washington Post editorial page editor Fred Hiatt said, at the time, that Thiessen was hired because he "makes strong arguments," and also that "it’s good to have other points of view represented," by which he meant the "point of view" that torture is good and legal and also technically not torture even though it's clearly torture.

Thiessen has not distinguished himself, since his hiring, as a particularly good or even vaguely interesting columnist. And the Washington Post has just called him a liar. So why does the Washington Post still print him, exactly?

By Alex Pareene

Alex Pareene writes about politics for Salon and is the author of "The Rude Guide to Mitt." Email him at apareene@salon.com and follow him on Twitter @pareene

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