Washington Post Fact Checker Glenn Kessler took aim at White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest on Wednesday, September 3 and the result wasn’t pretty. At issue was Earnest’s attempt to clarify remarks made by President Obama during an interview in January where he labeled the terrorist group ISIS as a “JV” team.
Despite the press secretary’s best efforts to argue that Obama was “not singling out ISIS” when he called them “JV”, Kessler made clear that nothing could be further from the truth and gave Earnest four Pinocchios for his efforts.
On August 25, during his daily White House news briefing, Earnest tried to spin away President Obama’s JV remark:
He was talking about the very different threat that is posed by a range of extremists around the globe. Many of them do not have designs on attacking the West or attacking the United States, and that is what puts them in stark contrast to the goals and capability of the previously existing al-Qaeda core network that was led by Osama bin Laden.
Kessler pointed out that “The New Yorker article, written by David Remnick, appeared in the Jan. 27, 2014, issue...The date is important because just four days before, newspapers reported that the Islamic State had captured and raised its flag over Fallujah, where Marines in 2004 had fought one of the bloodiest battles of the U.S. invasion.
The Washington Post reporter provided a transcript of the exchange between Remnick and Obama, which clearly showed that Obama was referring to ISIS when he made his infamous “JV” comments:
DAVID REMNICK: You know where this is going, though. Even in the period that you’ve been on vacation in the last couple of weeks, in Iraq, in Syria, of course, in Africa, al-Qaeda is resurgent.
BARACK OBAMA: Yes, but, David, I think the analogy we use around here sometimes, and I think is accurate, is if a JV team puts on Lakers uniforms, that doesn’t make them Kobe Bryant. I think there is a distinction between the capacity and reach of a bin Laden and a network that is actively planning major terrorist plots against the homeland versus jihadists who are engaged in various local power struggles and disputes, often sectarian.
REMNICK: But that JV team jus[t] took over Fallujah.
OBAMA: I understand. But when you say took over Fallujah –
REMNICK: And I don’t know for how long.
OBAMA: But let’s just keep in mind, Fallujah is a profoundly conservative Sunni city in a country that, independent of anything we do, is deeply divided along sectarian lines. And how we think about terrorism has to be defined and specific enough that it doesn’t lead us to think that any horrible actions that take place around the world that are motivated in part by an extremist Islamic ideology is a direct threat to us or something that we have to wade into.
Kessler continued to dismantle the White House’s defense of Obama’s JV claim:
But the context of Remnick’s question makes it clear that he was asking about ISIS, as the president acknowledged. Perhaps at the time the president viewed it as a local matter between jihadists, but now, eight months later, the United States is striking Islamic State targets in an effort to turn back its advance across Iraqi territory.
Kessler concludes his takedown of the press secretary by announcing why Josh Earnest received “Four Pinocchios” aka a “whopper”for his defense of President Obama:
With the passage of eight months, the president’s “JV” comment looks increasingly untenable, so we can understand why the White House spokesman would try to suggest that what is now known as the Islamic State was not the subject of the conversation.
But in quoting from the transcript, Earnest provided a selective reading of the discussion. In particular, he failed to provide the context in which Obama made his remarks — the takeover of Fallujah by ISIS. That’s fairly misleading. The interviewer was certainly asking about ISIS when Obama answered with his “JV” remarks.