Washington Post fact checker Glenn Kessler published a column yesterday attempting to debunk the claim in an American Crossroads television spot that President Obama skipped almost half of his intelligence briefings. Kessler assigned the assertion a 3 out of 4 possible Pinocchios. No matter how Kessler spins it, however, the fact remains that President Obama failed to receive in-person intelligence briefings in the days leading up to the September 11 assassination of Ambassador Chris Stevens.
The Crossroads spot is based on a statistic calculated by the conservative Government Accountability Institute, a number which was picked up on by Post columnist Marc Thiessen, who criticized Obama for his lack of attendance in a column published the day before the deadly Benghazi terrorist attack. Kessler could not assail the indisputable fact that Obama actually attends in-person briefings, so he sought to defend Obama by saying, essentially, that Reagan and Clinton rarely had in-person briefings:
Thomas S. Blanton, director of the National Security Archive at George Washington University, says that there have been “lots of variation in the briefing patterns” among presidents, with different consequences.
George W. Bush 'wanted personal and oral, and that matched CIA’s institutional interest in face to face with the president, much better for their bureaucratic politics, but unclear how good it was for presidential decision making,” he said. “On Iraq WMD [weapons of mass destruction], the direct brief was clearly pernicious; reading might have pointed to the dissents, but the briefers did not.'
In contrast, Bill 'Clinton the reader was known to comment that his morning papers were better than the intel brief, and better written — to the point that the CIA director James Woolsey joked that when that Cessna crashed into the White House, that was him seeking an audience with the president.'
Ronald Reagan, meanwhile, also almost never received oral briefings or had meetings with CIA personnel.Story Continues Below Ad ↓
The bottom line, Kessler insists, is that "Ultimately, what matters is what a president does with the information he receives from the CIA." and that " 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."
Kessler may think it's "misguided" to argue "process," but the fact remains that Kessler cannot dispute that the gist of the ad is true: President Obama has the opportunity every weekday to receive in-person intelligence briefings, and yet he chooses to, the majority of the time, elect to simply read them rather than avail himself the opportunity to be briefed by an intelligence expert (or experts) in person. Kessler may protest the verb "skips" to describe Obama's relation to his daily briefings, but that reveals more about Kessler's biases than it does the truthfulness of the claim.
As Clive Crook of the Atlantic -- no conservative he -- put it earlier this month, "Kessler isn't confining himself to checking facts, he's contesting one interpretation of the facts with his own interpretation. Whatever the merits of the rival interpretations, that's not fact-checking, it's commentary."