Fact vs. Opinion: Does the Washington Post Know the Difference?

Last night I wrote a post called Who Checks the Fact-Checkers? The subject of the post was Glenn Kessler, who writes a regular feature for the Washington Post called The Fact Checker. Specifically, Kessler did a post about a statement on the Middle East by Rick Perry. Kessler derided Perry’s comments as those of a “newbie,” said that Perry was “stuck in a time warp,” and concluded, citing anonymous liberals who agreed with Kessler’s assessment, that Perry was “remarkably uninformed” about the Middle East. Kessler awarded Perry “four Pinocchios,” the worst assessment the Post’s “fact checker” can bestow. Four Pinocchios means that Perry’s statements were “whoppers.”

What did Perry say that drew such condemnation from Kessler? Here are Perry’s comments, in their entirety:

Question: Do you believe there should be a Palestinian state?

I certainly have some concerns. The first step in any peaceful negotiation for a two-state solution for the Palestinians is to recognize the right of Israel’s existence. They have to denounce terrorism in both word and deed. And they have to sit down and negotiate with Israel directly. Anything short of that is a non-starter in my opinion.

You may wonder what was so terrible about Perry’s answer. I would hazard a guess that you probably agree with it. What Perry said was, as he made clear, an expression of his opinion. In my post, I argued that the facts amply support Perry’s opinion, and that it was Kessler, not Perry, who demonstrated an appalling level of ignorance of events in the Middle East. The post was rather lengthy, so I won’t try to summarize it here. You can follow the link if you haven’t already read it. The most basic point I made was that Perry is correct in believing that the Palestinians and their leaders have not unequivocally recognized Israel’s right to exist as an independent state, let alone a Jewish one. This is, indeed, the fundamental problem that drives the whole Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

A reader sent my post to Glenn Kessler and asked for his comment. This is how Kessler responded:

I saw that critique, which was biased in the extreme. Funny that they don’t attack me when I give four Pinocchios to Obama!

I found Kessler’s response intensely interesting. The question, obviously, is not whether my post was “biased.” It did not purport to be neutral; it was an attack on Kessler’s criticism of Perry, which I thought was both unfair and factually incorrect. But the point here is not “bias;” it is, rather, factual accuracy. I have explained at considerable length why I think Kessler was wrong. The question now is, does he disagree with any of the facts that I offered in support of my opinion (and Perry’s)? If he does, what are they, and why? If he doesn’t, then I think any fair observer would conclude that the opinions expressed by Perry were, at a bare minimum, highly defensible.

After all, Kessler’s column is called “The Fact Checker,” not “The Opinion Policeman.” I take it as a given that Kessler has opinions about the Middle East with which both Rick Perry and I disagree. So what? The question is whether Kessler can show that the statements Perry made were factually inaccurate. As things stand now, he has made no effort to rebut anything I said in my post on that subject.

Kessler’s further point, that we didn’t complain when he awarded four Pinocchios to Barack Obama, is pathetic. I didn’t criticize that post because 1) I hadn’t read it, and 2) having now read it, I see that it was correct.

Kessler does raise an interesting point, however. By referring to his bestowing four Pinocchios on Obama in connection with Obama’s claim to have enacted “the biggest middle-class tax cut in history,” he suggests that he is an objective, even-handed judge of veracity, as his title–The Fact Checker–would indicate. So, just for fun, I checked the Post’s archives to see how many times Kessler has awarded four Pinocchios, and to whom. You won’t be shocked at the result: Kessler has awarded four Pinocchios on fourteen occasions. Ten of those whom he condemned were Republicans, and four were Democrats (I count AARP as a Democrat). Even-handed fact checking? You be the judge.

Tonight I sent Kessler this email:

Mr. Kessler, a reader of my site forwarded to me the exchange he had with you about my critique of your post that awarded four Pinocchios to Rick Perry for his comments on the Middle East. You described my post as “biased.” I find this odd. My post did not purport to be unbiased; I am a conservative activist, just as you are a liberal activist. The question is, do you disagree with any of the facts that I offered in support of Rick Perry’s opinions (which I share)? If so, what aspects of my post do you claim were factually inaccurate, and why? If not, do you agree that there is ample factual support for the opinions that Rick Perry expressed to Time?

I find your emphasis on “bias” striking, since you claim to be a “fact checker,” not an “opinion policeman.” Rick Perry and I certainly have opinions on the Middle East, and no doubt other topics, that differ from yours. But if you are unable to identify any factual inaccuracies in Perry’s comments or in my post, I think you should withdraw your criticism and apologize to Mr. Perry.

John Hinderaker

I will post any response I receive from Mr. Kessler.

Responses