Washington Post’s Fact Checker Doesn’t Read the Washington Post [Updated][Updated Again]

I wrote earlier today about the liberal media attacking Donald Trump’s statement that on 9/11, “thousands and thousands” of American Muslims in Jersey City celebrated the successful terrorist attacks. Another Democrat who got into the act was the Washington Post’s fact checker, Glenn Kessler. He addressed Trump’s claim here, and, calling it “outrageous,” awarded it four Pinocchios.

Kessler wrote:

Trump says that he saw this with his own eyes on television and that it was well covered. But an extensive examination of news clips from that period turns up nothing. There were some reports of celebrations overseas, in Muslim countries, but nothing that we can find involving the Arab populations of New Jersey.

Emphasis added. This assertion is astonishing, because it means that Kessler is ignorant–or pretends to be–of his own newspaper’s reporting. As I wrote in the earlier post, the Washington Post, on September 18, 2001, wrote:

In Jersey City, within hours of two jetliners’ plowing into the World Trade Center, law enforcement authorities detained and questioned a number of people who were allegedly seen celebrating the attacks and holding tailgate-style parties on rooftops while they watched the devastation on the other side of the river.

Kessler tweeted a link to his column:

Someone tweeted Kessler a link to my post. He responded:

Note that the Post article did not say “several people.” Kessler just made that up, and put it in quotation marks. So I tweeted to Kessler:

I also tweeted this:

To which Kessler replied:

Note that Kessler still prefers not to quote his own paper’s story accurately. I followed up with several tweets:

By this time, Kessler had gone to ground and no longer responded to my tweets. The most basic question is, did he know about his own paper’s September 18, 2001, story or not? If he didn’t, he isn’t much of a fact checker. If he did, then this statement in his column is a lie:

But an extensive examination of news clips from that period turns up nothing. There were some reports of celebrations overseas, in Muslim countries, but nothing that we can find involving the Arab populations of New Jersey.

This was, I believe, my last tweet to Kessler:

No response.

Kessler has now updated his “four Pinocchios” column as follows:

Update: Some readers have tweeted to The Fact Checker a Washington Post article from Sept. 18, 2001 as evidence of Trump’s claim. The article, which appeared on page 6, described FBI probes after the attack in Northern New Jersey, saying in the 15th paragraph “law enforcement authorities detained and questioned a number of people who were allegedly seen celebrating the attacks and holding tailgate-style parties on rooftops while they watched the devastation on the other side of the river.” Of course, “a number of people” obviously does not equal “thousands” — and “allegedly” indicates there is no video footage or other proof that celebrations actually took place. Recall that Trump claimed he saw this on television.

Actually, readers sent Kessler a link to my post, which in turn included a link to the Post story. (The one Kessler responded to did, anyway.) Kessler’s response is entirely inadequate:

1) The Post story said that “a number of people were detained,” but it doesn’t say how many were “seen celebrating the attacks” and partying on rooftops. Were all those who partied detained? We don’t know, but it seems unlikely. How many is “a number”? We don’t know.

2) I have already written several times that I think Trump exaggerated the story–I doubt that “thousands” celebrated the 9/11 murders in Jersey City–but Kessler (along with the New York Times, NPR, Tom Brokaw and the Associated Press) flat-out misrepresented it. Kessler said there is “nothing that we can find involving the Arab populations of New Jersey.” If he knew about his own paper’s story, this was untrue. Yet he still hasn’t either explained or retracted his assertion.

3) Kessler says that “allegedly” means there is no “proof that celebrations actually took place.” Does that mean that he knew about the Post’s article and chose to suppress it? His “fact check” doesn’t say that police investigated such allegations, it says that his crack staff found “nothing…involving the Arab populations of New Jersey.” But it took me less than two minutes to locate the Post’s September 2001 story.

In his original column he went on to say that there were allegations about Muslims celebrating in Paterson, New Jersey that have “never been authenticated.” So why didn’t he mention the investigation in Jersey City, which, unlike Paterson, was exactly what Trump was talking about?

4) Kessler also fails to address the statement by Irfan Khawaja in July 2004, which he presumably is aware of since I quoted it and linked to it in my post:

In an email to me on Dec. 16, 2003, Kovaleski [author of the September 18, 2001 Post article] indicated that his information had come from the Jersey City Police Department, and that he had confirmed the JCPD’s information via interviews of eyewitnesses of the celebration.

So the report that the Post published was not mere rumor. And, anyway, is Kessler telling us that his newspaper publishes stories that are just gossip and innuendo, so they can be disregarded and don’t even need to be mentioned by an alleged “fact checker”?

Did Kessler know about his own paper’s September 18, 2001 news story or not? If he didn’t, he is a lousy fact checker. If he did, his column was deceitful, to put it politely. So far, Kessler has refused to answer that question. If he does respond, I will publish an update. In the meantime, I award Kessler four Pinocchios.

UPDATE: Glenn Kessler has now added to and revised his update, without acknowledging doing so. Despite calling my criticisms of his column “absurd” and “bizarre” on Twitter (while also calling me one of his more thoughtful critics; I wouldn’t like to see what he says about the other ones!), my critique caused him to do research that he should have done before he wrote his column. In fact, not only has Kessler added to his update, he has changed his original column without acknowledging that he has done so. Originally, Kessler wrote:

Trump says that he saw this with his own eyes on television and that it was well covered. But an extensive examination of news clips from that period turns up nothing. There were some reports of celebrations overseas, in Muslim countries, but nothing that we can find involving the Arab populations of New Jersey.

Emphasis added. Kessler has now changed this paragraph to read:

Trump says that he saw this with his own eyes on television and that it was well covered. But an extensive examination of news clips from that period turns up nothing. There were some reports of celebrations overseas, in Muslim countries, but nothing that we can find involving the Arab populations of New Jersey except for unconfirmed reports.

Is it really permissible for a supposed fact checker to materially change the text of his column without noting a correction?

In any event, Kessler has now looked into his own paper’s September 18, 2001 story, which he evidently was unaware of until I pointed it out to him, by interviewing one of the Post reporters and Irfan Khawaja. He pretends that these interviews support his original column, but they don’t:

The reporters who wrote the story do not recall whether the allegations were ever confirmed. “I certainly do not remember anyone saying that thousands or even hundreds of people were celebrating,” said Serge Kolvaleski, one of the reporters. “That was not the case, as best as I can remember.”​

But Kessler does not dispute that Mr. Khawaja had an email exchange with Kovaleski as Khawaja described:

In an email to me on Dec. 16, 2003, Kovaleski [author of the September 18, 2001 Post article] indicated that his information had come from the Jersey City Police Department, and that he had confirmed the JCPD’s information via interviews of eyewitnesses of the celebration.

Khawaja obviously didn’t walk that back, or Kessler would have told us that he did. As for the question whether thousands of people were celebrating, I have already said several times that I think Trump exaggerated the numbers that were described in press accounts, nor, as far as I know, were such celebrations shown on television.

But there are two fundamental points: first, Glenn Kessler was simply wrong (as were NPR, the New York Times and the Associated Press) when he wrote:

But an extensive examination of news clips from that period turns up nothing. There were some reports of celebrations overseas, in Muslim countries, but nothing that we can find involving the Arab populations of New Jersey.

In fact, a halfway-competent Google search turns up not “nothing,” but an article in Kessler’s own newspaper that reported what Trump said–Muslims in Jersey City celebrating the terrorist attacks of September 11. Kessler is addressing that article now only because I pointed it out to him.

Second, both Trump and Kessler exaggerated, Trump by saying that “thousands and thousands” of American Muslims celebrated the attacks, Kessler (and other reporters) by vociferously denying that there was ANY evidence that ANY American Muslims so celebrated. But what’s the point? Kessler seems to think he was right in substance if only a small number of people were seen celebrating. I don’t agree, for two reasons.

First, the number of people seen partying on rooftops is presumably only a very small percentage of those who quietly approved of the terrorist attacks. Second, how many does it take? The Paris attacks were carried out by eight or ten people. If a small number of Muslim Americans are pro-al Qaeda, pro-ISIS, pro al-Shabaab, etc., that fact potentially is very significant. And we know that there are, in fact, some American Muslims–a small number, thank goodness–who are pro-terrorist. Major Nidal Hasan and the two dozen or more young men from my home town who have traveled to Africa to fight with terrorist groups are obvious examples.

As everyone now knows, Europe has a serious problem with home-grown Islamic terrorism. So far, our problem has been less serious but by no means non-existent. Trump surely exaggerated, but no good purpose is served by sweeping the issue under the rug with dogmatic assertions that, on examination, prove not to be true.

FURTHER UPDATE: Don’t miss Mark Steyn’s commentary on this episode. Mark identifies several additional news reports of New Jersey Muslims celebrating on or immediately after 9/11, from the New York Times, the San Francisco Chronicle and local New York radio. Mark concludes:

There are two competing narratives here. If you loathe Trump, the story is: Trump’s suggestion of terrorist sympathizers among American Muslims is outrageous. But, if you’re minded to support Trump, the story is: Obama’s and Hillary’s and Kerry’s assertion that there are no terrorist sympathizers among Muslims is not only ludicrous but mendacious and deeply weird in its relentless insistence. Glenn Kessler’s “fact-check” confirms the latter.

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