Ronald Kessler reportedly attacks Bill and Hillary Clinton with anonymously-sourced stories in his forthcoming book The First Family Detail: Secret Service Agents Reveal the Hidden Lives of Presidents, according to British tabloids and The New York Post. Critics have described Kessler's previous books as "National Enquirer-style gossip," and claims in his previous book on the Secret Service were “strongly disputed” by the agency and other subjects. Kessler was an established journalist for credible newspapers like The Washington Post decades ago but became chief Washington correspondent for the far-right outlet NewsMax in 2006. He subsequently pushed false smears of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama and led the charge to promote Donald Trump as a presidential candidate. The First Family Detail is part of a trifecta of anti-Clinton books based on anonymous sources published this summer, along with Daniel Halper's Clinton Inc.: The Audacious Rebuilding of a Political Machine and Edward Klein's Blood Feud: The Clintons vs. the Obamas.
Kessler's Books Criticized As “Page Six” Style “Gossip” -- And That's His Intent
Wash. Post Review: Kessler Book Features “National Enquirer-Style Gossip” That Could Endanger Presidents. National security reporter James Bamford wrote in The Washington Post that for his book In The President's Secret Service, Kessler “milked the agents for the juiciest gossip he could get and mixed it with a rambling list of their complaints.” He added: “What is truly dangerous is the kind of National Enquirer-style gossip in Kessler's book. In the future, without 'trust and confidence' in their agents, presidents will want to keep them at a distance, out of spying range -- and out of safety range, when split seconds may count. And with President Obama, such concerns may be especially acute.” [The Washington Post, 8/23/09]
New York Times Reviewer: Kessler Book Is “Speculation-Filled.” New York Times critic Michiko Kakutani called Kessler's Joseph P. Kennedy book The Sins of the Father a “meanspirited, speculation-filled biography ... which purveyed a determinedly poisonous portrait of the man.” [The New York Times, 11/29/12]
Globe and Mail Review: Kessler “Relies Too Heavily On Speculation, Gossip, Innuendo And Secondary Sources.” Globe and Mail editorial board member Andrew Cohen wrote of The Sins Of The Father:
For what is called a major book, the research is sometimes suspect. The description of Kennedy's affair with [Gloria] Swanson, for example, sounds much like her own account. Kessler relies too heavily on speculation, gossip, innuendo and secondary sources. He quotes the nephew of Francis Cardinal Spellman saying that Joe boasted to him that he had put JFK on the cover of Time in 1957 for $75,000 (U.S.). That's enough for Kessler. Like a reporter on deadline, he goes with what he has, even when it isn't enough.
Instead of dirtying the dustbin, Kessler might have advanced the story. [The Globe and Mail, 5/11/96, via Nexis]
Wash. Post Review: “Hey, Sex Sells, Maybe These Would Be Page Six Bites On A Slow Day.” Vanity Fair special correspondent Bryan Burrough wrote at the Washington Post of Kessler's The Secrets of the FBI:
Revelations? Okay. There's a nice section on what Kessler bills as the untold story of how the Russian spy Robert Hanssen was caught; that probably qualifies. More representative, though, is a chapter called “Threesomes'' that recapitulates the 1970s-era Elizabeth Ray scandal -- the news here is Capitol Hill's purported appetite for the ménage àtrois -- and tosses in a quarter-century-old tale about an unnamed young lady who supposedly had sex with groups of men in the upper reaches of the Dirksen Senate Office Building. ” Attic Girl,'' Kessler says she was “affectionately'' named. Then it's on to a 1980s-era tale of a CIA mole who frequented sex clubs. Not too sure what any of this has to do with, you know, the FBI -- they made the arrests, I guess -- but hey, sex sells. Maybe these would be Page Six bites on a slow day. [The Washington Post, 8/25/11]
Even Kessler's Publisher Hyped The “Page Six Tidbits” In His Books. As Burroughs noted, publicity materials for The Secrets of the FBI promised it would be “filled with revelations about the Bureau and Page Six tidbits, just like those that made In the President's Secret Service so successful.” [Crown Publishing Group catalog, Summer 2011]
Claims In Kessler's Previous Secret Service Book Were “Strongly Disputed”
Secret Service “Strongly Disputed” Kessler Claim That They Are “Totally Overloaded.” In a 2009 report on Kessler's book, CNN's Brian Todd reported that the Secret Service “strongly disputed” one of Kessler's claims:
RON KESSLER, AUTHOR, IN THE PRESIDENT'S SECRET SERVICE: The fact is that they're -- the Secret Service is totally overloaded. They have so many extra duties that they're performing and the number of agents has not really increased.
TODD: Contacted by CNN, a Secret Service spokesman strongly disputed those assessments, saying the agency is not overstretched and that its ranks have increased. The spokesman says last year, while agents protected several candidates during the longest and most expensive campaign in American history, the Secret Service also had its biggest haul ever of financial assets seized from criminals -- $141 million. [CNN,The Situation Room, 10/24/09]
Secret Service Director Debunked Kessler's Claim Of A 400 Percent Increase In Threats Under Obama. In his previous Secret Service book, Kessler reported that the Service had seen a 400 percent increase in threats under President Obama compared to President Bush. Kessler's statistic circulated widely. But in a congressional hearing, Secret Service Director Mark Sullivan said the claim was false, stating that the threats were “the same level as it has been [against] the last two presidents.” [PolitiFact, 3/18/13]
Mary Cheney Told Kessler The Book's Stories About Her Were False. The New York Post reported of Kessler's 2009 book on the agency, In the President's Secret Service:
According to “In the President's Secret Service” by Ronald Kessler, when Mary demanded the Service shuttle her friends out to restaurants, the agent in charge objected and she had him removed from her detail. The former veep's daughter also allegedly complained about the Secret Service vehicle assigned to her. “She saw that her sister [Elizabeth] had a brand-new Suburban,” an agent who was on her detail tells the author. “Mary had an older vehicle. She was like, why can't I have one? Next thing you know, within a day or two, she has a brand-new Suburban from the Secret Service sitting out there in front of her house.” But Mary told Kessler, “These stories are simply not true, and I have nothing but the utmost respect for the men and women of the Secret Service.” [New York Post, 8/2/09]
Kessler Left Behind Credible Newspapers For Right-Wing NewsMax
Decades Ago, Kessler Was A Journalist At The Washington Post And Wall Street Journal. According to the biography on his website:
Kessler began his career as a journalist in 1964 on the Worcester Telegram, followed by three years as an investigative reporter and editorial writer with theBoston Herald. In 1968, he joined the Wall Street Journal as a reporter in the New York bureau. He became an investigative reporter with the Washington Post in 1970 and continued in that position until 1985.
Kessler has won eighteen journalism awards, including two George Polk awards--one for national reporting and one for community service. [RonaldKessler.com, accessed 7/31/14]
Kessler Joined Right-Wing NewsMax As Chief Washington Correspondent, Said He Was “Proud To Be Associated” With Outlet. From the 2006 press release announcing his hiring:
“Ronald Kessler is a rare find,” said NewsMax CEO Christopher Ruddy. “Few journalists can claim the enormous breadth and scope of the turf he has covered. He has a long history of combining quality work and balanced journalism, and he has an uncanny ability to ferret out news stories that other journalists miss.”
“Since I first learned about NewsMax, I've admired how, in order to tell the truth about subjects ranging from politics to medicine, it presents factual material that the rest of the media ignore,” Mr. Kessler said. “I'm proud to be associated with an operation that practices journalism honestly and fairly.” [NewsMax press release, June 2006]
NewsMax Was Founded By The Chief Promoter Of Vince Foster Conspiracy Theories. Bloomberg Businessweek wrote of NewsMax CEO and founder Christopher Ruddy:
The suicide of Deputy White House Counsel Vincent Foster in 1993 became his defining story, and it was Ruddy who provided conservative talk radio with plenty of fuel for the wide-ranging conspiracy theories that sprang up.
He left the Post in 1994 when billionaire Richard Mellon Scaife hired him to be the national correspondent for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Ruddy would eventually turn his reporting on Foster into a book, The Strange Death of Vincent Foster, in 1997. [Bloomberg BusinessWeek, 3/6/14]
Kessler Left NewsMax in 2012 Citing “Editorial Changes.” On December 19, 2012, Kessler sent the following message titled “left Newsmax” to a distribution email list that he had used to promote his articles: “Because of editorial changes, I am no longer at Newsmax. I am exploring other opportunities and developing the idea for my next book. All the best or [sic] the New Year!--Ron” . [Kessler email obtained by Media Matters, 12/19/12]
NewsMax During Kessler's Tenure: A Hotbed Of Conspiracy Theories And Smears. From 2006 through 2012, NewsMax frequently promoted conspiracy theories that there were questions about President Obama's birth certificate (Kessler has written that “Obama was born in Hawaii” ); repeatedly pushed false claims of “death panels” in health care legislation; published a column stating that a military coup “to resolve the 'Obama problem'” was not “unrealistic” (the column was taken down following an uproar); published a column that stated of the mass shooting in Aurora, Colorado, “One need not be a conspiracy freak to observe that such incidents seem to happen again and again at politically convenient moments for the left to exploit” ; and stoked readers' fears of hyperinflation to sell financial products. Salon's Alex Pareene described the site in 2011 as a “nutritional supplement sales organization and expensive email list with a right-wing news website attached.” [Media Matters, 8/8/12; NewsMax, 12/8/08]
Kessler Won Top Award At Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC). Conservative activists at CPAC awarded Kessler the “Robert Novak Journalist of the Year” Award in 2010. NewsMax reported that in his speech accepting the award, Kessler said that he was “honored” to receive it. [NewsMax, 2/20/10]
Kessler Believes Fox News Is “Fair And Balanced” Compared To “Mainstream” Media. From Kessler's CPAC speech:
I was on the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post in the '70s and early '80s and I guarantee you, even though the editorials on the Washington Post were liberal, we would have been fired for doing the kinds of stories that appear in the media today. They're not only biased, they're dishonest, in many cases they suppress the truth, they suppress the other side, they ignore, or they have it in the last paragraph. And that's one reason why that the media are going downhill. The mainstream media.
And on the other hand, we have Fox News, which is, which really is fair and balanced. Aside from their opinion shows, such as Glenn Beck, when they cover the news, they actually have a rule that every side has to be presented. When they have guests, they have to have both a Democrat and a Republican. So anybody who says it's not fair and balanced, I think, has either not watched it or is in denial. [Media Matters, 2/12/11]
Kessler's Smears Of Hillary Clinton
Kessler Accused Hillary Clinton Of “Pathological Lying.” In a 2007 radio interview, Kessler said “I think people do want a -- a fresh start. They don't want to go backwards. And the other thing about Hillary, of course, is -- is her pathological lying, and that's going to come out.” [KSFO, The Lee Rodgers & Melanie Morgan Program, 7/13/07, via Media Matters]
Kessler Pushed Conspiracy Theory That Hillary Clinton Drove Vince Foster To Suicide. In an August 2011 interview promoting The Secrets of the FBI, Kessler told Fox News of Robert Kennedy and Marilyn Monroe, “I surmise that he broke up with her and that's why she committed suicide, just given the timing.” He went on to claim that then-deputy White House counsel Vince Foster “was depressed, he did commit suicide” because Clinton had “humiliated him in front of all these White House aides.” [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 8/9/11, via Media Matters]
Kessler's Attacks On Barack Obama
Kessler Urged Republicans To Campaign On Obama's Ties to Rev. Jeremiah Wright. Prior to the 2008 election, Kessler wrote that the GOP should highlight Obama's ties to controversial pastor Rev. Jeremiah Wright “to illustrate how out of step he [Obama] is with most of America ... Wright holds the key to what Obama is all about, demonstrating his attraction to a left wing, anti-American agenda.” [Newsmax, 10/28/08]
Kessler Falsely Reported That “Obama Attended Hate America Sermon” With Wright. As USA Today reported, in a March 2008 report under the headline “Obama attended hate America sermon,” Kessler claimed that Obama had been present “during one of Rev. Jeremiah Wright's most inflammatory sermons, even though the Democratic presidential contender has said in the past he wasn't at the church when Wright made any of his controversial statements.” Kessler based his report on a previous Newsmax article, which he later acknowledged was incorrect. [USA Today, 3/17/08]
Kessler Cited Jeremiah Wright In Explaining Why Romney Would Win In A “Landslide.” Kessler wrote in a November 6, 2012, Newsmax column:
Thus, Obama's comment that voters should vote for revenge sums up his motivation for running: to get back at the hated establishment, which by definition includes Republicans. While he may have been riffing on the expression “Living well is the best revenge,” you don't talk about revenge against another individual unless you mean it. It's the same nasty attitude of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright Jr., his longtime preacher, sounding board, and mentor.
Wright said America created the AIDS virus to kill off blacks. “We are only able to maintain our level of living by making sure that Third World people live in grinding poverty,” Wright said. “God d*** America!” Thus, Obama emerges as the community organizer he once was -- and the exact opposite of the person Americans thought they were electing as president.
According to “The Obamas,” Obama looks forward to leaving the presidency. Then, writes Kantor, he would “finally be unencumbered by politics and free to create real, lasting change.” That mirrors Obama's recent comment that change can only be achieved from outside Washington.
As Mitt Romney said in response, “The president today threw in the white flag of surrender again. He said he can't change Washington from the inside. He can only change it from outside. Well, we're going to give him that chance in November. He's going outside.”
Last Sept. 4, I wrote the story “Why Mitt Romney Will Win Decisively.” The shift to Republicans in the last congressional and gubernatorial elections, the intensity favoring Romney, and the early voting results on his side -- not to mention the state of the economy -- are all signs that point to the landslide I have been predicting. [NewsMax, 11/6/12]
Kessler Said There Was A Benghazi “Cover Up” By The White House. During a November 2012 Fox News interview, Kessler claimed then-UN Ambassador Susan Rice's controversial Sunday show appearances constituted a White House “cover up” of the Benghazi attacks:
KESSLER: You don't have to be Sherlock Holmes to figure this out. It's clear that the CIA had the correct story. It's clear that the White House put out these people. They were representing the White House.
The White House was calling the shots. The White House was trying to cover up the fact that there was a terrorist attack on 9/11. If you doubt that, look at what President Obama said several times trying to claim that a YouTube video was involved. So the president himself was covering up what the CIA was reporting.
A bipartisan Senate report concluded that there had been no White House “cover up” and that intelligence reports linked the inflammatory YouTube video to the Benghazi attacks. [Fox News, Hannity, 11/19/2012, via Nexis; Media Matters, 1/15/14]
Kessler Was Chief Promoter Of Donald Trump Running For President
Kessler Was Major Proponent Of A Donald Trump Presidential Run. Newsmax was “an early and enthusiastic promoter of Trump's presidential ambitions,” with Kessler playing a leading role in that effort. In early 2011, as Trump sought to promote a potential run for office as well as his belief that President Obama's birth certificate might be a forgery, Kessler produced articles with headlines like “Trump Says He Will Run For President,” “Don't Underestimate Donald Trump for President,” and “Trump to Announce His Run for President” (Trump ultimately decided not to run for president, surprising no one except perhaps Kessler). [Newsmax, 1/3/11, 1/20/11, 4/14/11; Media Matters, 4/20/11, 4/13/11]
Kessler Played A Political Role As A Go-Between For Trump's Nascent Effort. In an article headlined “Donald Trump Wows Conservatives at CPAC,” Kessler admitted to being the go-between who extended Trump an invitation to speak at the conservative conference. He further reported: “This year's Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) focuses on the new kids on the block, the conservatives elected with tea party backing to overturn the liberal spending agenda in Washington. Nobody could have fit that description better than Donald Trump, who was a surprise speaker at CPAC and is planning to run for president.” [Newsmax, 2/11/11]