July 6, 1959 |
Cincinnati, Ohio, U.S.
|Education||Brown University (BA); Columbia University (MA)|
|Notable credit(s)||The Washington Post|
Kessler is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and the author of The Confidante: Condoleezza Rice and the Creation of the Bush Legacy. The book, which revealed new details on the making of Bush administration’s foreign policy, was described as “brilliantly reported” by the New York Times Book Review and generated news articles and reviews in two dozen countries around the world.
Kessler's reporting played a role in two foreign policy controversies during the presidency of George W. Bush. He was called to testify in the trial of I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, in which he was questioned about a 2003 telephone conversation with Libby in which the name of Valerie Plame, a CIA operative, might have been discussed. (Libby recalled they had discussed Plame; Kessler said they did not.) Meanwhile, a 2004 telephone conversation between Kessler and Steve J. Rosen, a senior official at American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), was at the core of the AIPAC leaking case. The federal government recorded the call and made it the centerpiece of its 2005 indictment of Rosen and an alleged co-conspirator; the charges were dropped in 2009.
The Wall Street Journal called Kessler "one of the most aggressive journalists on the State Department beat." The Atlantic Monthly, in a 2007 profile of Rice, said that "week after week, Kessler asks the best questions, and the most questions, at the secretary’s press conferences."  Kessler, a specialist on nuclear proliferation (especially in Iran and North Korea) and the Middle East, wrote the first article on the North Korea nuclear facility being built in Syria that was destroyed by Israeli jets. He was immediately attacked for spreading neoconservative propaganda but his reporting turned out to be correct and apologies were later offered. In a lengthy article, Kessler also revealed the Bush administration's internal decision-making that led to the Iraq war. He traveled with three different Secretaries of State – Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice and Hillary Clinton – and for several years wrote a blog about his experiences on those trips. An article he wrote on apparent tensions between Rice and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld during a 2006 trip to Iraq was later denounced by Rumsfeld as "just fairly typical Washington Post stuff."
Kessler joined The Washington Post in 1998 as the national business editor and later served as economic policy reporter. Kessler also was a reporter with Newsday for eleven years, covering the White House, politics, the United States Congress, airline safety and Wall Street. His investigative articles on airline safety led to the indictments of airline executives and federal officials for fraud, prompted congressional hearings into safety issues and spurred the federal government to impose new safety rules for DC-9 jets and begin regular inspections of foreign airlines. He won the Premier Award from the Aviation Space Writers Association and the investigative reporting award from the Society of the Silurians.
In his Washington Post "Fact Checker" blog, Kessler rates statements by politicians, usually on a range of one to four Pinocchios—with one Pinocchio for minor shading of the facts and four Pinocchios for outright lies. If the statement is truthful, the person will get a rare “Geppetto.” Kessler has a new blog post at least five times a week; one column appears every week in the Sunday print edition of The Washington Post.
Kessler is considered one of the pioneers in political fact checking, a movement that inspired about 100 fact-checking organizations in nearly 40 countries, according to a tally by the Duke Reporters’ Lab. He documented the growth of fact checking around the world in an article for Foreign Affairs magazine, written after training journalists in Morocco.
Kessler gave Four Pinocchios to Mitt Romney for claiming President Obama went on an “apology tour” overseas, but he also has regularly given as many as Four Pinocchios to Democrats for attacks on the House Republican plan for Medicare.
A columnist for the Wall Street Journal attacked the whole idea of awarding Pinocchios as akin to movie-reviewing, saying “the ‘fact check’ is opinion journalism or criticism, masquerading as straight news. The conservative Power Line political blog devoted three articles to critiquing one of Kessler’s articles, calling him a “liberal reporter,” and asserting that “these ‘fact-checkers’ nearly always turn out to be liberal apologists who don a false mantle of objectivity in order to advance the cause of the Democratic Party.” Kessler’s awarding of Four Pinocchios to GOP presidential candidate Herman Cain for comments he made on Margaret Sanger and the founding of Planned Parenthood was also criticized by opponents of abortion. Yet Power Line also said that Kessler's extensive review of Democratic charges that Romney was a "flip-flopper" turned out to be "admirably fair-minded."
The liberal blog Talking Points Memo took Kessler to task for giving Four Pinocchios to a Democratic web petition on Medicare, saying the errors he allegedly made “were not just small misses, but big belly flop misses.” The Obama White House issued a statement titled “Fact Checking the Fact Checker” after Kessler gave Obama Three Pinocchios for statements he made on the auto industry bailout. The Democratic National Committee released a statement denouncing “Kessler’s hyperbolic, over the top fact check of the DNC’s assertion that Mitt Romney supports private Social Security accounts.”
In 2013, Glenn Kessler launched an iOS app, titled GlennKessler for iOS, for his column on the App Store. The app was created by his son, Hugo Kessler. It contained his newest articles and general biographical information. The app was updated with a new design for iOS 7 in the fall of 2013. In 2014, he released a redesigned version of the app for the iPad and added a Pinocchio Game based on his column and a multitude of video interviews.
In November 2014, after Rudy Giuliani said 93% of black murder victims were murdered by other blacks, the Washington Post said his statement was accurate, but then they gave it two Pinocchios anyway.
The National Association for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE) in 2015 awarded Kessler its Media Literate Media award, presented every two years, for his work on "The Fact Checker." The honor "recognizes people, programs, initiatives, or organizations in mainstream media that have raised the visibility of media literacy education or media literacy."
In 2015, Kessler exposed a series of false and misleading statistics about sex trafficking, which led politicians and advocacy groups to stop making those claims.
During the 2016 presidential campaign, the comic strip Doonesbury highlighted the vast disparity in Pinocchios given to Donald Trump versus Clinton. Kessler also appeared in a segment of The Daily Show about fact-checking Trump. “In terms of fact checking, Hillary Clinton is like playing chess with a real pro," he told Jordan Klepper. "Fact-checking Donald Trump is like playing checkers, with somebody who’s not very good at it. It’s pretty boring. His facts are so easily disproved there’s no joy in hunt.”
Kessler lives in McLean, Virginia, with his wife, Cynthia Rich. They have three children: Andre, Hugo, and Mara Kessler.
Kessler is a great-grandson of Jean Baptiste August Kessler, who was largely responsible for the growth and development of the Royal Dutch Shell (Shell Oil Company) and a grandson of Geldolph Adriaan Kessler, who helped create the Dutch steel industry. He was born in Cincinnati, where his father, Adriaan Kessler, was an executive at Procter & Gamble, and he attended high school there and in Lexington, Kentucky. Kessler's mother, Else Bolotin, was a psychologist who in Lexington "helped women in that era of feminist awakening confront a society dominated by men."
In an interview with Brian Lamb broadcast on C-SPAN, Kessler said he had decided he wanted to be journalist when he was only in fifth grade, after he created a neighborhood newspaper. "Even though it was a newsletter for only a few blocks in the neighborhood, I grandly called it the 'Cincinnati Fact,'" he said.