Official White House photo
Former Bush speechwriter Marc Thiessen, now a Washington Post columnist, has been as forceful as anyone in attacking President Obama for "skipping" intelligence briefings related to national security. It's not true, but Thiessen isn't giving up easy.
To recap for those who haven't heard about this, Obama receives a detailed, written intelligence briefing literally every day, containing pressing national security information. Most of the time, Obama also receives an in-person briefing in the White House, though many of the president's national security meetings are never put on his public schedule.
Thiessen, relying on a conservative group's research on these schedules, insists Obama should have in-person briefings, but has been "skipping" them. In reality, there are no meetings to skip -- whereas Bush relied on in-person briefings designed so he wouldn't have to read as much, Obama, like many presidents before him, prefers to read the briefings, posing questions afterwards.
The facts haven't swayed the Post columnist at all. In fact, Thiessen doesn't care that Obama's practices are identical to previous presidents' because 9/11, 9/11, 9/11.
Comparing lax presidential briefing habits before and after 9/11 is like comparing lax presidential security habits before and after the Kennedy assassination. After terrorists killed 3,000 people in our midst, everything changed -- and the president's daily intelligence meeting took on dramatically increased importance. President Bush made it a priority to sit down with his senior intelligence advisers every day to discuss overnight intelligence on threats to the country. President Obama has not.
Not to put too fine a point on this, but George W. Bush made it a priority to sit down with his senior intelligence advisers because he didn't like to read, and preferred to have officials tell him out loud what the president didn't want to see on paper. Obama is getting detailed briefings every day on threats to the country, but he prefers to get the information the way Reagan and Clinton did.
Why does Thiessen find this important? And why, purely by coincidence, is his former White House colleague, Karl Rove, using a super PAC to make the same argument in attack ads? Can't Republicans focus on real Obama foreign policy missteps and stop relying on nonsense?
There's no reason for Thiessen to keep digging, but he can't seem to help himself. He even seems to be annoying his coworkers.
The Post's Glenn Kessler fact-checked Thiessen's original criticism of Obama, found it lacking, and followed up today, making his colleague look even worse.
Marc Thiessen has posted a response to this column, in which he argues that practices before the September 11 attacks should not be considered. It is an interesting, if not very factual argument. (Reagan, for instance, suffered the loss of 241 servicemen in Beirut as a result of a terror act.) We also find it curious that he now discloses the study was done at his request, by his business partner, and that he now describes the Government Accountability Institute as “nonpartisan” whereas in his earlier column he had called it a “conservative investigative research organization.”
Upon reflection, we now realize that the GAI report has a bit of an inconsistency problem. Thiessen had earlier claimed Bush had oral intel briefings six days a week--though no actual schedule is available to confirm that--so at the very least GAI should have subtracted one a day week from Obama’s numbers to make a valid comparison. (The White House schedule does not list briefings on weekends but Peter Schweizer, president of GAI and Thiessen’s business partner, says the study also relied on Politico’s White House calendar, which does list some weekend meetings. Schweizer says the report is “about Obama and his scehdule.”)
We had nearly given this data Four Pinocchios and in restrospect we were perhaps too generous with Three.
And finally, it's also worth remembering that Thiessen's entire line of attack only helps remind us that George W. Bush received a series of dramatic briefings about a pending al Qaeda strike in 2001, which he neglected to take seriously.
Thiessen really should have quit while he was behind.