Les Kinsolving, WND’s correspondent at the White House and the second-most senior reporter on the beat, has been called a “relentless national treasure” after a recent confrontation in which he left White House press secretary Jay Carney grasping for words.
Tom Blumer wrote on Newsbusters.org that Connie Lawn, the longest-serving White House reporter, had asked Carney, “What city does this administration consider to be the capital of Israel – Jerusalem or Tel Aviv?”
It should have been an easy answer, as a law adopted by Congress in 1995 states that the U.S. recognizes Jerusalem. But Carney dodged, jumped and posed in order to avoid stating that Jerusalem is the capital.
The White House even included a little asterisk with the transcript of the exchange to explain “The status of Jerusalem is an issue that should be resolved in final status negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians.”
But Kinsolving earned the accolades by jumping in to back up Lawn’s questioning:
The exchange last week went like this:
CARNEY: Yes, Connie.
Q. What city does this administration consider to be the capital of Israel – Jerusalem or Tel Aviv?
CARNEY: I haven’t had that question in a while. Our position has not changed, Connie.
Q. What is the position? What’s the capital?
CARNEY: You know our position.
Q. I don’t.
Q. (Kinsolving joins.) No, no, she doesn’t know. She doesn’t know. That’s why she asked.
CARNEY: She does know –
Q. I don’t.
Q. (Kinsolving) She does not know. She just said she doesn’t know. I don’t know.
CARNEY: We have long – Les, I call on Christi. Go ahead.
Q. Back on the question of gun violence. Why did the president wait? What’s the reason for the venue and the timing of those remarks?
CARNEY: The remarks last night? Well, it was a very appropriate venue – it was the Urban League Conference. He talked about a number of issues, especially the economy, as well as the problem of violence in urban communities.
Q. But those were his most extensive and impassioned remarks, and I just wondered if he’s planning to do that in a more noticeable venue at a more noticeable time.
CARNEY:You mean a speech in front of a vast audience with television cameras is not more noticeable?
Q. Late at night, it was five days later –
CARNEY: Well, we didn’t schedule – we didn’t organize the conference. It was a very appropriate place to have that conversation.
Q. (Kinsolving) Tel Aviv or Jerusalem?
CARNEY: You know the answer.
Q. (Kinsolving) No, I don’t know the answer. We don’t know the answer. Could you just give us an answer? What do you recognize – what does –
CARNEY: Our position hasn’t changed, Lester.
Blumer called it “one of the most embarrassing yet telling exchanges (using the term loosely, as will be seen) in the history of presidential press secretaries…” He referenced the Jerusalem question.
“Carney wouldn’t answer it, and accused Lawn and relentless national treasure Les Kinsolving of WND.com of asking about something they already knew. Carney’s contemptible behavior has been virtually ignored by the establishment press.”
He explained that the issue of Israel’s capital was addressed when Congress adopted the Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995 that make it U.S. law to recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.”
Blumer noted that it was revealing that the U.S. was not complying with the law.
“Connie Lawn’s question brought this noncompliance out into the open. We know what the answer should have been, and we now know what should have been the answer isn’t the answer – and worse.”
But the exchange with Carney is far from the most volatile that Kinsolving has experienced as he’s dealt with 13 different presidential press secretaries since he began covering the Nixon administration.
And if Carney thinks this is as hard as it can get, he might want to review history.
After all, it was Kinsolving who brazenly asked Carney’s predecessor, Robert Gibbs, about Obama’s birth certificate and eligibility to be president.
“Are you looking for the president’s birth certificate,” Gibbs asked incredulously. “Lester, this question in many ways continues to astound me. The state of Hawaii provided a copy with the seal of the president’s birth. I know there are apparently at least 400,000 people … that continue to doubt the existence of and the certification by the state of Hawaii’s birth there, but it’s on the Internet because we put it on the Internet for each of those 400,000 to download. I certainly hope by the fourth year of our administration that we’ll have dealt with this burgeoning birth controversy.”
In point of fact, the “certificate” to which Gibbs referred was a “Certification of Live Birth” that later was replaced by a computer-generated image of a long-form birth certificate from Hawaii that was released by the White House. That subsequent document now has been determined by a team of investigators working for Sheriff Joe Arpaio to be a fraud.
The issue has reappeared several other times since.
Kinsolving also pitched a question on polygamy to Carney just this week.
Carney declined to recognize Kinsolving, but Kinsolving inserted a question into the dialogue anyway, much as reporters shout questions to politicians when they are within earshot.
“How does the president stand on polygamy?” Kinsolving asked as Carney was closing his remarks about the”targeted killings policy” Obama uses as part of his national security effort.
Carney’s response was to call on another reporter.
“How does he stand on polygamy? Could you answer that question,” came the followup from Kinsolving.
Carney repeated the other reporter’s name: “Kristen.”
“So you want to dodge that issue,” was the comment that followed, according to the White House transcript of the exchange.
Kinsolving had wanted to follow up with a question about Time magazine’s extensive current article about polygamy, titled “I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do” and featuring the story of Alina, Valeria and Vicki, the “three wives of Joe Darger” in Utah.
Kinsolving, who has been profiled in Gadfly: The Life and Times of Les Kinsolving White House Watchdog,” written by his daughter Kathleen Kinsolving, said Carney is not the worst presidential press secretary he’s questioned.
But “never of all the 13 press secretaries I’ve covered have I had anyone who evaded questions as much as he has,” Kinsolving told WND. He said on the issue with Lawn’s question, “He just wanted to evade it. He kept dodging … and that’s when I got angry.
“She’s a dear friend of might, the most senior, historical reporter of all the members of the White House press, first in seniority,” he said.
He also recalled, from his archives, what other press secretaries have said about him, listing the responses from:
- Ron Ziegler, under Richard Nixon, when asked by the New York Daily News about Kinsolving’s question as to why under Nixon White House worship services were halted and Nixon stopped attending church, “A worship service may be scheduled just to keep Kinsolving off balance.”
- Ron Nessen, under Gerald Ford, “Kinsolving is abrasive. But it’s been my experience that he has raised questions before other members of the White Hosue press corps even realized their significance.”
- Jody Powell, under Jimmy Carter, “In south Georgia, we’ve got gnats. At the White House we’ve got Les Kinsolving.”
- Larry Speakes, under Ronald Reagan, “The president once remarked, ‘My finger must be crooked. Every time I point at someone Les Kinsolving starts to ask a question.’”
- Marlin Fitzwater, under President George H.W. Bush, “Every broadcast of his sounds like the Starr report… I am a member of a special class: presidential press secretaries who can regale their audiences with Les Kinsolving stories. Les is an extra hard worker who has become almost a legend in D.C. circles.”
- Mike McCurry, under Bill Clinton: “Mr. Kinsolving’s commentary tends to provoke the strongest reaction in these quarters. They are uniformly bizarre, wild, off-the-wall, and utterly entertaining. We would rather hear him than not hear him, even if it’s only for the grand theater of it all.”
- Joe Lockhart, under Bill Clinton, “Listen Lester, you find it so easy to cross the line. I’m going to let you make your statements, but I don’t have to respond to them.”
ABC’s Sam Donaldson even told him, “Sometimes you press too hard; and sometimes you push the envelope. But you often ask questions we’re dying to ask.”
Matt Drudge called Kinsolving “the pit bull of the White House press corp.”
Kinsolving has been broadcasting since 1986 on stations in San Francisco, Philadelphia, Washington and New York, and was named to the Top 100 talk shows in the nation from 1997 to 2001.
As a newspaper writer and columnist, he twice was nominated for a Pulitzer prize for criticism or commentary, in 1972 and 1972.
He and reporter Carolyn Pickering of the Indianapolis Star in 1972 broke the first major stories on the Peoples Temple of the Rev. Jim Jones, who had Kinsolving as No. 2 on his hit list.
Jones later orchestrated the mass murder of more than 900 of his followers in Jonestown, Guyana.
Kinsolving’s newspaper column at one point was syndicated in more than 250 outlets.
He’s questioned every White House since before Richard Nixon was caught in the complications of Watergate, at one point asking Nixon, “Mr. President, will your crime commission investigate Bob Woodward’s televised announcement that at the Washington Post there are 40 hardened users of cocaine, or are you inclined to slough that off because that explains a lot of what goes into the Washington Post?”
Reagan told Kinsolving, “You’re tempting me almost beyond my strength.”
Kinsolving also has had careers as a minister, an actor and chaplain California’s corrections system.
He plans to cover both Democrat and GOP nominating conventions this year, events that he’s attended since 1972.
He recalls questioning George McGovern, Geraldine Ferraro and others.
Watch Kinsolving try to pin down Carney on the issue of Jerusalem: