Charles Lester “Les” Kinsolving, who for years as the WND White House correspondent confronted press secretaries with questions others weren’t willing to ask, has died at the age of 90.
He also was a longtime talk-radio host on WCBM-AM in Baltimore, which announced his death Tuesday.
His death was overshadowed by the death Friday of President George H.W. Bush. But Kinsolving was a legend at the White House, with his coverage of presidents going back to Richard Nixon.
“He’ll ask anybody anything. He’s brutally honest,” fellow WCBM host Tom Marr said of Kinsolving in a profile years ago.
“From the loud red jacket to his blustery delivery,” the profile in the Baltimore Sun said, “Kinsolving guarantees a scene every time he walks into the room.”
WCBM described Kinsolving as “one of the founding fathers” of the station who left “no sacred cows … unmilked.”
“Les tackled the tough topics on the air in Baltimore until recently when his health declined and he retired. He also worked in Philadelphia and New York as well as Washington, D.C., as a talk show host. His legendary appearances on the Morton Downey show and Howard Stern will never be forgotten.”
WCBM’s Sean Casey said Kinsolving was “a true Patriot and a great American.”
“Sam Donaldson of ABC once told Les, ‘You ask the questions the rest of us won’t.’ Our thoughts and prayers go out to his wife Sylvia and the rest of his family,” Casey wrote. “Our lives were enriched by knowing him and working with him for all these years.”
He started out as an Episcopal priest, following the footsteps of his father, Episcopal Bishop Arthur B. Kinsolving, once the chaplain at West Point.
A memorial service is scheduled Dec. 14 at 1 p.m. at The Church of the Holy Comforter in Vienna, Virginia.
On the hit list of Jim Jones
Kinsolving ran a prison ministry in California and began writing a column the San Francisco Chronicle that eventually was syndicated in 250 newspapers.
He began doing radio in 1956.
Kinsolving investigated the growing cult headed by Jim Jones, who took more than 900 followers to Guyana, leading them in murder-suicide in 1978.
Kinsolving told of receiving an email from Jones’ son, Stephan Jones, thanking him for his investigation, even though much of the reporting was spiked by editors. The paper feared political and financial fallout from exposing a man who had the support of California Gov. Jerry Brown and other prominent officials.
He and reporter Carolyn Pickering of the Indianapolis Star in 1972 broke the first major stories on the Peoples Temple.
Jones had Kinsolving as No. 2 on his hit list.
Kinsolving twice was nominated for a Pulitzer prize for criticism or commentary.
The Sun recalled an occasion in which Kinsolving grilled Baltimore Mayor Kurt Schmoke.
“Mr. Mayor, St. Joseph’s Medical Center in Towson is observing ‘Take Your Child to Work Day’ today. But a Baltimore City memo that has come into our hands mentions your proclaiming ‘Take Your Daughters to Work Day 1998.’ My question is: What does the Schmoke administration have against boys?”
He once was named one of the 100 “Most Important Radio Talk Show Hosts in America” by Talkers magazine.
Kinsolving served as a columnist for WND and also attended daily White House press briefings.
Joseph Farah, CEO and founder of WND, who supervised his work for the online news service, said: “Les Kinsolving was a real gentleman – from the same generation as George H.W. Bush. When he was ignored or disrespected by White House secretaries, he didn’t sue anyone like Jim Acosta. He just privately got his feelings hurt.”
Farah said Kinsolving was “the ultimate political gadfly – and thus the name of his biography written by his doting daughter Kathleen.”
“Les was a great story teller – an underrated one too seldom called upon by his colleagues, but heard on his radio show by his loyal fans,” Farah said.
“Everyone has been talking about what a nice man George H.W. Bush was. Les was cut from the same cloth – just a gentlemen’s gentleman.”
‘Pit bull’ of the press corp
Matt Drudge of the Drudge Report called Kinsolving “the pit bull of the White House press corp.”
WND reported in 2012, as Kinsolving worked well into his 80s, how he once left White House press secretary Jay Carney grasping for words.
Tom Blumer wrote on Newsbusters.org that Connie Lawn, the only White House reporter senior to Kinsolving, 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 to avoid stating that Jerusalem is the capital.
The White House even included an 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.”
Kinsolving drew accolades by jumping in to back up Lawn:
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.
Newsbusters’ Blumer called it “one of the most embarrassing yet telling exchanges … in the history of presidential press secretaries.”
“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.”
The issue finally was resolved one year ago when President Trump ordered that the U.S. Embassy be moved to Jerusalem.
Kinsolving also once pitched a question on polygamy to Carney.
Carney declined to recognize him, but Kinsolving managed to insert himself into the briefing.
“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.
Reagan: ‘My finger must be crooked’
Comments about Kinsolving by White House press secretaries include:
- Ron Ziegler, under Richard Nixon, when asked by the New York Daily News about Kinsolving’s question as to why under the 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.”