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Remembering Les Kinsolving: The 'Peck's Blab Boy' of the White House Press Corps

les kinsolving in the white house briefing room
Reporter Lester Kinsolving is pictured in the White House Press Briefing Room before the daily press briefing in Washington, Monday, June 21, 2010. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

Sunday, 16 December 2018 09:41 AM Current | Bio | Archive

When Les Kinsolving died on December 4 — twelve days before what would have been his 91st birthday and 65th wedding anniversary — memories and tributes were what one would have expected about the iconoclastic talk radio host and White House correspondent. 

“No sacred cows went unmilked [sic] with Les,” Sean Casey, Kinsolving’s fellow talk show host on Baltimore’s WCBM-AM Radio.  Former White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer wrote that the former Episcopal priest “added his own ring to the three-ring circus called the White House Briefing Room.”

As Kinsolving freely asked questions at the White House on topics ranging from the Middle East to sex and immorality, Fleischer remembered how cable stations “typically cut away from the live briefing, recognizing that his inquiries had to be accompanied by a parental warning label.”

This reporter had his favorite recollection of Les Kinsolving, well, being Les.  At one intense press briefing during the Bush-43 presidency, when questions were focused exclusively on whether the US oversaw torture of prisoners at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, Kinsolving asked the President’s spokesman “why, in a Muslim country, would a U.S.-run prison have a woman as its commander?” (A reference to General Janis Leigh Karpinski, who commanded Abu Ghraib). 

The groans among reporters and White House staff were loud and universal.

Charles Lester Kinsolving was truly, to use columnist Walter Winchell’s self-characterization, the “Peck’s Blab Boy” of the White House briefings.  But there was more to him — a lot more.

The son and grandson of Episcopal bishops, Kinsolving seemed destined to follow their clerical path.  But he had some detours for his career. 

Trained in swimming at West Point by the legendary coach Marty Maher (portrayed by Tyrone Power in the film “The Long Gray Line”), the young Kinsolving played football at Penn State and loved to recall when he was on the field against his alma mater’s arch-rival Princeton.

He served in the U.S. Army and, following family tradition, was ordained an Episcopal priest. 

As a pastor in Washington State’s Pasco County in the 1950’s, Kinsolving used the young forum of television to spread his sermons beyond the pulpit.  On Sunday nights, KTRX-TV featured Rev. Kinsolving’s sermons, accompanied by the Church of Our Savior Senior Choir and sponsored by Murphy Motors.  The program was entitled “Cross and Crisis.”

Controversy, later the constant companion of Kinsolving, paid its first visit on him in November 1957.  That’s when he delivered a sermon entitled “The Damnable Doctrine of Damnation,” underscoring that the image of Hell painted by the clergy was so horrific that Hitler could say “at least my torture was quick in comparison with the eternal punishment of the God you preach.” 

The resulting firestorm ignited by Kinsolving within the Episcopal Church was highlighted by a “Time” Magazine feature entitled: “Is Hell Necessary?”

Kinsolving soon became a close associate of the most controversial of all Episcopalian churchmen: Bishop James A. Pike, coadjutor bishop of California and a consequential figure in pushing his church into the “red meat” political issues of the day.  It was through Pike that Kinsolving met and later marched for civil rights with Dr. Martin Luther King.

“They now call me a ‘right-wing talk show host,’” Kinsolving recalled to me, “But when I was Jim Pike’s legislative advisor, they said I was something else.”  Conservative fans of Kinsolving were stunned to learn that their hero crusaded against the death penalty in the 1960’s and lobbied for California’s liberal abortion law that Gov. Ronald Reagan signed in 1967 (and which he later cited as one of the biggest regrets of his career).

As religion editor of the San Francisco “Examiner” in the 1970’s, Kinsolving covered services at the People’s Temple and met with its charismatic pastor, Rev. Jim Jones.  A subsequent string of articles by Kinsolving cited the faith-healing Jones purported to perform and noted that Temple ushers packed guns. 

In November, 1978, the world recoiled in horror with the news that Jones had led more than 900 followers at his new home in Guyana to mass suicide.  Kinsolving had a jolt of his own that day, as the FBI informed him that Jones kept a “hit list” of enemies he wanted murdered and Number Two list was the priest-polemicist. 

By then, Kinsolving had moved to the Washington DC area, the world of talk radio, and the White House. 

“Dad could face Rev. Jim Jones,” daughter Kathleen Kinsolving told mourners at his funeral in Vienna, Virginia, “But he could not face a microwave oven, a cellphone, or a lawnmower.” 

These kinds of personal reminiscences at Les Kinsolving’s final show made this larger-than-life figure a bit more human — and fun to remember.  To have him as a colleague was a genuine experience and to have him as a friend who always had time to talk and reminisce was a true blessing. 

John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax. For more of his reports, Go Here Now.

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When Les Kinsolving died on December 4 - twelve days before what would have been his 91st birthday and 65th wedding anniversary - memories and tributes were what one would have expected about the iconoclastic talk radio host and White House correspondent. "No sacred cows...
Sunday, 16 December 2018 09:41 AM
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