Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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May 19, 2010

OMITTING THE EXCULPATORY PART.... Clearly, the most damaging part of yesterday's New York Times report on Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal (D) was one particular sentence he uttered more than two years ago. Speaking an event honoring veterans, Blumenthal said, "We have learned something important since the days that I served in Vietnam."

That's false -- Blumenthal served during the Vietnam era, but was not deployed -- and he concedes that he misspoke at that event. There's no available evidence that Blumenthal repeated that false claim anywhere else, but there's nevertheless a video of the mistaken remarks.

The Associated Press, to its credit, took a closer look at that video, and found some relevant details.

The crisis erupted when The New York Times reported that Blumenthal had repeatedly distorted his military service. The story included quotations and a video of Blumenthal saying at a 2008 event that he had "served in Vietnam." The newspaper also said Blumenthal intimated more than once that he was a victim of the abuse heaped on Vietnam veterans upon their return home.

A longer version of the video posted by a Republican opponent also shows Blumenthal at the beginning of his speech correctly characterizing his service by saying that he "served in the military, during the Vietnam era."

That seems like a pretty important detail that the NYT didn't include in its report. In fact, if Blumenthal were trying to deliberately deceive the public, he wouldn't have told the truth and accurately characterized his service in the exact same speech in which Blumenthal apparently misspoke.

It's reasonable, then, to wonder why the Times' report included the damaging mistake, but not the exculpatory part of the speech. It's possible the NYT was relying on the opposition research given to the paper by Linda McMahon's Republican campaign, and the campaign only presented the part of the speech it wants the reporters to see.

Jamison Foser added, "Either way, the Times should explain why it chose to omit Blumenthal's correct characterization of his service."

And in the electoral context, it's also much easier for Blumenthal and his allies to dismiss this as an honest mistake when there's only one example of the misstatement, and he told the truth in the exact same speech.

Steve Benen 2:50 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (26)

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Comments

As I mentioned yesterday, this story is actually more damaging to the NYT, which is now in the position of serving as steno for the WWE.

Posted by: Allan Snyder on May 19, 2010 at 2:54 PM | PERMALINK

Hey NYT, source check much?

Is anyone losing their job over this?

Just before I gave up reading the NYT because of it's pro-Bush/Cheney/War hackery, their omnabudsman and editor promised readers a thurough review of the reporting mistakes that lead to their uncritical cheerleading of the Iraq War. I see now, that was bullshit.

Blumenthal should file a multi-million dollar defamation suit against the NYT. It looks like the NYT has got some splainin' to do.

Posted by: Winkandanod on May 19, 2010 at 2:58 PM | PERMALINK

Which is more likely:

--A reporter woke up one day and decided to revisit Blumenthal's speeches;

--A reporter received a tip from a outside source, complete with an edited transcript.

After sussing that, what's more reasonable:

--The reporter published quotes from the supplied transcript without bothering to check the entire speech;

--The reporter did obtain the entire speech and then purposely ignored the exculpatory material.

My conclusion is, the reporter was lazy and got dinged.

Posted by: Doug Bostrom on May 19, 2010 at 3:02 PM | PERMALINK

Joseph Ellis did the same thing: lied about being in Vietnam. Just because he is a Democrat should not be motivation to look for excuses. One knows if one had been in Vietnam, or not. Period.

Posted by: shoebeacon on May 19, 2010 at 3:12 PM | PERMALINK

Today's NY Times story on Blumenthal is also very strange, consisting of (1) Chris Shays saying Blumenthal was increasingly prone to suggest he had served IN Vietnam (but providing no specifics, just Shays' general impression), (2) a military historian engaging in psychobabble about 'anecdotal evidence' that such an exagerration of military service is common among those who wish they had been in Vietnam, and (3) stories about two CT residents who received personal help from Blumenthal in fast-forwarding longstanding veterans' benefits claims. If you read the whole thing Blumenthal comes across as a very kind and honorable guy, even according to Shays (who is after all a Republican and would, one assumes, not be disappointed if Blumenthal is defeated). Just seems very strange to me to base a page one storiy on Shays' memories, rather than doing some more digging of their own to see how often Blumenthal actually implied that he has served in country, vs. those times when he clealy stated he did not. After watching the newsconference video and new information out today I'm convinced Blumenthal will get by, though after a few more difficult days/weeks. Let's see the polls once he is compared directly with McMahon, and after they debate.

Posted by: Bill on May 19, 2010 at 3:16 PM | PERMALINK

Perplexingly, in addition to the reporter who was bylined, the original story identifies no less than three reporters at the end who "contributed reporting" to the story.

WTF did it take four reporters to do stenography on McMahon's oppo research?

With that many people on the job, it's hard not to wonder whether this story got butchered and slanted by an editor more eager to show those mean conservative kids that the NYT is not either a liberal biased paper.

Unless, of course, they were just assigned to try to find enough additional sources to provide the necessary New York Times v. Sullivan defamation ass-coverage.

Posted by: Another Steve on May 19, 2010 at 3:22 PM | PERMALINK

My guess is that Blumenthal won't push the "it was only one slip of the tongue" line because he knows that people are lying in wait with other examples to spring on him. He will walk right into their trap if there is even one other provable example of him "misspeaking" on the subject.

Posted by: skeptic on May 19, 2010 at 3:24 PM | PERMALINK

WTF did it take four reporters to do stenography on McMahon's oppo research? -- Another Steve, @15:22

Perhaps it's like the explanation of why the Polish cops used to patrol in threes -- one who could read, one who could write and one to keep an eye on the damned intellectuals?

Posted by: exlibra on May 19, 2010 at 3:32 PM | PERMALINK

Blumenthal got five deferments and then "enlisted" in a reserve unit. I'm sorry, but as someone who spent a year in a 105-mm howitzer unit in Vietnam, being in a reserve unit is not "serving in the Vietnam era." Blumenthal was not on active duty anywhere. He no more "served" than Dan Quayle or George Bush.

Posted by: Alan Vanneman on May 19, 2010 at 3:34 PM | PERMALINK

The piece was a shameless hatchet job. My (least) favorite part of the "article" was the nonsense about the school he attended as a youngster, where he excelled and also learned to "ingratiate himself with powerful people." I mean, seriously, is this reporting or editorializing? Citation, please?
The NYT deserves to fail. I canceled my subscription.

Posted by: Govt Skeptic on May 19, 2010 at 3:49 PM | PERMALINK

The rest of the video from 2 years ago shows R. Blumenthal stating he will ensure veterans will get what is deserved. R. Blumenthal has done that. Our vets need to be given the medical care and coverage for medical problems without question. Our vets do not deserve to have to fight American Bureaucracy for what they are entitled to after fighting for America. R. Blumenthal embodies that belief. He is good for America and Americans.

Posted by: mlJohnston on May 19, 2010 at 3:57 PM | PERMALINK

The Times reporter gave one of the worst interviews that I have ever heard on NPR's All Things Considered yesterday. I picked it up mid-story and at first did not know who he was or what he was talking about, but I was struck by the way he sounded either very unsure of himself or very incompetent, perhaps both. If anyone can dig it up, it's worth listening to.

Posted by: rleith on May 19, 2010 at 4:06 PM | PERMALINK

Dan Rather, paging Dan Rather.

As I recall Dan Rather lost his career when he bit on some planted evidence. The story sounded truthy and it probably was the truth, but Rather bought faked evidence without checking closely enough.

Has anybody ask the NYT team if they did anything more than report the story the opposition had provided them. Maybe they should face some consequence for their hatchetjob.

Posted by: Ron Byers on May 19, 2010 at 4:10 PM | PERMALINK

Alan,
With all due respect, maybe you should consult a dictionary.

And Steve, where is your apology for jumping to conclusions based on the NYT article which was pretty clear that it was only citing one incident two years ago, and once 7 years ago? If it was truly a recurring theme, they would have had much more to go on.

I know, I know, all of your friends fell for it to and nobody could have anticipated . . . I mean it isn't as if the NYT has ever done this before.

Posted by: DR on May 19, 2010 at 4:11 PM | PERMALINK

Actually, the first question that popped into my head upon reading this was why Blumenthal or his staff didn't think to check the speech and point out his initial statement that was correct.

Surely, had he done so at his press conference, the entire supposed "bombshell" would have become a complete non-story!

Posted by: Kiweagle on May 19, 2010 at 4:11 PM | PERMALINK

Stating that he served during the Vietnam era earlier in the speech does not get Blumenthal off the hook. Combat veterans also served in the Vietnam era. A general statement early does not excuse a specific falsehood later. It would be like blue claiming to be green, and defending himself by saying "hey, I started by saying I was a color."

Also, the focus is on the one quote, but the original piece also quoted him speaking to a welcome home rally for CT troops, and saying “When we returned, we saw nothing like this.” When "we returned?" Where did he go?

Look, I want the Dems to hold CN, and I like Blumenthal's record and I think he would be a great senator. But we're not doing anyone favors by pretending that the guy didn't fudge his Vietnam era experience. He did. Figuring out what that means is the job now, not pretending that he's the victim of some media conspiracy.

Posted by: kalorama on May 19, 2010 at 4:14 PM | PERMALINK

I'm guessing that the NYT is defending the interests of their wealthy, Wall Street clientele, and while supposedly liberal in their editorials have given the green light to seriously reprehensible editorializing in their news stories and in their newsgathering. (One example is their repetition on today's front page that voters were 'angry' at incumbents, if they are Republicans and not far right enough, but that Democrats who beat incumbents were responding with anger to "Obama's policies." Indeed.)

The article made me furious even before I saw that it needed correction a la Benen's article above. It was so clearly malicious and hateful towards Blumenthal.

Posted by: jjm on May 19, 2010 at 4:17 PM | PERMALINK

He appears to have told the truth not just later in that speech, but elsewhere as well.

The AP article also contains this sentence: "In a televised March debate, Blumenthal stated clearly he had not actually served in Vietnam during the war when asked a question about using military force in Iran."

I wonder if there's video available of that.

Posted by: JK on May 19, 2010 at 4:21 PM | PERMALINK

"We have learned something important, since the days that I served, in Vietnam."

Posted by: pbg on May 19, 2010 at 4:27 PM | PERMALINK

"The newspaper also said Blumenthal intimated more than once that he was a victim of the abuse heaped on Vietnam veterans upon their return home."

I don't know where Blumenthal might have been returning from, but anyone wearing a uniform in an airport concourse in those days was assumed to be returning from Vietnam, even if they weren't.

Posted by: Grumpy on May 19, 2010 at 5:07 PM | PERMALINK

Never EVER trust a NYT investigative report. The Gray Lady does a lot well, but can't do investigative reports. (viz., Whitewater)

Posted by: RZ on May 19, 2010 at 7:40 PM | PERMALINK

Blumenthal clearly has a problem of his own making. He quite intentionally avoided any active duty during the Vietnam war, and now he brags about how he "served". Sorry, it doesn't work that way. You can object to the war, you can call in favors and get your deferrals, or burn your draft card for all I care, but you don't get to pretend you share the credentials of the people who actually risked their lives on foreign soil. And that's what he's been doing, through persistent omissions in his comments about that period in his life.

He wants to have it both ways, avoiding the risk of active duty while strutting around with the mantle of "service". I'm guessing it's because military service is now seen as a positive on one's political resume. To me, it shows a distinct lack of respect for the people he chose not to serve with during Vietnam.

Posted by: GP on May 19, 2010 at 10:26 PM | PERMALINK

The AP article said,

The newspaper also said Blumenthal intimated more than once that he was a victim of the abuse heaped on Vietnam veterans upon their return home.

It was not required to have actually served in Viet Nam to have had people verbally abuse a soldier.

I myself served stateside for three years during the Viet Nam era (I was in the extreme minority in not having even served overseas during that era). Several times during weekend forays into Boston my GI buddies and I were verbally abused in the Boston Commons area. We never wore uniforms when visiting Boston. We were trying our best to fit in. One only had to have a "GI" type haircut to be singled out. We were called "baby killers" usually.

Boston did not go down as one of my favorite cities. I lived in New England for a year after my discharge, and I never had any problems with abuse during that later period. Of course, by then my hair was much longer, as was the general fashion then.

.

Posted by: SteveGinIL on May 20, 2010 at 2:59 AM | PERMALINK

Blumenthal is a phony soldier case closed, and is the type of person that Rush Limbaugh was referring to when he used the term "phony soldiers" in 2007 that got Media Matters and the founder of the Phony Soldier Syndrome and bafoon John Kerry in a tissy.

Posted by: Donna on May 20, 2010 at 4:31 AM | PERMALINK

A follow up piece in yesterday's paper relied on the testimony of Christopher Shays, who is hardly a disinterested party.

I think Blumenthal survives this; the deeper problem with him is that he is a finger-in-the-wind politician.

Posted by: bob h on May 20, 2010 at 6:09 AM | PERMALINK

I find myself coming to your blog more and more often to the point where my visits are almost daily now!

Posted by: Meabeve on November 29, 2010 at 1:53 AM | PERMALINK




 

 

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