A public edit of the Times’ public editor’s take on Richard Blumenthal
New York Times Public editor Clark Hoyt has weighed in on the paper of record’s Monday night story on Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal stating that he had served in Vietnam.
Hoyt states that “The Times was right to give [voters of Connecticut] the information.” Yet he finds the following:
Were there flaws in the story? Yes: It should have said more about how it originated; it should have provided mitigating information far higher; it should have noted that his official biography was accurate. The full video should have been posted so readers could make their own judgments.
Hoyt is right to come down on the flaws in this article, yet he is being too generous in his bottom line evaluation of the story. If you’re going to publish something that has the possibility of ending the political career of a man who has been a public servant for decades, the number of flaws in that story should be minimal. In Raymond Hernandez’s article, they were manifest.
Hoyt also employs a flawed analogy in criticizing Blumenthal:
The stakes in all this are large, and the issue is more than — as several readers argued to me — confusion over two little words: service “in” Vietnam versus service “during” Vietnam. There is a huge difference, akin to saying you had been “in” the Indianapolis 500 instead of “at” the Indianapolis 500. For many in the generation that went to Vietnam or avoided going, the question of where you were and what you did still packs a strong emotional punch.
The problem here is that Blumenthal was not framing himself as a participant in an event, but rather as a member of a group. A participant in an event leaves when it’s over. A member of a group remains a member of that group until they are either forced out of it, they quit, or they die. Thus Blumenthal’s invocations before fellow former service-members of “When we returned from Vietnam” refers to his membership in the group of the military that shared an experience – not his own fighting in combat in Vietnam. It’s just like when I might say, “When we were attacked on 9/11,” even though I myself was far from the two targets where the al-Qaida-hijacked planes eventually found themselves. It does not make me a deceived anymore than it did Blumenthal. Thus Hoyt is playing fast and loose with logic.
What’s more, Hoyt’s take on Blumenthal repeats the same canards – that the Attorney General “sometimes flatly misrepresented” the nature of his military service – without providing any new evidence to that point. To flatly misrepresent something is to willfully deceive an audience about whatever it is you’re speaking about. Yet we still lack any proof that Blumenthal intended to convince Connecticut voters that he was a war hero, especially when all the instances in which he spoke were far from the campaign trail where he now finds himself.
And the exaggeration of how Blumenthal may have ‘lied’ about his service is only growing. Lu Caldera, another Marine Corps Reserve veteran, writes in the New York Post today the following:
Blumenthal has not been honest. He’s a politician and wants to be a hero. You see continual posers wearing an award or medal that they never achieved. I think it’s a shame and even more of a shame he was a Marine. [Emphasis added]
Caldera conflates Blumthal’s erroneous statements with “wearing an award or medal” that he did not achieve. Yet Blumenthal has never claimed valor to which he was not entitled. Had he done so, we’d be talking about federal prosecutors invoking the Stolen Valor Act and taking Blumenthal to court. Instead, we have a single verified instance in which he stated that he served “in Vietnam” (Hoyt repeats another unverified example found by the Times in a story from a small Connecticut weekly written by a cub reporter).
The Times’s groundless insinuations about Blumenthal’s intentions – aggravated by Maureen Dowd this weekend calling a shrink to try to diagnose the candidate’s psychological condition – are what has created this runaway narrative of Blumenthal ‘lying’. Hoyt failed to address this question, and that’s what makes his public edit as flawed as the story he was evaluating.