I heard Dylan Ratigan earlier tonight hit back at the New York Times' shoddy job concerning Richard Blumenthal and his military record. Ratigan cited NPR and the Columbia Review of Journalism, which both criticized the Times' coverage. So, I looked up what was written in both and this is what I found.
First, NPR's David Folkenflik wrote an article titled "Media Also 'Misspoke' On Blumenthal's War Record" in which he states that NPR did "[a]n extensive search of the news database Nexis" to investigate journalistic coverage of Blumenthal's career. How novel - a news source doing research. So, what did Folkenflik find?
There are not many serious treatments of Blumenthal's early life by the press. But in interviews for those that were written — with, for example, The Washington Post and The Hartford Courant — Blumenthal appears to have invariably spoken precisely and accurately about the nature of his military service. He has done the same in official resumes. In a debate during the Senate primary earlier this year, Blumenthal explicitly specified he had not served in Vietnam when referring to his stint in the Marine Reserve.
This finding needs to be repeated: Blumenthal invariably "explicitly specified he had not served in Vietnam when referring to his stint in the Marine Reserve." This contradicts what has been repeatedly spewed by such lazy pundits as Chris Matthews and Joe Scarborough, both from supposedly liberal MSNBC.
Folkenflik also did another novel piece of journalistic investigation: he contacted a journalist, Mark Pazniokas, who formerly worked for one of Connecticut's most preeminent newspapers, The Hartford Courant, to find out whether in fact Blumenthal had a record of repeatedly misrepresenting his military record. Pazniokas said, "Every time he talked about his military record, he was quite clear that he had been a military reservist and never came close to suggesting he was in Vietnam."
One of the sticking points self-righteous critics like Matthews and Scarborough constantly repeat is the fact that numerous articles wrongly state that Blumenthal served in Vietnam rather than during the Vietnam. In fact, on Thursday morning, Scarborough either lied about or exaggerated the number of newspaper accounts by yelling about "hundreds!" of articles portraying Blumenthal as a veteran who served in Vietnam. (Note to Scarborough: when you are discussing a matter of politicians exaggerating something, you would have more credibility if you did not do the same.) Anyway, Folkenflik actually once again did some newfangled journalism by tracking down when Connecticut papers misstated his service. He found the first such article was published in May 2003 by the The Connecticut Post. Folkenflik writes that several journalists said they were surprised that Blumenthal did not correct their accounts but he could not find one journalist who had been misled by Blumenthal himself.
Perhaps one of the most important pieces of real journalism Folkenflik undertook was to track down the origin of the original NYT article's insistence that Blumenthal lied about being the captain of the Harvard swim team. The reason this is important is the fact that this supposed lie has been used as evidence by both MSNBC and Fox News that Blumenthal is a serial exaggerator and pathological liar. Turns out this misstatement appeared in a Slate magazine article from September 2000 written by David Plotz, who now states:
"It's definitely not from him telling me that he was captain of the swim team, nor his people," says Plotz, now the top editor of Slate. Plotz calls the correction embarrassing, but said he relied on previous media coverage. "This was a one-off piece. It's not primary source reporting."
This "fact" was later repeated in 2004 Hartford Courant article, the author of which no longer has the interview tapes to verify whether Blumenthal himself had said he was thew captain of the swim team but she also states she had read Plotz's Slate article.
As I read Folkenflik's article, I found a knot develop in my stomach. Blumenthal's supposed exaggerations were themselves exaggerated and I fear those doing the exaggerating will probably not be held accountable. Meanwhile, Blumenthal's exemplary career may be in jeopardy.
Then I read Clint Hendler's piece in the Columbia Review of Journalism, in which the author states:
[O]ne section of the Times’s reporting emphasizes that the local press corps often mischaracterized the record, stating that Blumenthal had served in-country, in Vietnam. But the piece did not mention the times that the Connecticut press corps described his duty precisely by explicitly mentioning that he was in a reserve unit, or more narrowly but still technically accurately by noting that he was an ex-Marine.
Again, Hendler points out how the original Time's article was too hasty in its need to do Linda McMahon's dirty work to even do further research about the history of reporting by Connecticut newspapers. Hendler goes further by analyzing how important, thorough journalism was missing from that first Times article:
The press record on Blumenthal’s service is messy.. perhaps even messier than the candidate’s. That confused reporting doesn’t reflect well on the reporters and editors who created it, nor on the politician and handlers who took insufficient effort (if any) to set it straight.
But, as Folkenflik’s article shows, the Times failed to present valuable context that would help voters weigh a potential candidacy-ending charge.
Instead, what we are all left with is shoddy journalism similar to that which was conducted against Al Gore in 2000, when lazy journalists became stenographers for the Bush/Cheney/Rove campaign's talking points that Gore was a serial and pathological liar and exaggerator.
Update [2010-5-22 8:15:36 by John Campanelli]:: Unfortunately, Bill Maher has just condemned Blumenthal on Real Time. You would think he would know better, but he probably relied on Matthews, Scarborough, et al for his info. Just goes to show how imperative it is for us to be vigilant about searching out for the truth before condemning people.