Accuracy in Media

The question hanging over the strange case of Richard Blumenthal, who lied about his military service, is whose “misstatements” are more egregious? Those of Blumenthal or the media? And now that the scandal is on the public record, why have liberal news personalities such as Katie Couric been so determined to play down the serious nature of his effort to deceive the voters of Connecticut?

Blumenthal, the Connecticut Attorney General, is either a serial liar or has a mental disorder that frequently makes him incapable of telling the truth. Does somebody like this deserve to be a Senate candidate and possibly serve in the U.S. Senate?

What we have seen in the Blumenthal situation is a case in which the New York Times, for whatever reason, broke the story, but then joined the rest of the media in failing to emphasize the serious nature of his transgressions. It was almost as if the Times was hoping that Blumenthal would have stepped down from the race before he won the Senate Democratic nomination in Connecticut. That would have been the ethical thing for Blumenthal to do.

Blumenthal, however, decided to tough it out, with the support of media outlets claiming that he did not lie but had only been guilty of making minor misstatements. He got away with this because many in the media had been guilty of failing to uncover his lies and hold him accountable for them.

The record is clear. On numerous occasions, the Connecticut Attorney General said specifically that he served in Vietnam or failed to correct news reports that said he did. And on other occasions, sometimes in the same remarks, he said that he served during the Vietnam War, or was specific that he didn’t serve in Vietnam. He was deliberately leaving the impression that he was a Vietnam War veteran who had served in combat. He was trying to create the impression that he was something he was not.

The Record

This article from the New York Times, which led the way in covering this scandal, cites four examples of clear statements by Blumenthal that clearly stated or were meant to suggest he was in Vietnam:

“In Vietnam we had to endure taunts and insults, and no one said, ‘Welcome home.’ I say welcome home.”

“We have learned something important since the days that I served in Vietnam.”

“When we returned, we saw nothing like this. Let us do better by this generation of men and women.”

“I wore the uniform in Vietnam and many came back to all kinds of disrespect. Whatever we think of war, we owe the men and women of the armed forces our unconditional support.”

Does it really matter that at other times he told the truth? The times that he made these statements, he was clearly lying or else he is seriously delusional.  Either way, this is shocking behavior.

Oliver North credits Blumenthal for having earned the right to wear the Marine uniform, but says that the scandal is one of lying and not issuing misstatements.

He explains, “Mr. Blumenthal’s lies about his service aren’t simply a problem of ‘misspeaking’ as he now claims or just a matter of padding his résumé. What he has been doing through much of his public career is to walk on the backs of those who really did serve in Vietnam—and falsely build affinity with those who serve today.”

North has been a Senate Republican candidate from Virginia and can be expected to see the scandal in a partisan way. But he is also a decorated Marine and Vietnam War veteran with something valid and meaningful to say about it. He speaks for many veterans.

In addition to Blumenthal’s record of lying, however, there is the question of how the media over the years failed to uncover his lies.

Credit goes to David Folkenflik of National Public Radio for a story on how the media have inadequately covered Blumenthal’s statements. He found examples such as the Connecticut Post at times saying he did serve, while other times saying he didn’t. As Folkenflik states, “Reporters are paid to make distinctions—such as the one between ‘Vietnam-era veteran’ and ‘Vietnam War veteran.’ It’s hard to understand why reporters would not check their own archives and either reconcile or explore the seeming contradictions.”

So the media may deserve just as much blame—perhaps more—for distorting the truth. They failed to get the story straight themselves.

Left-wingers Try to Save Blumenthal

Although it started the ball rolling on this scandal, The New York Times headline over its Blumenthal story was rather understated. It said, “Candidate’s Words on Vietnam Service Differ From History.” Another more accurate way to say it might have been, “Candidate Caught Lying About his Service Record.”

Nevertheless, the story got a lot of flak from the far-left blogs like Media Matters and Daily Kos, which asserted that the Times selectively linked to video clips, showing them out of context, and failed to mention the alleged role of one of Blumenthal’s potential Republican rivals in breaking the story.

In fact, the Times denies the accusations that its source was Linda McMahon, a Republican Senate candidate in the race against Blumenthal. It seems clear that her campaign pointed to one of the incriminating videotapes but that the Times got similar material from other sources as well. Plus, Public Editor Clark Hoyt points out that the bottom line is this: “In the end, through all the swirling sand the article has kicked up, a clear set of facts remains uncontested: On more than one occasion, Blumenthal said he had served in Vietnam when he had not.” Hoyt quotes executive editor Bill Keller as saying, “The idea that the story originated or was sold to us by the McMahon campaign is just plain false.”

Even if McMahon was the one and only source, so what? The story checked out. Blumenthal was caught lying. Media Matters and the Daily Kos are partisan outlets for the left-wing of the Democratic Party and have a vested interest in playing down Democratic sins.

The Democrats in Connecticut made it clear that they are not offended enough to allow this to disqualify Blumenthal as a Senate candidate. It is their right to nominate a liar for Senate. But what about the media coverage of this scandal?

Excusing Blumenthal’s Lies

Numerous reports that we have seen claim that Blumenthal said that he “acknowledged” or “admitted” that he had “misspoken” or “exaggerated.” All of those words have no business being in these stories. How could he not acknowledge or admit it? Could he deny that he said he has served in Vietnam? Of course not. That would have flatly contradicted video of him claiming to have served in Vietnam. He was caught in a series of lies and he and the media knew it.

Did he really misspeak or misstate or exaggerate? To misspeak you might say that someone said he had gone to Missouri when in fact he went to Mississippi. But to put yourself in a foreign country a half a world away, in which your country was at war, while in fact you never left your country during that war, is a lie and a lie only. It cannot be considered a mere misstatement.

When Katie Couric of CBS News said that Blumenthal “admitted he had misspoken when he claimed that as a young Marine he had served in Vietnam,” this was in reality an effort to minimize what he had done.

“Admitted he had misspoken?” A simple Google search reveals that many reports included that word construction.

In fact, videos had exposed him as a liar.

Would the claim of “exaggeration” suffice? Mark Murray, NBC News Deputy Political Director, said on May 24 that Blumenthal emailed an apology to the Hartford Courant, which we didn’t hear at his news conference last week, “when he expressed regret but not apology for exaggerating his military service.” Those are Murray’s words.

An exaggeration is when you say a fish you caught weighed 20 pounds when in fact it was only 5. A lie, by contrast, would be to say you went deep sea fishing off the coast of Spain, when in fact you never left the banks of the Mississippi River. This is similar to the lie that Blumenthal told about his military service. He never left the U.S. but claimed to have been in a wartime situation in Vietnam.

B.G. Burkett’s excellent book, Stolen Valor, focuses on people who falsely claimed that they had fought in Vietnam or wore medals that they had never earned. The reasons were varied. Some want to claim serving in war in order to get special benefits. Others claim non-existent service to generate sympathy or prestige, or a sense of belonging to a group of warriors who were generally badly treated when they returned to the U.S. But in Blumenthal’s case, the reasons are less important than the fact that he lied. The reasons could include guilt over his five deferments before joining the Marine Reserves. Or a desire to inflate his history to help get elected to the Senate.

Whatever the rationale, even with the media effort to minimize his record of lying, his lead in the race to replace Sen. Chris Dodd in the Senate has greatly diminished, even virtually vanishing in some polls.

The fact that a candidate with a flawed character of this magnitude is still in the race is a testament to the damage control operation launched on his behalf.

Vets as Props

In Blumenthal’s first public statement following the Times’ disclosures, he surrounded himself with a group of rather uncomfortable-looking military people and claimed he had uttered “a few misplaced words.” But as Politico reported, not every military person was so forgiving. The commander of Connecticut’s Veterans of Foreign Wars organization—who was not by Blumenthal’s side—blasted Blumenthal and  referred to his prior statements of service in Vietnam as “outrageous.”

“‘Mr. Blumenthal was considered one of the best friends a veteran could have in Connecticut. It is a true shame that he let a false claim of Vietnam service change that,’ said Richard DiFederico, in a statement. ‘Those who served in uniform during the Vietnam era also deserve our gratitude, which makes Mr. Blumenthal’s claim to be something he is not so outrageous.’”

A history professor quoted in an Associated Press article suggested that “A lot of this I think these guys are trying to fit themselves into ‘I was part of this generation.’ It seems like he tried to identify with the generation of the warrior.”

This may be true, but it is not an excuse for lying about such a serious matter.

Daniel Foster on National Review’s website parsed the language to show how there was no way that Blumenthal was simply misspeaking. He said that “…the move from ‘during’ to ‘in’ is a move from ambiguity to clarity. I, for one, wouldn’t know whether a soldier had been in-country merely from his statement that he served ‘during Vietnam.’ This tells me when he served, but leaves unclear where. A man who says he served ‘in Vietnam’, on the other hand, answers the second question definitively.”

So the record is clear. Blumenthal deliberately lied.

As it became apparent that Blumenthal was going to stay in the race, and that the Democratic Party of Connecticut was going to stick with him as their strongest candidate, the media stepped in to offer protective cover one more time for a liberal politician. Couric and the others were determined not to cover this in a serious way. Scandals, it seems, are only reserved for conservative Republicans.

It remains to be seen, however, whether the protective cover will last through November.

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