No Comment — May 20, 2010, 11:20 am

New York Times 0, Richard Blumenthal 0

Back in the 2008 campaign, the New York Times rushed out a breathless article that insinuated, without ever making the clear charge, that the Republican presidential candidate had an improper relationship with a lobbyist named Vicki Iseman. The ensuing controversy was not quite the sort that the Times editors envisioned: the Times and its editorial judgment became the center of the discussion.

In the 2010 election cycle, the Times seems poised to repeat its mistakes. This time its target is Connecticut attorney general Richard Blumenthal, currently seen as the frontrunner to succeed Christopher Dodd in the U.S. Senate. On Monday, the paper ran an above-the-fold front-page article stating that Blumenthal was misleading Connecticut voters about his record of military service–implying that he had served in the Vietnam war when in fact his Marine Corps Reserve service had not included combat duty. Moreover, the Times reports, he had obtained a total of five deferments.

Exhibit A in the Times case against Blumenthal is a March 2008 speech in which Blumenthal spoke of the “days I served in Vietnam.” Blumenthal acknowledged in response using words too loosely, but he insisted that the Times’s case was overblown.

The Associated Press then secured a videotape of the entire March Blumenthal speech and pronounced itself completely unimpressed with the Times analysis. At an earlier point in the speech, Blumenthal had correctly stated that he had “served in the military during the Vietnam era in the Marine Corps,” which correctly describes the situation.

Did the Times actually review the entire speech that Blumenthal delivered? If not, from whom did it get the clip that it relied on for its attack on Blumenthal? On the first point, the Times pointedly declined a straight answer to a direct question from the Huffington Post’s Sam Stein, suggesting that it failed to do even the most basic footwork concerning its own Exhibit A. As to the second, it now appears increasingly evident that the trash leveled at Blumenthal came directly from his competitor for the Senate, Republican Linda McMahon. Indeed, yesterday McMahon admitted that her campaign’s opposition research had fed the story to the Times–sourcing that nowhere appears in the Times story. The Times responded with this oblique retort:

Ms. McMahon’s campaign sought to claim credit for aspects of The Times’s article, apparently in a bid to impress Republican delegates that her resources would give her the greatest chance of defeating Mr. Blumenthal…

McMahon would have best served her cause, however, by keeping quiet about her campaign’s collaboration with the Times. But why has the Times not now acknowledged the sourcing of the information? This is probably best explained by the McMahon opposition researchers having requested and obtained anonymity from the Times in connection with the story, and this raises questions of its own. Should the Times have alerted its readers to the fact that it was relying on data furnished by Blumenthal’s political opponents? And shouldn’t they have been more rigorous in fact-checking the story in light of this sourcing?

Columbia Journalism Review’s Clint Hendler, writing before the full scope of the McMahon admission had sunk in, concluded that the Times was at least guilty of sloppiness in failing to provide the proper context for its story by reviewing the Connecticut press accounts, which furnish far more evidence of loose language than of a conscious intention to deceive. The Connecticut press in general thinks the Times has played up a story that barely exists. Last night Hartford political analyst Mark Davis declared, for instance, “I’ve covered [Blumenthal] for 30 years and I’ve never, ever heard him say he served in Vietnam.” The Times makes the claim that Blumenthal’s pretense of combat service was focal to his campaign. Perhaps the Times had a legitimate story, as Hendler concludes, but it certainly oversold it, just like the McCain-Iseman story in 2008.

The Times’s almost comical efforts to cover up shoddy work gets the full treatment from former Times staffer Charles Kaiser in a column up today at Full Court Press. It’s a must-read perusal of the Gray Lady’s dirty linen.

Share
Single Page

More from Scott Horton:

From the April 2015 issue

Company Men

Torture, treachery, and the CIA

Six Questions October 18, 2014, 8:00 pm

The APA Grapples with Its Torture Demons: Six Questions for Nathaniel Raymond

Nathaniel Raymond on CIA interrogation techniques.

No Comment, Six Questions June 4, 2014, 8:00 am

Uncovering the Cover Ups: Death Camp in Delta

Mark Denbeaux on the NCIS cover-up of three “suicides” at Guantánamo Bay Detention Camp

Get access to 165 years of
Harper’s for only $45.99

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

June 2015

Loitering With Intent

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

A Polite Coup

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Findings

What Went Wrong

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Shooting Down Man the Hunter

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Article
Legends of the Lost·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“A bond with reality has gone, and sometimes you wonder whether that fosters our feeling that movies are a fleeting art.”
Photograph by Alexander Perrelli
Article
What Went Wrong·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“In the seventh year of his presidency, Barack Obama was presenting himself as a politician who followed the path of least resistance. This is a disturbing confession.”
Photograph by Pete Souza
Article
Surviving a Failed Pregnancy·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“If this woman — who spent her days studying gray screens for early signs of gestation — could not see my pregnancy, what were the chances that anyone else would?”
Illustration by Leigh Wells
Article
Interesting Facts·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“My husband is forty-six. I am forty-five. He does not think that, in my forties, after cancer, chemotherapy, and chemically induced menopause, I can get pregnant again, but sisters, I know my womb. It’s proven.”
Photograph by McNair Evans
Post
Kid Chocolate’s Place·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“Cuban eyes often look close to tears.”
Illustration by the author

Length in days of the sentence Russian blogger Alexei Navalny served for leading an opposition rally last year:

15

Israeli researchers developed software that evaluates the depression of bloggers.

It was revealed that reading material recovered during the U.S. raid of Osama bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan included Popular Science, Time, silk-screening instructions, and a suicide-prevention manual called “Is It the Heart You Are Asking?”

Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!

HARPER’S FINEST

Subways Are for Sleeping

By

“Shelby is waiting for something. He himself does not know what it is. When it comes he will either go back into the world from which he came, or sink out of sight in the morass of alcoholism or despair that has engulfed other vagrants.”

Subscribe Today