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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.
More from Scott Horton:
Six Questions — October 18, 2014, 8:00 pm
Nathaniel Raymond on CIA interrogation techniques.
Mark Denbeaux on the NCIS cover-up of three “suicides” at Guantánamo Bay Detention Camp
From the June 2014 issue
For the past three years my dosimeter had sat silently on a narrow shelf just inside the door of a house in Tokyo, upticking its final digit every twenty-four hours by one or two, the increase never failing — for radiation is the ruthless companion of time. Wherever we are, radiation finds and damages us, at best imperceptibly. During those three years, my American neighbors had lost sight of the accident at Fukushima. In March 2011, a tsunami had killed hundreds, or thousands; yes, they remembered that. Several also recollected the earthquake that caused it, but as for the hydrogen explosion and containment breach at Nuclear Plant No. 1, that must have been fixed by now — for its effluents no longer shone forth from our national news. Meanwhile, my dosimeter increased its figure, one or two digits per day, more or less as it would have in San Francisco — well, a trifle more, actually. And in Tokyo, as in San Francisco, people went about their business, except on Friday nights, when the stretch between the Kasumigaseki and Kokkai-Gijido-mae subway stations — half a dozen blocks of sidewalk, which commenced at an antinuclear tent that had already been on this spot for more than 900 days and ended at the prime minister’s lair — became a dim and feeble carnival of pamphleteers and Fukushima refugees peddling handicrafts.
One Friday evening, the refugees’ half of the sidewalk was demarcated by police barriers, and a line of officers slouched at ease in the street, some with yellow bullhorns hanging from their necks. At the very end of the street, where the National Diet glowed white and strange behind other buildings, a policeman set up a microphone, then deployed a small video camera in the direction of the muscular young people in drums against fascists jackets who now, at six-thirty sharp, began chanting: “We don’t need nuclear energy! Stop nuclear power plants! Stop them, stop them, stop them! No restart! No restart!” The police assumed a stiffer stance; the drumming and chanting were almost uncomfortably loud. Commuters hurried past along the open space between the police and the protesters, staring straight ahead, covering their ears. Finally, a fellow in a shabby sweater appeared, and murmured along with the chants as he rounded the corner. He was the only one who seemed to sympathize; few others reacted at all.
Number of U.S. congressional districts in which trade with China has produced more jobs than it has cost:
Young bilingual children who learned one language first are likelier than monolingual children and bilingual children who learned languages simultaneously to say that a dog adopted by owls will hoot.
An Oklahoma legislative committee voted to defund Advanced Placement U.S. History courses, accusing the curriculum of portraying the United States as “a nation of oppressors and exploiters.”
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