Thursday, May 20, 2010

Blumenthal's mispeak

I urge anyone still interested in the New York Times weak hit piece on CT AG Richard Blumenthal and his characterization of his service during the Vietnam era, to go read Somerby. He actually did some research.

Meanwhile, the Times keeps doubling down. First, yesterday, with a follow-up in which they give the lede to Blumenthal's "friend," Chris Shays, the Republican Congressman who lost his job to Jim Hines in 2008. It's amazing how much of a role CT Republicans play in this on-going "story." Today, "The Editors" turn the stage to a group of lawyers and psychologists who discuss the strange case of people who lie about their service.

Both stories make it appear that Blumenthal is a serial dissembler on this topic. As I said, Somerby did some looking up.

The New York Times is too great, too grand, to worry about minor things like dates. In its original, groaning front-page report, Hernandez only said this about Blumenthal’s second alleged misstatement:

HERNANDEZ (5/18/10): In 2003, he addressed a rally in Bridgeport, where about 100 military families gathered to express support for American troops overseas. “When we returned, we saw nothing like this,” Mr. Blumenthal said. “Let us do better by this generation of men and women.”

For ourselves, we’d like to see a wider context before we judged a short quotation like that. Since Hernandez hadn’t worried his head with silly things like specific dates, we searched the Nexis records for all of 2003, trying to locate this event.

The Nexis records do not include that quotation by Blumenthal. (Which doesn’t mean that he didn’t make it.) It isn’t obvious when this event occurred, though we’d guess it happened in April. That said, we did come upon a detailed report in the Connecticut Post from May 21 of that year. Blumenthal had filed a lawsuit against a group which had allegedly misspent charity funds collected for veterans. In the course of his report, Michael Mayko offered this detailed, perfectly accurate account of Blumenthal’s military service:

MAYKO (5/21/03): "Virtually none of the money went to causes supporting Vietnam veterans or to the veterans or their families," charged Blumenthal. "That's outrageous because Vietnam veteran causes are close to my heart."

The suit accuses American Trade & Convention Publications, the telemarketer, with willfully failing to file a notice that it was soliciting Connecticut residents as required by state law.

Blumenthal, a former U.S. Marine, served as a reservist during the Vietnam War. Although he did not serve overseas, he said he knew many who did.

"I saw how they were treated when they came home," he said.

"Few received the respect they deserved."

Charity directors named as defendants in the suit are...

Duh. All the way back in 2003, Mayko reported Blumenthal’s record with perfect accuracy, with Blumenthal describing his concern about the way Vietnam vets were treated in real time. But then, the Associated Press had somehow managed to do the same thing in a lengthy profile of Blumenthal in 2002. Like Mayko, Diane Scarponi had somehow managed to describe his record with perfect accuracy:

SCARPONI (10/3/02): [W]hile American youths were protesting the war and burning draft cards, Blumenthal did the opposite. He enlisted in the Marine Corps Reserves.

Blumenthal said he enlisted because he had a "pretty low draft number." The Army said he might have to wait a year to be called up, but the Marine Reserves had an opening right away.

At the time that it was uncertain whether reservists would also be shipped to Southeast Asia, Blumenthal said.

In the spring of 1970, as Blumenthal and other recruits sweated out boot camp at Parris Island, S.C., the United States invaded Cambodia and the Ohio National Guard killed four students at Kent State University.

Blumenthal never went to Vietnam. Records from the Marines, obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request, said he performed no active duty, although recruits are technically on active duty while training.

Blumenthal insists he did six months of active duty. With the Marines, he studied administration and was classified as an "Admin Man."

He was discharged honorably six years later, with the rank of sergeant.

Next, a career in the law pulled at Blumenthal's ambitions. While still in the Marine Corps Reserves he enrolled in Yale Law School, where his classmates included Bill Clinton.

Scarponi generated a semantic pseudo-dispute over the term “active duty.” But here too, in a major profile, Blumenthal’s record was described accurately, with Blumenthal saying that he had enlisted to avoid being drafted.

Our point? It’s clear that Blumenthal’s actual history was very much a matter of record. In later years, did a handful of journalists misstate the record, as the New York Times alleges? Did someone at The Shelton Weekly even make such an error? It’s possible; indeed, some of the errors appear in the Nexis files. But until the Times can show that Blumenthal was responsible for those eight errors (over the course of as many years), the errors simply aren’t Blumenthal’s fault. And the Times has only alleged eight journalistic errors—in a seven-year time span—not the “hundreds” of errors Joe Scarborough dreamed up this morning.

For the record, I think Blumenthal was both careless and carried away when he (allegedly) spoke to veterans in 2003. And I agree with one of the Times' psychologists who notes that more often than not, it's those who didn't serve in Vietnam who "remember" the taunts and the spit that awaited them when they "returned."

But the Times is going out of its way, and letting a lot of Republicans get their kicks in, to damage a guy who has been an exemplary public servant in Connecticut, a great supporter of veterans, and the one person between us nutmeggers and a governor Linda McMahon, who, meanwhile, seems to be fumbling the gift the Times has given her.

Oh, and this is grand.

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Blogger Pietr Hitzig said...

Great summary on Somerby. I appreciate your are on the ball.

7:59 PM  

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