By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

How’s it going for Blumenthal? Swimmingly.

That's reportedly Blumenthal who's standing in the rear.

Yesterday I thought New York Times public editor Clark Hoyt had gotten his paper’s Richard Blumenthal reporting just about right.

Hoyt concluded that the paper had indeed exposed Connecticut’s attorney general, a Democratic Senate candidate, as being untruthful about his non-service in Vietnam. But Hoyt added that the Times should have revealed Blumenthal had also described his military service accurately earlier in the smoking video.

Now I’m just about ready to throw the Times’ reporting on Blumenthal into the swimming pool. Because it turns out that the one, weird little detail that helped bolster the larger point — that Blumenthal had lied about being on the Harvard swim team, of all things — was wrong.

Media Nation commenter Duke Briscoe recommended a Daily Howler report that, in turn, led me back to a Hartford Courant item about a series of photos posted on Facebook showing that Blumenthal had indeed been a team member. So it seems to me that we now have three major problems with the Times report:

  • The Times failed to report that Blumenthal accurately described his Marine Corps service just several minutes before he then wrongly said he had served in Vietnam.
  • One of the Times’ principal sources, Jean Risley, who chairs the Connecticut Vietnam Veterans Memorial, says she was misquoted.
  • The confirming detail about Blumenthal’s having lied about being on the Harvard swim team turns out not to be the case at all.

Personally, I still think Blumenthal wrongly gave the impression in that recorded speech that he had actually served in Vietnam. But the Times apparently botched this story so thoroughly it now seems likely that Blumenthal will benefit from an anti-media backlash. And unless there are more, unambiguous examples, then he probably should benefit.

I think Hoyt ought to wait for the dust to settle, then weigh in again.

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New York Times blunders on Blumenthal


Three for Monday


  1. Rick Peterson

    When the movie on this comes out, Brian “First Blood” Dennehy is a shoo-in for the lead. Hollywood appears to have already granted HIM absolution.

  2. R.J. Lewis

    I’m confused by all the sturm und drang about the swim team stuff. Unless i misread the original Times story, what it said was this: two publications, in stories that Blumenthal cooperated with fully, described him as Harvard swim team captain — here’s the important part — and he never corrected the record. The Times story never said that Blumenthal propogated this falsehood. Just like how he never corrected the record when publications said he did a tour in Nam. The point I took away as a reader was that Blumenthal is happy to leave the public deceived about his CV when it’s convenient to him. I’m sure he demands corrections all the time when he sees something in print that’s erroneous and harmful to his public profile.
    On Risley’s mis-quote, I’m amazed at how people actually believe her. Sure, maybe a comma was in the wrong place, or even maybe one or two words got botched. But the idea that the thrust of what she said was completely screwed up by the Times is really hard to swallow. Far more likely, to me: she saw her quotes about the sitting AG of Connecticut in the paper, had a rush of fear and remorse, and backed off.

    • Dan Kennedy

      @R.J.: In the Times’ original report you’ll find the following:

      In two largely favorable profiles, the Slate article and a magazine article in The Hartford Courant in 2004 with which he cooperated, Mr. Blumenthal is described prominently as having served as captain of the swim team at Harvard. Records at the college show that he was never on the team.

      Now we know that Blumenthal was on the team. And you’re hanging your hat on the possibility that even though the Times got this key (as in minor but telling) detail wrong, Blumenthal might still be proven to have lied, or at least failed to correct the record, about having been captain of the team.

      The reason that Risley is being taken seriously is that the Times has forfeited the benefit of the doubt on this story. As I once heard a lawyer tell a jury, if there’s something rotten floating on top of the barrel, you are under no obligation to reach in and see if there’s something better underneath.

      What’s a shame is that there’s a good story about Blumenthal’s puffery somewhere in all of this, and it’s being lost in the tangle of the Times’ incompetence.

  3. Michael Pahre

    After reading and hearing about the issues in this case, I believe that the most accurate verb to use going forward is that Blumenthal on occasion “distorted” his military service, not “lied.”

    And the adverb to modify the verb is most definitely “idiotically.”

    • Dan Kennedy

      @Michael: Well put. I may borrow your construction moving forward.

  4. R.J. Lewis

    Dan — you’re right. To say Blumenthal was never even on the team completely undermines the more important point that he never corrected the record about his supposed status as captain. Big mess-up. And thus, your point on Risley is well taken.
    Michael Pahre: amen, brother.

  5. It’s funny how the swim team issue and the Vietnam issue mirror each other: serving during Vietnam but not in Vietnam; on the swim team but not captain of the swim team.

  6. Michael Pahre

    “Idiotic distortions” is all yours.

    Hope you get more mileage out of it than “idiotically distorted.”

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