Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Blumenthal And The Blame Game

A bingo moment occurred in a stinging rebuke to modern journalism written by Richard Hanley, a journalism professor at Quinnipiac, printed in the commentary section of "The Connecticut Mirror":

“The Connecticut press corps did not notice Blumenthal's occasional inconsistencies with his own record as it raced to reproduce news releases trumpeting victories over Big Tobacco and MySpace, among many others, on behalf of Connecticut citizens. To be sure, the dispersed locations of the remark, generally offered during rubber-chicken-and-cold-peas talks around a state with one hundred and sixty nine towns covered less and less by statewide media, made it difficult to detect moments when Blumenthal strayed from his record. Still, the media needed to be as aggressive with Blumenthal as they ordinarily are when covering other elected officials.”

Connecticut’s press has for a long time been drugged on Blumenthal’s press releases, spectacularly failing to exert what some critics of politicians call “due diligence.”

Bob Woodward of Watergate fame made a similar point on MSNBC’s Morning Joe” program hours before Blumenthal appeared in a presser to answer the charge made in a New York Times front page story in which Blumenthal said – unambiguously, plainly, proudly – that he had served in Vietnam.

Not true.

Why, oh why, Woodward wondered, had Blumenthal’s misspeaks and clever deceptions not been noticed by a print media that traditionally was used to fact checking every utterance of politicians, including pedestrian claims such as the politician’s middle name, the name of his wife, and whether or not he served in Vietnam.

The most plausible answer to the question is the old, safe retort: How could we be expected to know? If Blumenthal knew he did not serve in Vietnam – and he certainly must have known this -- why would he not be excessively cautious to avoid saying in the presence of Woodward’s fact checking reporters that he did serve in Vietnam?

The damaging claims were not made in editorial conferences with editorial board members who were intimately familiar with Blumenthal’s sterling record as an attorney general, as represented in his frequent press releases, many of them printed almost verbatim as they were submitted by Blumenthal without burrowing too deeply into court records, affidavits and depositions.

It is not possible to make a “mistake” about service in Vietnam. It may be possible to misspeak, Blumenthal’s alibi. But even in that case, why, oh why, would Blumenthal, or the keepers of his public persona, not be anxious to correct reports that just might, way on down the line, positively harm one’s future political prospects?

Does anyone doubt that Blumenthal’s claim of service in Vietnam, embarrassingly caught on tape, has put his reputation in harm’s way?

The jokes are just beginning. Best line so far is from Howie Carr: "...even Jane Fonda spent more time in Vietnam than he did."

At the same time Blumenthal appeared at a noonday presser along with his decorative background of supportive veterans, the state Supreme Court ruled that Secretary of State Susan Bysiewicz did not meet statutory requirements to run for attorney general, effectively ending her bid. A finding is still pending concerning a notorious list compiled by Bysiewicz that might show the secretary of state had used her office for questionable political purposes. That finding will be made by Blumenthal, whose judgment has now been seriously compromised. A caller to the Dan Lavallo’s “talk of Connecticut” radio show speculated that Bysiewicz might usefully replace Blumenthal in his bid for U.S. Senator Chris Dodd’s seat because “she’s now available.” It’s only a matter of time before the comedy is picked up by faux news shows and late night comedians.

The psychology lying behind Blumenthal’s messy affair is puzzling. Why dance so merrily on the edge of the volcano?

Why do they do it? Had the press been a little more vigilant, catching Blumenthal’s misspeakings, the attorney general might have had a more peaceful night’s rest on Tuesday – two days before the opening of the Democratic nominating convention.
Post a Comment