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.

13 comments:

Anonymous said...

Brilliant writing as always Don and unlike so many media outlets you tell your stories with truth and integrity. You are an incredible journalist and Blumenthal is an incredible fraud and its coming out FAST. Love the NY Post headline today, Semper Lie Blumie.

David said...

It's middle age regret and doubt. What seemed so clear at the time to avoid the draft looks less so as one gets older. Since Blumenthal was already a gifted stretcher of the truth, it was easy. This was for him, not for his audiences.

He could assuage any doubts about not testing himself or facing his fears in Vietnam.

Don Pesci said...
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Don Pesci said...

David,

BINGO!

Don Pesci said...

Anon,

The jokes are just beginning. Really -- Americana plus. Mark Twain should be alive.

Anonymous said...

Exactly on the mark Don. It's no wonder that this story had to break outside of Connecticut; it was the only way it could fully get out.
Too often the CT media has accepted the AG's every word as gospel truth (see the Courant's ex-reporter George Gombossy as exhibit one) without vaildating those words.
Blumenthal's outright lies about serving IN Vietnam are beyond he pale.
He should withdraw from the race and resign his office; but he will not--he has no honor, it steals it from others.

Indy1776 said...

Don, as always your blog article on the latest Bloomie slip-up is spot on.

So why did Bloomie dance on the edge of the volcano? Because he could. He believed his own publicity; that he was the great AG of Connecticut, above reproach, above criticism, and above scrutiny. It is refreshing to see him finally accountable for his lies and deceit.

Now, the question remains: will the sheep-like voters in this state remember this when they go to the polls? I doubt it. And what a choice - a liar of an AG versus the former head of pro wrestling. It sounds more like a sideshow act, which is what this once-proud Yankee state has become.

Fuzzy Dunlop said...

Without defending local newspapers in general, I think it's a little unfair to describe Connecticut newspapers as really blowing it in this particular case.

Everyone is now well aware that the New York Times only came across the story after having it spoon fed to it by the McMahon campaign (a fact that it left out of the article). Moreover, the New York Times only identifies a handful of articles that had regurgitated the misleading information in some form or another. A newspaper, especially a local one, can only fact check so far, as they are limited in time and resources. Without a reason to doubt what Dick Blumenthal had said or "misstated" to them, the newspapers had little reason to delve into the issue further, particularly because it was rarely, if ever, a central part of any story on him. Consider just how, for instance, a newspaper would have uncovered the information? Again, with hindsight we can say that they should have contacted the Department of Veteran's Affairs to verify the information, but would such a followup really been justified? I doubt that it is routine for newspapers to follow up on politicians' statements about being "in country" while they served in uniform, unless it is to verify the details of a more focused story on that particular aspect of their biography. And reporters can hardly have been expected to pick up on the inconsistency when even politicians from the opposing party (ie Mike Fedele, Chris Shays, Rob Simmons etc. etc.), who probably attended the veteran's events with greater consistency than any reporter, didn't even pick up on it (despite Chris Shays claim now that he knew all along, but kept it to himself for some bizarre reason). And without Blumenthal calling to correct the information, newspapers can be forgiven for not thinking to print a correction.

The New York Times got lucky, in that an opposition candidate with nearly unlimited resources handed them this story on a silver platter. This should not be mistaken for some sort of skill that is particularly lacking from local newspapers. And unlike the McMahon campaign, the Hartford Courant doesn't have 50 million dollars to spend picking just one candidate apart.

So before people trash the local papers, they should consider; will newspapers be required to obtain military records on veteran who runs for office now? and what goes in to obtaining those records.


PS
Don, sorry to hear that Ross Garber is going to spoil Ms. Dean's chances on Friday.

Don Pesci said...
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Don Pesci said...
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Don Pesci said...

Fuzzy,

Of course, the primary responsibility for correcting the record rests with Blumenthal.

Blumenthal sought four deferments. When Lyndon Johnson came into office and threatened to make such deferments less likely, he voluntarily joined a group that kept him out of the rice patties.

Now, by itself, there is nothing wrong with all this. But one need not rely on a Times news report to conclude that Blumenthal was successful in his attempts to avoid active service in Vietnam. One does not need to read a news report to conclude that Blumenthal knew he did not serve in Vietnam, having made such strenuous efforts to avoid doing so.

So, he knew he did not serve in Vietnam.

No one has yet questioned the veracity of Blumenthal’s statement, made on video, that he DID serve in Vietnam. And the province of the tape does not change the assertion.

So: 1) He did not serve in Vietnam; 2) He knew he did not serve in Vietnam; 3) He said he served in Vietnam.

The assertions on the tape were not made by Blumenthal to Connecticut reporters, according to a survey of some prominent Connecticut reportersmade by Colin McEnroe on his most recent blog. But why would McEnroe or any of the news people whose responses he has collected suppose that Blumenthal would make such assertions to people who had the wherewithal to fact check those assertions?

Where is the political profit in this?

There is none.

But the fact that Blumenthal did not share the clear assertion he made on the compromising tape with the reporters McEnroe mentioned obviously does not mean that Blumenthla did not make the assertion to others. Proof of this is – in the tape, right there, in front of the noses of the reporters McEnroe surveyed.

Those who have eyes to see will see. Those who have ears to hear will hear.

Unless, for some reason, they don’t want to see or hear. Among these I would number Blumenthal as a party, one hopes, of one.

I am not inclined to join the party by making excuses for him.

On Garber: I like him. I like Dean too. I think she had a step up on Garber because she already ran a respectable campaign against Blumenthal, consistently warning Connecticut’s the media about some of Blumenthal’s questionable activities.

I discussed one of them here: http://donpesci.blogspot.com/search?q=forstmann+little.

Apparently, Connecticut’s media had not made much ado about Forstmann Little.

They were probably busy.

But, by all means, let the race begin, and may the best man win.

Fuzzy Dunlop said...

I still think the New York Times is being given too much credit for a story that it appears to have spun precisely in the manner the party feeding the information wanted it to be spun.

Consider this excerpt:
- But what is striking about Mr. Blumenthal’s record is the contrast between the many steps he took that allowed him to avoid Vietnam, and the misleading way he OFTEN speaks about that period of his life now, especially when he is speaking at veterans’ ceremonies or other patriotic events. - (Emphasis added.)

The use of the word "often" is editorial; and, as Colin's survey reveals, apparently inapposite to the recollections of our fair state's most widely read political reporters/commentators.

Anyway, having once been a journalist myself, I can't help but take interest in the ethics of the piece, even though most will debate the substance.

I will leave you with this thought: One of the people who has benefitted the most from this story is Rob Simmons. It is now widely reported that he received the bronze star for his service in Vietnam. I have absolutely no reason to doubt the information (please nobody insinuate that I am impugning Mr. Simmons war record). But should we expect every person who reports this information to verify it with DoD or DoVA?

Don Pesci said...

I think Bob Woodward would say that we should expect the FIRST reporter to verify the information. Before the days of layoff and press consolidations, fact checking was an in-house affair. Having been in the news business, you probably know that most news is 10 percent thought and 90 percent repetition. It seems to be not an extravagant expectation to demand that the 10 percent should be accurate.

You may be right about Simmons benefiting. Jokingly, one of the people on the Scarborough show on the morning of the great eruption pointed out that if the McMahon campaign were really smart they would have put the responsibility for the release of the information on Simmons’s shoulders.

Looks like they may not have been tricky-dicky enough.

I beg to differ about the Times report. It was a good report, well researched, on a timely and important subject. If Blumenthal feels otherwise, he could always sue for slander; he IS a lawyer.

Seriously, it’s time for him to fess up and apologize. He hasn’t done that.

Until he does, I feel no inclination to defend him against the slings and arrows of a fortune he is primarily responsible for.

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