Don’t Misrepresent Someone You’re Accusing of Misrepresenting Things
Sorry to descend a bit from the lofty heights of our recent discussions, but the Connecticut leftipoliticoblogosphere (of which I have familial relations) is all atwitter over the recent pseudo-scandal involving Richard Blumenthal, Democratic candidate for Senate.
Long story made short: the New York Times has run a number of breathless and outraged articles and op-eds alleging that Blumenthal misled his constituents by pretending to be a Vietnam vet, when in fact the Marines unit he was a member of had never been deployed. Damning stuff.
Except, as it turns out, it’s mostly not true or grossly misrepresented. The Times article, alleging politically motivated misrepresentation, appears itself to be mostly politically motivated misrepresentation. The Times, for instance, failed to contextualize their one smoking gun piece of evidence, misquoted one of their main sources who is now supporting Blumenthal, and relied on sources who had clear partisan motivations. In fact it appears likely the Times reporter never saw the full video they relied upon, and even posted on their website, because it had been edited by their source: none other than Blumenthal’s campaign opponent. Then they lied about where they got their source from. Worse, the entire premise of their argument, that “the idea that he served in Vietnam has become such an accepted part of his public biography” was itself completely false. A poll of Connecticut political reporters found that, with only one exception, none had ever been under the belief that Blumenthal was a Vietnam veteran. If being a Vietnam Vet is not important to his image, it is hard to understand why the Times devotes such attention to his misstatements about the matter.
It seems likely that Blumenthal did, on a couple of occasions, create the impression, intentionally or unintentionally, that he had fought, when he hadn’t. Bad, but hardly anything worse than politicians do all the time.
I actually have a small amount of first hand experience with this. I have worked, at various times, for a number of Connecticut political operations: congressional candidates, local elections, etc…. Blumenthal is legendary for showing up at each and every political event, no matter how small and meaningless (this is part of what makes the Times expose so meaningless, this man has probably given 3 speeches a day for the last 12 years, surely they could find more examples). As such I’ve been subjected to my fair share of Richard Blumenthal. I never was under the impression that he was a Vietnam Veteran. I was pretty involved in CT politics, saw him speak dozens of times, and have even chatted with him a couple of times. If I was unaware of this “accepted part of his public biography” I find it very hard to believe that many other people in Connecticut were.
He was guilty, and I’ll say this with more confidence, of his share of hideously boring and longwinded speeches. I always found him a bit awkward, too cautious, and blatantly opportunistic and ambitious. In other words, a politician.
Anyways… this all goes to say, if you are going to hold someone to a ridiculously high standard of honesty, you better be sure that your work holds up. There is something weird and postmodern about a news outlet misrepresenting a story about someone misrepresenting things. It makes the head hurt.