NYT's Blumenthal Reporting Should Have Been Extensive And Independent

05/20/2010 12:10 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The latest twist in the Richard Blumenthal saga comes courtesy of the Associated Press. Remember how yesterday we discussed how the AP is becoming well-known for conducting some rigorous factchecking for its consumers? Well, here you go: the full video of the Blumenthal speech that the New York Times used as the sexy part of their recent story, "Candidate's Words on Vietnam Service Differ From History." The most significant impact of watching the full video is that right at the beginning, you hear Blumenthal characterize his military service vaguely, but correctly:

BLUMENTHAL: I know you've heard a lot of speeches and there might be one or two more. But I really want to add my words of thanks. As someone who served in the military, during the Vietnam era, in the Marine Corps.

And then, Blumenthal goes on to say what got him in trouble: "We have learned something important since the days that I served in Vietnam."


Now, obviously, Blumenthal did himself no favors with the latter statement, nor is he entirely absolved by the first -- he'd have been better off if he'd been dead explicit about how he served. He'd also have been better off if he'd gone back to watch the full speech himself and recognized what the AP recognized. Then, he'd have been able to defend his statements specifically, instead of holding a defiant bit of stagecraft in which he criticized the media for "impugning" his service -- something no one in the media had done.

That said, did the New York Times even try to properly source the edited video that they -- let's be politic and say, "obtained"? Hilariously, they just don't want to say! From our own Sam Stein:

In an email to the Huffington Post, the paper's spokesperson, Diane McNulty, offered the official statement defending the article.

The New York Times in its reporting uncovered Mr. Blumenthal's long and well established pattern of misleading his constituents about his Vietnam War service, which he acknowledged in an interview with The Times. Mr. Blumenthal needs to be candid with his constituents about whether he went to Vietnam or not, since his official military records clearly indicate he did not.

The video doesn't change our story. Saying that he served "during Vietnam" doesn't indicate one way or the other whether he went to Vietnam.

But when asked whether or not she could confirm that the reporter, Ray Hernandez, had actually seen the entirety of the 2008 video before writing the article, McNulty declined to address the question, framing it as a non-issue.

"Saying that he served "during Vietnam" doesn't negate his later statement. It doesn't indicate one way or the other whether he went to Vietnam," she wrote in one email.

"The longer version of the video doesn't change the story," she added in a follow up email. "Saying that he served "during Vietnam" does not contradict or override his later, more specific, statement that he served in Vietnam."

Let me get real with you for a second, as someone who has come perilously close to making the stupid mistake of writing about an edited video clip without taking the time to properly source the material in full context. It's a mistake you never forget. If Diane McNulty thinks that her reporter not watching the entirety of the video in question is a non-issue, then Diane McNulty is wrong. She is wrong. Full stop.

In addition, it amuses me to hear McNulty say that Blumenthal's earlier statement "doesn't negate his later statement" and how the "longer version of the video doesn't change the story." Let's remember that her answer to the question as to whether or not anyone had even watched the full video was that she could not confirm that they had! So, pray tell: how the frack does she know what the video does, or does not do? By her own statements, she couldn't possibly know!

The Times also says that its original article is the product of "extensive independent reporting", but, boy oh boy, what a sliding scale! "Extensive" now means "not watching the actual speech you were reporting on" and "independent" means "in concert with a political opponent of the subject of the story":

Linda McMahon, a Republican candidate for U.S. Senate, on Wednesday confirmed that her campaign had a role in this week's New York Times story about Democratic candidate Richard Blumenthal's misstatements about his military career.

McMahon was asked whether her campaign fed the Times information for the story.

"We did," McMahon said. "We've had some role with our research, yes." She did not elaborate.

Here's what the New York Times has basically gone and done, now. They have sent an invitation to every bug-eyed political operative in America that reads: "Send us your oppo research YouTubes! We won't question a thing! We'll just straight up run some stories, as quick as we can!"

In short, this is a cock up on the part of the New York Times. Because Blumenthal isn't explicit enough in the full video (and when the Times can state plainly that they watched it, without dodging the question, they can render this judgment, too) about his military service, it's not a cock up that rises to the level of their ridiculous John McCain/Vicki Iseman story. But you know what another problem is? The fact that one can write "this does not rise to the level of their ridiculous John McCain/Vicki Iseman story!"

Deep in the archives of Connecticut's Stamford Advocate newspaper is a quote that lends more credence to the theory that U.S. Senate candidate Richard Blumenthal allowed the myth that he served in Vietnam to be spread unchecked.

"I wore the uniform in Vietnam and many came back . . . to all kinds of disrespect," Blumenthal told the crowd at a 2008 Veteran's Day parade, according to the Advocate. "Whatever we think of war, we owe the men and women of the armed forces our unconditional support."

Good job, to the Stamford Advocate and Greg Sargent! More here.

MORE UPDATES: Sweet sassy molassey, the pwnage of the New York Times continues. Now the Hartford Courant is joining the fray. Per Ben Smith:

The Hartford Courant just knocked a piece out of the New York Times's suggestion that Richard Blumenthal's Vietnam stories were part of a broader pattern of puffing his resume.

The Times reported that, despite printed reports that Blumenthal was the captain of the Harvard swim team, "[r]ecords at the college show that he was never on the team.''

The Courant reports that he was -- though he wasn't captain...

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