One of the striking talking points that came out of the New York Times in the wake of its controversial article last week about whether Connecticut Democrat Richard Blumenthal had, over the years, exaggerated his military service during the Vietnam War era, was the insistence from the Times that the story was a deeply important one and one that needed to be covered. The Times, faced with stiff criticism for its handling of the Blumenthal story, seemed to suggest it had a moral obligation, not to mention a newsroom duty, to look closely at the military service rhetoric from a New England politician running in a statewide election.
A Times flack even appeared to lecture Blumenthal about how he needed to be straight with Nutmeg State voters.
But I'm having a tough time buying the Times' sudden devotion to the topic, considering that during the 2000 presidential campaign, the same Times staff went out of its way not to report on the web of detailed allegations that Republican George Bush had failed to fulfill his military obligation while defending Texas air space as an Air National Guard pilot and that the presidential candidate had routinely lied about that fact. For that story, the Times team shrugged. But it's decided this spring to go all-in over Blumenthal? Seems strange.
Bottom line: In 2000, candidate Bush's military record during the Vietnam War was very much in doubt, as was Bush's repeated explanation as to why, after receiving $1 million worth of taxpayer-funded flight instruction, he had essentially vanished from the Guard and failed to fly, show up for monthly drills, or even take a mandatory physical. Yet back in 2000, the New York Times didn't seem to care much about that military-record story. And the Times newsroom seemed to make a decision not to cover the controversy -- a controversy that, given the historically close nature of the 2000 race, could have tipped the balance of the vote.
So, yes, given that stark background, it's tough to make sense of the Times' recent dedication to pursuing the Blumenthal story.
Read the full Media Matters column here.