NY Times reportedly had the full Blumenthal video before publishing horribly misleading hit piece


Politico's Ken Vogel tonight writes that New York Times public editor Clark Hoyt is expected to publish a Sunday column detailing the findings of his investigation into the circumstances surrounding the Times' May 18 front page article about how Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal had previously described his military service. And based on a reported email from Times executive editor Bill Keller to Hoyt, the Times had the full version of a 2008 speech yet chose to focus solely on one comment in the speech while ignoring another comment that was directly relevant to the story of how Blumenthal had described his military service.

At the center of the Times' coverage was a brief video clip of Blumenthal giving a 2008 speech during which he said he had "served in Vietnam." The article and video clip on the Times' homepage only included that Blumenthal quote and omitted his comment earlier in the same speech when he stated that he "served in the military during the Vietnam era in the Marine Corps."

To repeat: In the full video, Blumenthal states both that he "served in the military during the Vietnam era in the Marine Corps" and that he "served in Vietnam." But the Times published an article highlighting only the second comment while totally ignoring the first comment.

That's a horribly misleading framing of how Blumenthal described his military service.

Vogel's article tonight shows that the Times had the full video of the 2008 Blumenthal speech and had "reviewed the entire event" prior to publishing its May 18 article:

Here's Vogel:

Blumenthal's allies got a helpful - if unintentional - boost from their main rival, when McMahon, a former professional wrestling executive, briefly featured on her campaign website a blog post crediting her opposition researchers with passing on to the Times a video recording of a March 2008 speech in which Blumenthal recalled "the days that I served in Vietnam."

That passage, which was prominently mentioned at the beginning of the Times story, was the most compelling piece of evidence against Blumenthal and was featured in a video posted on the Times' website. But both the story and the web video excluded a passage from earlier in the speech in which Blumenthal accurately characterized his military service by saying that he "served in the military during the Vietnam era in the Marine Corps."

McMahon's campaign posted on YouTube a more complete video of the speech including the accurate characterization, which the Associated Press detailed in a story that prompted some liberals to question whether the Times had the full video of the speech and, if so, why the story didn't mention the earlier characterization.

"That's awfully misleading, isn't it?" wrote Jamison Foser, a senior fellow at the liberal press watchdog Media Matters. "Given that Republican Linda McMahon's campaign has taken credit for feeding the Times the Blumenthal story, you have to wonder if it gave the Times the incomplete video, as well. Either way, the Times should explain why it chose to omit Blumenthal's correct characterization of his service."

In his emailed response to ombudsman Hoyt, Keller asserted that "Blumenthal's statement early in the event that he 'served in the military during the Vietnam era in the Marine Corps' says nothing about whether he served in Vietnam or stateside, and says nothing about whether he served in the reserves or active military. It does not contradict his later statement that he served 'in Vietnam.'"

Though Keller conceded that video of the March 2008 speech "were being circulated by a number of people in politics, including McMahon's campaign," he wrote, "we did not rely on that material. Instead, we obtained a DVD of the full Blumenthal speech from a source not connected with the McMahon campaign, and reviewed the entire event and made sure it hadn't been unfairly spliced, edited or doctored."

Media Matters has previously noted numerous problems with the initial Times article (and its lack of critical coverage of Republican Linda McMahon, who admitted her campaign provided the Times with research on Blumenthal).

But this reported admission by Keller that the Times had the full copy of the speech and didn't mention anywhere in the original article that Blumenthal had described his service differently earlier in the speech is the type of ethical failure that puts a serious dent in the Times' credibility.

Indeed, the story is now about the Times' coverage -- and the Times has nobody to blame but themselves.

The New York Times
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