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Christopher Edley is better than you, if he does say so himself
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THERE THEY GO AGAIN! Reporters love these Vietnam tales. We’ll suggest that the reader beware: // link // print // previous // next //
TUESDAY, MAY 18, 2010

Time regained: Like Proust, we’ve regained control of our time. Tomorrow, we expect to resume our award-winning series on race.

There’s something about Ed Schultz: Gack! We were watching The Ed Show last Wednesday night when Ed Schultz issued his “correction” concerning the highly corrupt Mary Landrieu. Yesterday, in the Washington Post, Howard Kurtz discussed that (first) “correction” by Schultz—a “correction” which was itself wrong:

KURTZ (5/17/10): After a contentious but fair interview with Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu over the BP oil spill, MSNBC's Ed Schultz delivered a late hit after she left. "We should point out that Senator Landrieu has taken $1.8 million from BP over the last 10 years," he said as "The Ed Show" put up a graphic. “You just can't look at this number and say that people aren't affected by that."

But the figure he touted last Tuesday was wrong. Schultz offered an apology the next night, telling viewers that Landrieu had actually received $752,000 from BP during her political career.

Please note: As a matter of basic process, Schultz was way out of line when he delivered that “late hit”—when he waited till Landrieu had left the air to attack her for those contributions. But we were amazed, the following night, to see how wrong his figure had been. On Tuesday night, we were told that Landrieu has taken “$1.8 million from BP over the last 10 years.” On Wednesday night, we were told it was really just $752,000—over the course of her entire career. (Landrieu entered the Senate in 1997. Overall, she has held public office for thirty years.)

Unfortunately, that “correction” seems to have been wrong too—grossly, egregiously wrong. Kurtz described this second turn of the screw as his report continued:

KURTZ (continuing directly): Bzzzt! Wrong again. The actual figure is $28,000. The Democrat has gotten $752,000 from the entire oil and gas industry.

Close enough for a cable “news” channel! According to Kurtz, the actual figure is $28,000—not $1.8 million. Big Ed had been grossly wrong—by a factor of roughly seventy.

This leaves a lingering problem. Kurtz seems to think that The Ed Show corrected this second mistake Friday night. In this passage, he refers to Landrieu spokesman Robert Sawicki:

KURTZ: Sawicki says the network didn't respond to his follow-up complaint, but "The Ed Show" corrected the mistake Friday after I called MSNBC. Spokesman Jeremy Gaines says the initial number came from a post, which itself was quickly corrected, and the second wrong figure was from a watchdog group. He says the "initial plan" was for Schultz to ask Landrieu about the donations during the interview.

According to Kurtz, The Ed Show issued a second correction last Friday. But we can find no such correction in the transcript of Friday night’s program, which was guest-hosted by Lawrence O’Donnell. And when Schultz returned to his eponymous program last night, this is what he said:

SCHULTZ (5/17/10): Big oil companies, do they care about federal standards? It’s easier to line the pockets of politicians like Lisa Murkowski or Mary Landrieu, isn’t it?

The two biggest problems, if you think about it, the two biggest problems this country has had over the last six months has been Wall Street and big oil. Deregulation and the lack of oversight has led us to the brink of financial ruin and potentially the greatest ecological disaster our country has ever seen.

How do you feel about that?

This is the classic example of what I’ve talked about many times on this program about two Americas. Big business gets to do whatever it wants to do, and they can just go buy off any anti-regulation politician they want and they can get advocates in a hurry with some cash, can`t they? And the rest of us, well, we have to play by the rules, we have to go get these stupid construction permits and pay a fee because we`re not big enough to do it the way the big boys do it.

Big business “gets to do whatever it wants?” It sounds to us like “big cable” likes to play that way too.

For our money, Schultz has the best sensibility among MSNBC’s “liberal” hosts. (Comically, this now includes the thoroughly reinvented Chris Matthews.) But in this groaning episode, Big Ed really hit a grand slam. He started with an ambush assertion; got his numbers cosmically wrong; has apparently never fully corrected; and went right back to his ad feminem attack last night, despite his own massive, uncorrected misstatement.

We’ve seen this from the Hannitys and the Limbaughs over the course of the past several decades. Ain’t it great to see our “liberal” hosts adopting El Rushbo’s standards?

We’re assuming that Kurtz has his data right here. For PolitiFact’s review of this groaner, you know what to do—just click here.

THERE THEY GO AGAIN (permalink): Richard Blumenthal is Connecticut’s attorney general—and he’s a candidate for the senate. Though he’s 64 years old, he never served in Vietnam. But uh-oh! Over the years, he seems to have said and implied, on several occasions, that he did serve in Nam.

Well—Blumenthal will seem to have said and implied that to the extent that you trust the judgment of the New York Times’ Raymond Hernandez, who presents a lengthy, front-page report on this topic in today’s paper. A bit of context:

There’s a deja vu quality to this piece, a flashback to the journalism of the period from 1988 through 2004. During this period, reporters seemed to like nothing more than the long, laborious effort to define a major pol’s character based on his approach to service in Vietnam. Of course, the press corps was often rather selective in launching these high-minded jihads. In 1992, they chased Bill Clinton all over town concerning his military record. By way of contrast, they broke their backs, in 1999 and 2000, to avoid the topic of George Bush’s service in the Texas Air National Guard. In that same campaign, no topic was avoided more skillfully than the topic of Bill Bradley’s service.

(You see, Bradley had been cast in the press corps’ novel as one of the characters with unassailable character. For that reason, his spotty service in a cushy National Guard unit designed for celebrity sports stars had to be disappeared.)

This morning, Blumenthal gets the Clinton treatment. For ourselves, we’d advise a bit of caution in the way you swallow this stew.

First question: Is there any topic reporters love quite as much as this one? If reporters devoted this much attention to matters of actual substance, your nation may have solved a few of its problems over the past many years.

That said, the question of Blumenthal’s honesty does remain. How truthful has be been about his military service? It’s hard to research the sprawling question about Blumenthal’s statements on Vietnam. By way of contrast, it was easy to research this nonsense:

HERNANDEZ (5/18/10): On a less serious matter, another flattering but untrue description of Mr. Blumenthal’s history has appeared in profiles about him. In two largely favorable profiles, the Slate article and a magazine article in The Hartford Courant in 2004 with which he cooperated, Mr. Blumenthal is described prominently as having served as captain of the swim team at Harvard. Records at the college show that he was never on the team.

Mr. Blumenthal said he did not provide the information to reporters, was unsure how it got into circulation and was “astonished” when he saw it in print.

Can we talk? More specifically, can we talk about the reliability of Hernandez, the guy who is judging Blumenthal’s honesty? Consider these points:

  • That Hartford Courant profile of Blumenthal is not especially favorable.
  • The profile is a gigantic 14,000 words long. It barely mentions the swim team matter, though Hernandez says the matter is “described prominently.”
  • The Slate article appeared in the year 2000. In this morning’s hard-copy Times, the year is inaccurately stated as 2006. (The error has been corrected on-line.) This error tilted the story against Blumenthal just a tad, since it suggests that the erroneous claim began with the Courant article, “with which he cooperated.”
  • Though Hernandez doesn’t say so, the Hartford Courant profile plainly describes Blumenthal entering the Marine Reserves as a way to avoid Vietnam. (Text below.)
  • The swim team claim seems to have entered the record with that Slate piece, written by David Plotz. Presumably, Hernandez could have asked Plotz where the claim came from, but he doesn’t seem to have done so. Presumably, he also could have asked Elizabeth Hamilton, who wrote the Courant profile.

The swim team matter is utterly trivial. But the Morning Joe gang was already clucking about it at 6:15 this morning. For our money, Hernandez seems to have his thumb on the scale in his treatment of this minor matter.

Does that make you trust his judgment about the more significant matter—the matter which is harder to research and judge? By the way, Hernandez makes a fairly obvious error about Vietnam-era deferments. At several points, he states that “occupational deferments” were “rare,” hard to come by. Sorry—that just isn’t accurate.

Over the past several decades, reporters have loved this type of Vietnam story, though their love for the story has been quite selective. We advise a bit of caution when perusing such treasured tales.

A bit of comic relief: Hernandez offers a bit of comic relief in the following passage. Bowing to the laws of the clan, he blames his colleagues’ past errors on—who else?—Blumenthal himself:

HERNANDEZ: Mr. Blumenthal, 64, is known as a brilliant lawyer who likes to argue cases in court and uses language with power and precision. He is also savvy about the news media and attentive to how he is portrayed in the press.

But the way he speaks about his military service has led to confusion and frequent mischaracterizations of his biography in his home state newspapers. In at least eight newspaper articles published in Connecticut from 2003 to 2009, he is described as having served in Vietnam.

The New Haven Register on July 20, 2006, described him as “a veteran of the Vietnam War,” and on April 6, 2007, said that the attorney general had “served in the Marines in Vietnam.” On May 26, 2009, The Connecticut Post, a Bridgeport newspaper that is the state’s third-largest daily, described Mr. Blumenthal as “a Vietnam veteran.” The Shelton Weekly reported on May 23, 2008, that Mr. Blumenthal “was met with applause when he spoke about his experience as a Marine sergeant in Vietnam.”

And the idea that he served in Vietnam has become such an accepted part of his public biography that when a national outlet, Slate magazine, produced a profile of Mr. Blumenthal in 2006 [later corrected to 2000], it said he had “enlisted in the Marines rather than duck the Vietnam draft.”

Even the Shelton Weekly! At any rate, by the laws of the clan, these mistakes by reporters have to be Blumenthal’s fault. By the laws of clan, such mistakes cannot represent the work of sloppy reporters—sloppy reporters like Hernandez. Example: In the case of that piece in Slate, Plotz seems to have created a highly novelized account of Blumenthal’s lofty motives. Why did Plotz include that account? Hernandez doesn’t seem to have asked. He just implies it was Blumenthal’s fault.

More comedy: At moments like these, reporters will often do what Hernandez does here—they will praise their target’s brilliance with language. This pre-rebuts the possibility that the target simply misspoke at some point.

Please note: In 2004, Hamilton correctly reported the fact that Blumenthal entered the Marine Reserves as a way to avoid Vietnam. (“Knowing his draft number was about to come up soon anyway, Blumenthal—like many young men hoping to avoid Vietnam—enlisted in the Marine Reserves and got on a midnight bus for Parris Island, S.C., for basic training, which he summarizes as 11 weeks of unmitigated misery.”)

Somehow, Hamilton managed to get this right, all the way back in 2004. When others bungled in later years—even the Shelton Weekly!—by the unshakable law of the clan, it has to be Blumenthal’s fault.