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Monday, May 24, 2010
MRC Quiet As NYT's Blumenthal Story Falls Apart
Topic: Media Research Center

The Media Research Center loves to hammer the reporting and commentary at the New York Times -- heck, it has an entire division devoted solely attacking it.

But those attacks are not about the Times' journalistic quality -- it's about its occasional conservative incorrectness. Out of the dozens of articles the Times publishes each day, the MRC's TimesWatch can identify only a paltry few that violate its standards of not being conservative enough, which would seem to undermine the right-wing notion that the Times has a liberal bias.

So when the Times publishes a factually deficient story that attacks a Democrat -- as it did with its May 18 article accusing Connecticut senate candidate Richard Blumenthal of lying about his service in Vietnam -- the MRC not only ignores those problems, it defends the article as accurate.

The only article at TimesWatch on the Blumenthal story is a May 19 item by Clay Waters that strains to find something, anything, to criticize about it -- that it waited until the third paragraph to identify Blumenthal as a Democrat and that the accompanying photo "didn't identify Blumenthal as a Democrat either."

Meanwhile, the rest of the MRC was eager to promote the story -- despite its history of attacking the Times' reporting. Scott Whitlock used a May 19 item complained that CBS didn't report on Blumenthal's "military scandal,"  that ABC "devoted less than a minute to the topic." and that NBC didn't identify him as a Democrat.

NewsBusters' Tom Blumer, meanwhile, was incredulous that Blumenthal would even be allowed to defend himself: "These Times-delivered facts and quotes are not subject to "dispute." They are part of the historical record." Nevertheless, he still strained to attack the Times, complaining that the story appeared "only four days" before Connecticut Democrats meet to choose an official candidate for the Senate seat, adding that they are unlikely to "dare to withhold or deny an endorsement to its highest state officeholder." Also at NewsBusters, Alex Fitzsimmons was similarly incredulous that MSNBC's Mika Brzezinski wanted to hear Blumenthal's side of the story.

Tim Graham also didn't believe that Blumenthal should be allowed to defend himself. In a May 19 NewsBusters post, he wrote that PBS "NewsHour" anchor Judy Woodruff reported on Connecticut Senate candidate Richard Blumenthal’s lies that he served in Vietnam, but reported with a straight face that he didn’t lie on every occasion." Graham added that the idea that Blumenthal might have misspoke about his service was just a "weasel word" and that a reporter from "the liberal Hartford Courant newspaper ... aggressively worked on the damage control squad for Blumenthal."

NewsBusters' P.J. Gladnick piled on, attacking Times columnist David Brooks for being "both absurd and contradictory in the same paragraph" for suggesting that Blumenthal claiming he servedin Vietnam was an "accident" and that while the claim that he did was "dishonorable ... everybody expects politicians to lie."

Meanwhile, the Times' story was starting to unravel. The Associated Press reported that among the evidence the Times cited against Blumenthal was "a video of Blumenthal saying at a 2008 event that he had served in Vietnam," but that "[a] longer version of the video posted by a Republican opponent shows Blumenthal at the beginning of his speech correctly characterizing his service by saying that he 'served in the military, during the Vietnam era.'"

MSNBC's Dylan Ratigan had the temerity to say the Times was telling "only part of the story" because it didn't report Blumenthal's other statement in the video, so MRC analyst Kyle Drennen scoffed that it was "[h]ardly a statement that would have corrected the record for the audience." When Ratigan noted that the Times story has received "criticism from NPR, Columbia Journalism Review, and others," Drennen retorting by quoting National Review's Jonah Goldberg -- not an unbiased media analyst -- claiming that "everyone outside the realm of naked partisan politics agrees that Blumenthal is a liar and shameful one at that."

Since then, the Times story has continued to unravel. It claimed that Blumenthal was never on the Harvard swim team despite having been described as team captain; in fact, Blumenthal was on the team, and there's no evidence he ever claimed to be team captain. It has also been revealed that the Times had the full video of Blumenthal's speech before publication. Further, Times public editor Clark Hoythas admitted problems: "Were there flaws in the story? Yes: It should have said more about how it originated; it should have provided mitigating information far higher; it should have noted that his official biography was accurate. The full video should have been posted so readers could make their own judgments."

Still, despite these problems, Mark Finkelstein attacked Times reporter John Harwood for "casually dismissed the candidate's lies about having served in Vietnam as just a case of getting 'a little carried away,'" adding that "Mark Halperin of Time essentially sided with Harwood." At no point does Finkelstein mention the problems that have been identified with the Times story.

The lesson: The MRC doesn't care about journalism, only politics. It's willing to stand by the distorted conclusions of a badly reported article when a Democrat suffers from the bad reporting.

Posted by Terry K. at 11:28 AM EDT

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