How badly did the Times screw up the Blumenthal story? We asked this question earlier. Today, Clark Hoyt, the Times public editor answers it! Surprise: He doesn't think they screwed it up too bad. (But we don't either.)
On Monday, the Times published the bombshell that Richard Blumenthal—the Democratic candidate in Connecticut's U.S. Senate race—was lying about serving in Vietnam. Then the Times was hit with a barrage of criticism. Hoyt stands by the article, but does believe that criticism was warranted. Namely: "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..." And the whole video of Blumenthal's misleading statements should have been included in the article.
Hoyt runs through the criticisms, one by one:
Where it began: One major point of criticism was that Blumenthal's opponent, Republican Linda McMahon, fed the story to the campaign. Hoyt she provided some video, but didn't spark the Times' investigation. Even if the McMahon campaign tipped off the paper, so what? Facts are bipartisan.
The Rest of the Video: The Times' smoking gun was a 2008 video clip of Blumenthal erroneously saying that he served "in Vietnam." But the full speech includes a part that is largely accurate about his service. He tells the crowd he served "in the military during the Vietnam era in the Marine corps." Hoyt basically says this part doesn't matter because he's still a liar. This point is sketchier. We all learned from Wikileaks that context is paramount when it comes to video evidence. Cherry-picking incriminating footage is ethically more sound than outright tampering, but it can be almost as misleading and slanted—in appearance and in fact.
On the record: Hoyt says a bunch of newspapers mistated Blumenthal's military record. But Blumenthal says he wasn't responsible. This, too, is tricky. The Times says there were "many" misleading articles. Assuming Blumenthal didn't actively mislead them, can he really be faulted for someone else's shabby reporting?
The Reporting: One sticking point was that a major voice in the article claimed she was misquoted in saying that she heard Blumenthal misrepresent his record. The reporter, Raymond Hernandez, stands by the quote. Who knows what is actually true!
But these are all journalism school concerns, really. Ultimately, the propriety of the Times attack on Blumenthal rests on one fact: Was Blumenthal's deception more than just a few innocent gaffes? Even if every single point of criticism was 100% true, the Times still assembled enough unassailable facts to warrant the kind of full-frontal assault it launched. It may not have been a precision sniper shot, but a messy shotgun does the job just as well, even if it might catch your arm, too.