Update: The New York Times‘s public editor (ombudsman) has supported the paper’s handling of this story, and has rejected critics’ claims that the paper was biased and unfair to Blumenthal.
Kudos to the New York Times for revealing that Richard Blumenthal, Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate from Connecticut, has falsely claimed to have served in Vietnam. In March 2008 he referred to “the days that I served in Vietnam,” but the Times story shows that he never was in that war. The Times does a careful, thorough job with this story. It goes over Blumenthal’s deferment records. It carefully quotes an expert on deferments, rather than the Times reporter himself drawing any conclusions. It gives Blumenthal an opportunity to respond. (He says lamely that he “misspoke.”) The Times further documents its story by providing an online link to a video from a March 2008 meeting where Blumenthal makes the false claim of service in Vietnam, so that readers can see and hear for themselves whether he really said it, and in what context. Blumenthal’s Republican opponent is now claiming, through a blogger’s post on her website, that her campaign helped the Times get the story. Whether or not that is true, the Times made the right decisions on whether to do the story, how to research and present it and how to play it (big, on page one). This is an important story because it could cost the Democrats a seat they have held for decades. And it is important because it is an example of one of the most important functions of journalists in our democracy: speaking truth to power, holding the powerful accountable, and serving as a watchdog on those in government.