PBS NewsHour Anchor, Hartford Courant Reporter Spin Furiously for Blumenthal

On the PBS NewsHour last night, 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: "In fact, on a number of occasions, Blumenthal has correctly stated his record, including at a debate last March, seen in this clip posted on YouTube."

This may sound like "the pilot usually didn't crash the plane." But this was merely a prelude to Woodruff’s interview with Christopher Keating of the liberal Hartford Courant newspaper, who aggressively worked on the damage control squad for Blumenthal. Keating oozed that "his defenders say they will give him the benefit of the doubt, and, clearly, obviously, the veterans who said that he has been to more funerals than probably literally any politician in the state of Connecticut, including the governor -- almost any time that somebody is killed in Iraq or Afghanistan, Blumenthal is there."

Keating’s first defense was that he never heard Blumenthal lie about this before – and he didn’t say lie, he offered Blumenthal’s own weasel word, "misspeak" – and neither had his political opponents, through "almost hundreds" of events:

WOODRUFF: Let me just ask you first, where do the facts stand right now? You have The New York Times saying that Blumenthal misstated his record several times, and then you have Mr. Blumenthal himself today saying, no, it was inadvertent; it was only a few times; most of the time, he got it right.

CHRISTOPHER KEATING: That's correct. He basically said he's been to almost hundreds of wreath-laying ceremonies and funerals and different occasions where he spoke, and said it was only a couple of times. He did admit to misspeaking. But the people who were there, the veterans who were behind him at the press conference basically all said that they never heard him misspeak. And other Vietnam veterans that I spoke to said they had never heard Blumenthal misspeak about his service.

WOODRUFF: Now, as we just reported, as we just said, you have covered him for many years. Have you ever heard him claim or say that he served in Vietnam?

KEATING: I personally had not. I have been at many occasions. He always mentions that he is a veteran. When people come to the state capitol, and there are different veteran ceremonies, he always mentions that. He mentions he was a sergeant and compliments the people who were in the audience, the older veterans who might have been of a higher rank. But I personally had never heard him misstate what he did in Vietnam or that he was even in Vietnam.

WOODRUFF: So, it wasn't your understanding that he had been in Vietnam?

KEATING: Correct. I never thought that he was in Vietnam. Rob Simmons, who is the Republican candidate and a former CIA agent and a Vietnam veteran for 19 months, who is running against Blumenthal, said that he never heard Blumenthal misspeak. So, the occasions where he did misspeak -- and, admittedly, he did misspeak -- were -- generally, reporters were not there, other veterans or people of the -- politicians of the Rob Simmons type were not there.

So perhaps what we’re learning is that Blumenthal lied about serving in Vietnam on occasions where the press or his potential political opponents were not in the room.

Woodruff sounded like the attorney general's defense attorney. She wasn't playing prosecutor. Woodruff did not raise the point with Keating that a series of Connecticut news stories wrongly stated Blumenthal served in Vietnam, without any Blumenthal corrections, or on a lighter note of resume enhancement, news accounts that made him the captain of the Harvard swim team when he was never even on the team.

The second Keating defense was that the Times story was wrong to suggest he used influence to wangle a spot in the Marine Corps reserves. Imagine Judy Woodruff just accepting that this is how George W. Bush entered the Texas Air National Guard:

WOODRUFF: The other thing that The New York Times reported about this, Chris Keating, is that -- suggested that he used influence to get into the Marine Reserves. He said today he just picked up a phone book, made a phone call, and was taken.

KEATING: That is correct. That is what he said. He had a very big background. He went to Harvard College. He worked in the White House. He knew Daniel Patrick Moynihan. He -- he clerked for the U.S. Supreme Court. Blumenthal had a lot of contacts. But he said he used none of them when he got into the Marine Reserves. And that is correct; he said he got it out of the phone book, no special privileges, despite quite a background and quite a resume that he already had.

Since when does PBS try to cast doubt on the reporting of The New York Times, whose reporters regularly grace their airwaves? Is it only when a Democratic candidate’s honesty is on the line? This exchange is merely an exchange about whether they can accurately characterize Blumenthal’s self-serving spin.

The third Keating defense is that Blumenthal is still the front-runner in this contest:

WOODRUFF: How does this affect the Senate race? Blumenthal was running ahead in most of the polls.

KEATING: That is correct. Blumenthal was definitely the front-runner really in all the polls. He was the front-runner in the Democratic primary. And there may not be a primary if he gets the nomination. The Republicans, most likely, there will be a primary in August, and then the general election in November, obviously. But Blumenthal was ahead in all the polls, both in the polls at the Democratic primary level and in the general election. Obviously, this can't help him, but he was up by more than double digits over every other candidate in the race and beating some candidates by 20 points, 30 points.

JUDY WOODRUFF: What sort of reaction are you picking up in political circles and among the public today about this?

KEATING: Many, many people are surprised. A lot of people didn't see this coming. His defenders, whom I have spoken to today, his defenders say they will give him the benefit of the doubt, and, clearly, obviously, the veterans who said that he has been to more funerals than probably literally any politician in the state of Connecticut, including the governor -- almost any time that somebody is killed in Iraq or Afghanistan, Blumenthal is there.

He is definitely with the veterans more than any other politician in Connecticut. And, so, his supporters are giving him the benefit of the doubt. The people who don't like him are using this as another -- another method of saying, you know, we don't need Blumenthal, he needs to step down, and he needs to be defeated in November.

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis