By Gene Lyons
Everybody’s known somebody who invented a make-believe biography. It’s always funny, often sad, occasionally pathological. I once knew a fellow who got into a standoff with cops who wanted him to submit to a DUI test. His girlfriend stood in the driveway crying. Poor X, she lamented, was still suffering from post-Vietnam combat flashbacks.
Fed up with X’s antics, I gently suggested she do the arithmetic. He’d been in junior high when the war ended in 1975.
Long pause. “Oh my God,” she said.
Oh my God, indeed. At first glance, it appeared that The New York Times had uncovered just such an impostor in Connecticut attorney general and Democratic U.S. Senate nominee Richard Blumenthal. In a potentially career-destroying front-page article, Times reporter Raymond Hernandez charged the candidate with repeatedly falsifying his military record to persuade audiences that he served in Vietnam, although he did not.
A Marine reservist, Blumenthal did most of his six years’ service in Washington and New Haven. In one instance, the Times had the candidate dead to rights. “We have learned something important since the days that I served in Vietnam,” Blumenthal told a 2008 Memorial Day gathering. “And you (veterans) exemplify it. Whatever we think about the war, whatever we call it – Afghanistan or Iraq – we owe our military men and women unconditional support.”
Acknowledging that he had “misspoken” on that occasion and possibly others – although the Times documented just the one – Blumenthal said he’d always meant to be “completely clear and accurate and straightforward, out of respect to the veterans who served in Vietnam.”
Ouch. That’s embarrassing. But evidence of persistent fraud? Keep reading.
Six paragraphs later, following a description of Blumenthal’s draft deferments and enlistment, Hernandez wrote that “at other times, he has used more ambiguous language, but the impression left on audiences can be similar.”
For example, in Shelton, Conn., in 2008, he spoke of the poor reception given returning soldiers. “I served during the Vietnam era,” Blumenthal said. “I remember the taunts, the insults, sometimes even physical abuse.”
Right there my personal buncombe detector started beeping. So the second-strongest evidence is two sentences that are literally true?
I hold no brief for Connecticut’s ambitious attorney general, but from long experience with The New York Times methods, I wondered what they were leaving out. Quite a bit, as it turned out...