At the NYT, Some Pols Mislead, Others Imagine

The New York Times is being criticized for selective editing in its reporting on Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal’s misleading accounts of his military record–the paper posted on its website a clip of a speech where the Democratic Senate candidate makes his most direct claim to have served in Vietnam, but it edited that clip to leave out a nearby passage where he accurately depicts himself as serving “during the Vietnam War.” The Times rejected the criticism in a response to Washington Post blogger Greg Sargent:

The New York Times in its reporting uncovered Mr. Blumenthal’s long and well established pattern of misleading his constituents about his Vietnam War service, which he acknowledged in an interview with the Times. Mr. Blumenthal needs to be candid with his constituents about whether he went to Vietnam or not, since his official military records clearly indicate he did not.

It is commendable to hold misleading politicians to account. Our question is how universal this concern is at the New York Times. Political mavens may recall Ronald Reagan as one of the more striking examples of an elected official promoting fantasies about his military record; Reagan’s claims to have personally witnessed the Holocaust as part of a government film crew at the end of World War II were first reported by the Washington Post‘s Lou Cannon in 1984 (3/5/84):

When Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir visited the White House last November 29, he was impressed by a previously undisclosed remembrance of President Reagan about the Nazi extermination of Jews during World War II. Repeating it to his Israeli Cabinet five days later, Shamir said Reagan had told him that he had served as a photographer in a U.S. Army unit assigned to film Nazi death camps.

Shamir said Reagan also informed him that he had saved a copy of the film because he believed that, in time, people would question what had happened….

Shamir’s account appeared December 6 in the Israeli newspaper Maariv. It was confirmed last week to Edward Walsh, the Washington Post correspondent in Jerusalem, by Israeli Cabinet secretary Dan Meridor.

On Feb. 15, famed Nazi-hunter Simon Wiesenthal met with Reagan in the White House and heard a similar story. Wiesenthal told Washington Post reporter Joanne Omang that he and Reagan had held “a very nice meeting,” during which the president related “some of his personal remarks from the end of the war.”

Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, also was present. He told Omang that Reagan said he was “a member of the Signal Corps taking pictures of the camps” and that he had saved a copy of the film and shown it a year later to a person who thought the reports were exaggerated.

Reagan, in fact, never left the United States during World War II, when he worked for the military in Hollywood making propaganda films. His footage of the death camps was a fantasy.

Now, this is not a case of a candidate for the Senate padding his resume; this is a sitting president offering an elaborate fabrication to another world leader. Yet the New York Times seems to have completely ignored the Post‘s scoop. A thorough search of the Times‘ archives via Nexis turns up a solitary mention, in Reagan’s obituary (6/6/04), and a remarkably rosy framing at that:

His flights of imagination remained equally vivid when he went to the White House. In 1983 he told Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir of Israel that as part of his war duties he had been assigned to film the Nazi death camps.

Apparently some politicians mislead, while others have vivid flights of imagination.

About Jim Naureckas

Extra! Magazine Editor Since 1990, Jim Naureckas has been the editor of Extra!, FAIR's monthly journal of media criticism. He is the co-author of The Way Things Aren't: Rush Limbaugh's Reign of Error, and co-editor of The FAIR Reader: An Extra! Review of Press and Politics in the '90s. He is also the co-manager of FAIR's website. He has worked as an investigative reporter for the newspaper In These Times, where he covered the Iran-Contra scandal, and was managing editor of the Washington Report on the Hemisphere, a newsletter on Latin America. Jim was born in Libertyville, Illinois, in 1964, and graduated from Stanford University in 1985 with a bachelor's degree in political science. Since 1997 he has been married to Janine Jackson, FAIR's program director. You can follow Jim on Twitter at @JNaureckas.