What is considered news in today’s chaotic world? Consider the case study of Connecticut candidates referencing their war time experience as they seek to build up political support.
Google the words “Blumenthal lies about Vietnam” and “Foley lies about Iraq” and you’ll find a stunning difference in the number of news stories and blog references.
In the case of Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Richard Blumenthal you’ll find hundreds of news articles that followed a report by the New York Times, including stories in every major newspaper and news outlet in the nation. There are also thousands of blog references, all relating to the controversy surrounding Blumenthal’s comments about his experience during the Vietnam War. On the other hand, the words “Foley lies about Iraq” will get you the original story in the Connecticut Post, a few minor references to that story and a handful of blog posts about what Republican gubernatorial candidate Thomas Foley has said about his time in Iraq.
The difference in the amount and tone of coverage and commentary is a stunning eye-opener about what is considered newsworthy or politically important in today’s world.
As everyone now knows, thanks to the extensive news coverage, on more than one occasion Blumenthal implied or allowed the impression to exist that he served as a U.S. Marine Sergeant in Vietnam (when in fact he served as a Sergeant in the Marine Reserves during the Vietnam era stateside). As it turns out, although his official biography and campaign materials never implied that he did anything other than serve six years as a member of the Marine Reserves, on a few occasions his public speeches to veterans referenced his service in Vietnam. As a response to the controversy, Blumenthal has said that he “misspoke on more than one occasion” and has apologized for his actions.
Meanwhile, Foley’s gubernatorial campaign materials make direct reference to his purported heroic work in war-torn Iraq. His present campaign website says, “Security was tight when Tom arrived, but it significantly deteriorated during the fall of 2003. Travel outside of the Green Zone became more and more risky. Even so, Tom and his team had to travel outside of the Green Zone to conduct their work. Donning bullet proof vests, dodging rockets and mortars, and avoiding IED’s became regular parts of the routine.” The Foley campaign has even designed their campaign website to allow supporters to print out these particular words in case they want to pass them on to voters who might want to know more about Foley before they cast their ballot this fall.
Asked by a reporter whether his appointment as Director of Private Sector Development in Iraq by President George W. Bush was due to the fact that he had raised significant campaign donations for Bush, Foley’s response was “If the administration wanted to reward a friend, it would have come up with something better than seven months of 16-hour days and seven-day workweeks dodging rockets and mortars…”
In June 2004, Foley even received the Department of Defense’s coveted Distinguished Public Service Award for his service to the nation in Iraq.However, the facts surrounding Foley’s experiences in Iraq don’t match up when one examines his own speeches on the subject.
In an April 2004 speech to the EX-IM BANK 2004 ANNUAL CONFERENCE in Washington D. C., only a month before he received the Department of Defense Service Award, Foley said, “When I was in Iraq, I used to go out into Baghdad frequently by myself, and I had no problem walking up and down the streets. I never once ran into a situation that I considered hostile. I did for entertainment carry around a 9-millimeter pistol. It runs in the family. But I never needed it, and it was probably mostly for show.”
More recently, in July 2010, Foley told Connecticut Post reporter Ken Dixon, “I never came under fire that was directed at me,” and “Outside the Green Zone there was never a situation when somebody directly was targeting me or there was a firefight.”
So we have two candidates with two sets of circumstances both relating to whether they have misled voters in an attempt to garner political support. In one case, we have a candidate who is running for the US Senate in Connecticut. His written materials are accurate but his speeches may have misled voters. In the other case, we have a candidate running for governor whose written materials are designed to mislead voters but his speeches may be more accurate.
And so how are these situations handled by the media and commentators?
The Blumenthal story made national headlines. On MSNBC, Chris Matthews said, “The United States Senate cannot take on the morally dead weight of this candidate without honor.” Cokie Roberts of ABC said, “If I were a Democratic strategist, I’d tell him to get out of the race.” Charles Hunt’s commentary in the New York Post concluded “Well, the time now has come for Blumenthal to finally serve his nation honorably. And for real. He should quit the race” And here in Connecticut, the Torrington Register-Citizen said, “And for a state and nation of families whose sons and daughters have risked or given their lives overseas in service to this country, it is unforgivable. Richard Blumenthal should end his candidacy for the U.S. Senate…”
Meanwhile, when it comes to the Foley story we have a Connecticut Post article entitled “Foley’s Iraq experience: What’s fact, what’s fiction?” and then …. Nothing.
No stories about how Foley appears to be using his campaign materials to intentionally and purposely mislead voters by falsifying his experience in Iraq to make him look more courageous. Nothing about his lies in any national newspaper, not even a major follow-up story in Connecticut despite the fact that this candidate want to be Connecticut’s most important and powerful elected official. There hasn’t even been an editorial writer who has called on Foley to explain his transgression, let alone call for him to drop out of the race.
Is the issue that the Blumenthal story first appeared in the New York Times, but the Foley story “only” originated in the Connecticut Post?
Is the substantive difference between appropriate the office of US Senate and governor. Is it our intention to hold a candidate running for the Senate to a different standard than one running for Governor?
Have we decided that misspeaking about one’s experience in Vietnam almost 40 years ago is a more egregious offense than misrepresenting or even lying about one’s action in a present war?
Foley’s campaign materials say he dodged bullets in Iraq and he says that isn’t true.
Meanwhile, since the Iraq War began on March 19, 2003, 4,416 US soldiers have been killed in Iraq and over 100,000 wounded. Of that number at least 30 Connecticut soldiers lost their life in Iraq leaving behind mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, husbands, wives and children.
These where solders who really were dodging bullets and lost their lives as a result.
Yet the man who wants to be our next Governor says we should support him, in part, because he had the courage to go to Iraq and put on a bullet proof vest…and worse, has the audacity to give voters the impression he was in personal danger when it turns that he admits that he “never once ran into a situation that [he] considered hostile.
And the media doesn’t think t his is a story? The editorial writers don’t think it requires commentary?
Well, I for one think it does matter. Blumenthal was skewered for a far less serious transgression while Foley lies about his service in Iraq in a blatant attempt to capitalize on our patriotic feelings.
Embellishing one’s resume is never appropriate, especially for a politician who is trying to earn our trust, but implying that your experience was similar to the men and women who went to Iraq to fight, and even die, is beyond reprehensible.
Foley has proven, beyond a reasonable doubt, that he lacks the integrity to serve as Connecticut’s next governor and the media should be far more attentive to this issue.
Jonathan Pelto served as a member of the House of Representatives from 1984-1993. He was Deputy Majority Leader and member of the Appropriations Committees during the income tax debate of 1991. He presently works as a strategic communications consultant, including work on Kevin Lembo’s campaign for state comptroller.