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When politicians get caught, it's the media who catch the blame

(Ed Reinke - AP)
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The so-called misplaced words, however, amounted to outright deception when the Democratic Senate candidate said, for example, that "I wore the uniform in Vietnam."

Blumenthal also said he "can't be held responsible for all the mistakes in all the articles" about him, although his staff could easily have asked for corrections. Nearly a week after the initial Times article, Blumenthal finally told the Hartford Courant he had "made mistakes and I am sorry."

The Times reporting had flaws. The paper should have acknowledged that Blumenthal's Republican opponent, former wrestling executive Linda McMahon, had provided some of the negative information, as she was happy to boast once the piece was published. Readers deserved to know the source of some of the opposition research. And the Times should have posted the full video of an instance in which Blumenthal said he had served in Vietnam, which included an earlier -- but not contradictory -- reference to having served during Vietnam. On balance, though, the article was accurate.

Fox's Sean Hannity, while interviewing McMahon, said he is "always suspicious when the New York Times breaks a story on a Democrat because they don't do that very often." Perhaps he missed the paper's reporting that prompted Eliot Spitzer to resign and his successor, David Paterson, to withdraw from the governor's race.

In the recent London sting, Fergie was caught so red-handed by the News of the World's "Fake Sheik" that she made no attempt to spin her way out of the mess. (She'll seek forgiveness on Oprah's couch this week.) But the British media have largely given Rupert Murdoch's tabloid a pass for engaging in deceit, saying that nailing a minor royal and ex-Weight Watchers spokeswoman was worth it.

But where is it written that journalists get to decide when to give themselves permission to lie? If it's all right to pose as a businessman, what about a doctor? A lawyer? A soldier? (Most American news organizations now avoid the practice, immortalized when the Chicago Sun-Times set up a bribe-dispensing bar in 1977, although some television programs still do hidden-camera investigations.)

Those who say the ends justify the means sometimes adjust their views depending on the target. When conservative activists James O'Keefe and Hannah Giles posed as pimp and prostitute while secretly taping ACORN staffers, commentators on the right praised them as heroes and liberals challenged their tactics. (O'Keefe pleaded guilty last week to unlawfully entering Sen. Mary Landrieu's office during another ruse.)

The Brits have had a bloody good time mocking Fergie. But the reaction was very different a week earlier when the Mail on Sunday reported that Lord Triesman, chairman of the Football Association, had accused Spain and Russia of planning to bribe referees in this summer's World Cup. The paper got that story from a secretly recorded conversation that the 66-year-old Triesman had with a 37-year-old former aide who claims they had an affair.

The Mail was besieged by criticism as Triesman resigned. Former soccer star Gary Lineker quit his column at the paper, saying that "the Mail on Sunday has made a gross error in judgment in treating Lord Triesman like this."

The reason so many were kicking the tabloid: The sting was blamed for jeopardizing Britain's bid for the 2018 World Cup.

Media morsels

-- There's more than one way to move the ratings needle: Last week's "Nightline" interview with Jesse James, the cheating husband of Sandra Bullock, drew 6.8 million viewers -- the highest figure for the ABC program in seven years .

-- The Tribune Co. may be slogging through bankruptcy, but as the Wall Street Journal reports, that hasn't stopped the company from asking for a third round of executive bonuses, and the $43 million being sought would bring the total to $115 million since last year. What, exactly, are these top honchos being rewarded for?

-- Glenn Beck apologized Friday for making fun of President Obama's 11-year-old daughter, whom the president said had asked him, "Did you plug the hole?" in the gulf oil spill. Beck, mocking Malia's voice, had her asking, "Daddy, why do you hate black people?" In a statement, the radio host said he had made a "stupid mistake": "In discussing how President Obama uses children to shield himself from criticism, I broke my own rule about leaving kids out of political debates."

-- Oops: Atlantic blogger and editor Daniel Indiviglio wrote last week that Bill Clinton's "onetime special prosecutor" had "engaged in some bad behavior of his own"-- charged with running a $30 million Ponzi scheme. Actually, that would be Kenneth I. Starr, an investment adviser to the stars and most definitely not the man who investigated Monica Lewinsky, as Indiviglio acknowledged in an apology. Hasn't this fellow ever heard of Google?

Howard Kurtz also works for CNN and hosts its weekly media program, "Reliable Sources."


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