The exposure of Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal as a hoaxer boasting of a nonexistent record of service in the Vietnam War is a splendid example of what is known as the Taranto Principle. Someday, the Taranto Principle will be taught in all the journalism schools, assuming one or two survive the present detumescence of journalism. Formulated by the inimitable Wall Street Journal editorialist James Taranto, the principle posits that when the liberal mainstream press indulges a liberal politician’s deceits or fails to hold the politician accountable for his misbehavior, it encourages the politician to ascend to a higher level of misbehavior.
Thus, for years Sen. Jean-Francois Kerry was wont to boast of his exploits in the Vietnam War. His sympathizers in the press never bothered to remind him or the citizenry that Mr. Kerry had embellished his military record and - worse - upon returning from Vietnam, he cast his lot with the rising anti-war movement. As an opponent of the war he even was emboldened to appear before Congress and mendaciously testify that his comrades had “personally raped, cut off ears, cut off heads, taped wires from portable telephones to human genitals and turned up the power, cut off limbs, blown up bodies, randomly shot at civilians, razed villages in fashion reminiscent of Genghis Khan.”
This garbagespiel was televised nationally and he should have known that tapes of it would be readily available in 2004 when he ran for president. Nonetheless, rather than stressing less controversial aspects of his years of public life, thanks to the liberal press’ indulgence of his exaggerated claims to heroism, he made the risky choice of running as a veteran of the Vietnam War. That angered those who had served with him and their revelations about his service sank his candidacy. The Taranto Principle is vindicated.
It has been vindicated again with the revelations about Mr. Blumenthal. For years, he has been fawned over by the liberal press. Pari passu with the passage of time, he has gone from being a young man who sought five military deferments during the Vietnam War to claiming repeatedly and falsely that he actually served in the war. On the way to making those false claims, he did indeed enlist in the Marine Reserve, but he never served in the war.
In 2008, the New York Times reports that he said in a speech, “We have learned something important since the days that I served in Vietnam.” At another point in 2008 the Times reports that he informed an audience that “I served during the Vietnam era,” concluding that “I remember the taunts, the insults, sometimes even physical abuse.” As recently as a few weeks ago, he publicly recalled being spit upon when “we returned from Vietnam.”
Now his campaign for the United States Senate is in grave jeopardy. Perhaps it could all have been avoided if years back, the press had taken a look at his claims, reported them and chastened him from making the increasingly bold assertions of nonsense.
As an addendum to the Taranto Principle, let me add an observation. Increasing numbers of candidates for public office, particularly at the national level, seem given to fantasy. They are encouraged to tell dramatic stories about themselves. The press loves it. Goaded by the Taranto Principle it is not long before those stories become total fantasies. Mr. Blumenthal is obviously one of those fantasists. Had he not been tripped up this week, he might have soon been telling the electorate about his Congressional Medal of Honor. Possibly, if he somehow manages to win the Democratic primary he still will, and then when the stakes are so high and the possibility exists that a Republican might beat him, will the Times raise doubts about his Congressional Medal of Honor? Mr. Taranto will be watching.
R. Emmett Tyrrell, Jr. is the founder and editor in chief of The American Spectator and an adjunct scholar at the Hudson Institute. His new book is “After the Hangover: The Conservatives’ Road to Recovery” (Thomas Nelson, 2010).