Monday, May 24, 2010

The Blumenthal Image Issue

On May 17, The New York Times revealed that Richard Blumenthal — the Connecticut Attorney General running as the Democratic candidate for the Senate — exaggerated his military service record, implying that he served in Vietnam when he did not. He unleashed a tempest when his statements raised the issue of trust. Will he be able to weather the storm?

What did he say? “In Vietnam, we had to endure taunts and insults, and no one said, ‘Welcome home’ [when we returned].”

A fierce advocate for veterans’ rights and a member of the Marine Reserves, Blumenthal has devoted his life to helping Vietnam vets, but he clearly carried his identification with his immediate audience a little too far, thereby confusing other listeners and leading them to believe that he was speaking about himself personally.

After Blumenthal’s remarks, he met with a group of veterans and admitted he “misspoke.” Yet the trust factor looms large. According to a recent Rasmussen poll, more than half (53%) of voters say “the issue of Blumenthal and his military service” will be at least somewhat important in terms of how they vote.

While human beings make mistakes, this survey represents a substantial number of Connecticut voters concerned about a “misstatement” that Blumenthal has ostensibly made on more than one occasion. In this era of transparency, should we be more tolerant or more scrupulous when it comes to the mistakes made by our leaders? Would you be more or less trusting of a leader who equivocates — or tells an outright lie — and then apologizes?

From a public relations perspective, it all boils down to issues of clarity and awareness of the audience categories one is addressing. Was Blumenthal speaking for himself or were his remarks behalf of the veterans he was addressing? These days, as a result of the internet, that speech you deliver to a handful of veterans in West Hartford will be heard around the world by many constituencies that may not the interests of the people in the room. Today, words for one, so to speak, are words for all. Blumenthal – and many others – need to be sensitive to that and keep it always top of mind.


Technorati Tags: Richard Blumenthal, Connecticut Attorney General, Vietnam, Return on Values, veteran, West Hartford

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