MICHAEL SCHRAGE WRITES, “Funny that this is a story now.”

DENVER — The thick-muscled man with close-cropped hair who called himself Rick Duncan seemed right out of central casting as a prop for a Democratic candidate running against Bush administration policies last fall. A former Marine Corps captain who suffered brain trauma from a roadside bomb in Iraq and was at the Pentagon during the Sept. 11 attacks. An advocate for veterans rights who opposed the war. An Annapolis graduate who was proudly gay. With his gold-plated credentials, he commanded the respect and attention of not just politicians, but also police chiefs, reporters and veterans advocates for the better part of two years.

Yet, except for his first name, virtually none of his story was true. In reality, he was Richard G. Strandlof, a charismatic drifter with a history of mental illness and petty crimes who had moved from Montana to Nevada to Colorado, assuming different names and identities along the way.

They were too busy investigating Joe The Plumber back during the election. You’d think this would have been a tipoff, though: “He claimed to have lost a finger, but had 10 digits.” Note, however, the way the NYT story executes damage-control as it goes.