MARK KIRK’S EXAGGERATED SERVICE RECORD…. About two weeks ago, Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal’s (D) service record became the subject of intense scrutiny, after a speech emerged in which the Senate candidate said he served “in,” rather than “during,” the war in Vietnam. Upon further inspection, it appeared that Blumenthal had merely misspoken, and voters in Connecticut didn’t seem to care.

But the story has brought into focus the service record of other candidates, and in the case of Rep. Mark Kirk’s (R) Senate campaign in Illinois, that’s proving to be an unwelcome development.

Kirk, a U.S. Naval Reserve officer, really has served honorably. The problem appears to be his tendency to embellish this record.

First, Kirk claimed to be “the only member of Congress to serve in Operation Iraqi Freedom.” That turned out to be untrue — Kirk served during the conflict, not in it. Second, Kirk claimed to “command the war room in the Pentagon,” which also turned out to be untrue.

Today, we learn of Kirk’s third strike.

The Republican candidate for President Obama’s old Senate seat inaccurately claimed to have received the U.S. Navy’s Intelligence Officer of the Year award for service during NATO’s conflict with Serbia in the late 1990s.

Rep. Mark Kirk, a Navy reservist elected to Congress in 2001, acknowledged the error in his official biography after The Washington Post began looking into whether he had received the prestigious award, which is given by top Navy officials to a single individual annually. The Post’s inquiries were sparked by complaints from a representative of state Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias, Kirk’s Democratic opponent in the Illinois Senate race.

Kirk, an Appropriations Committee member, changed his Web site last week to incorporate a different account of the award. Kirk wrote on his blog that “upon a recent review of my records, I found that an award listed in my official biography was misidentified” and that the award he had intended to list was given to his entire unit.

How did the bogus claim end up on Kirk’s biography? Perhaps because he boasted about the honor in a congressional hearing, bragging to his colleagues, “I was the Navy’s Intelligence Officer of the Year.” It’s a claim, we now know, was greatly exaggerated.

Again, just to reemphasize, Kirk really does have an impressive service record, which he has every reason to be proud of. This truth makes it all the more curious why the Republican candidate has felt the need to embellish this record on multiple occasions.

As for the larger discourse, it will also be worth watching to see if the media treats the Kirk story with nearly as much enthusiasm as the Blumenthal story.

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Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.