The headline in Sunday's New York Times says it all: "Vocal on War, McCain is Silent on Son's Service." With that, reporter Jodi Kantor plunges into another strange examination of the presumptive GOP presidential nominee, detailing something that Mr. McCain never mentions on the campaign trail--that his son, Jimmy, is a member of the Marine Corps, and recently completed a combat tour in Iraq.
According to the Times, the Senator, his wife Cindy and Lance Corporal McCain declined to be interviewed for the piece. And the McCain campaign asked the paper not to run the article, citing Jimmy McCain's right-to-privacy. Not surprisingly, the NYT declined, decided that its readers need to know about Lance Corporal McCain, a combat vet who has accompanied his father on campaign swings (in civilian clothes), but is never mentioned by the candidate.
Readers of this blog know that we've had--and still have--serious disagreements with the Arizona Senator on policy issues. But in the matter of Jimmy McCain's service to his country (and his right to privacy), we'd say the Senator and his family got it right. Reading the Times account, readers discover that Jimmy McCain has a bit of his old man's maverick streak. He enlisted in the Marine Corps at the age of 17, and never asked for special favors--only a chance to prove himself. But that ignores the salient question: doesn't the younger McCain still have a right to privacy?
And, by all accounts he has. The Times interviewed one of Lance Corporal McCain's commanding officers, and a number of his fellow Marines. To a man, they describe him as hard-working and humble, eager to do his duty. During his deployment to Anbar Provinence, McCain's unit performed "soft knock" operations, visits to Iraqi homes designed to provide surveillance and reassurance. They also searched for weapons caches and IEDs. While the security situation had dramatically improved by the time McCain's unit arrive, three Marines from his battalion were killed in action during his deployment.
From a news standpoint, what does this have to do with John McCain's bid for the White House? Absolutely nothing--the same point his campaign tried to make with the Times in an effort to quash the story. Like any other soldier, sailor, airman, or Marine, Lance Corporal McCain deserves the right to serve outside the media spotlight. As the scion of a legendary Navy family, McCain already carries an extra burden. There was simply no need for the Times to pile on with Sunday's story about Jimmy McCain and his military career.
But, when it comes to Senator McCain and his presidential bid, nothing is apparently off limits for the NYT. Just a few weeks ago, the paper ran with that infamous "expose" detailing Mr. McCain's supposedly relationship with a female lobbyist. Never mind that both the Senator and the lobbyist denied the accusation. And never mind that the Times' own editor didn't think his reporters had the story nailed down. The "story's" salacious allegations were enough for the paper to launch its opening salvo against McCain.
Sunday's article on Jimmy McCain doesn't fall in the same category, but it's timing is curious, to say the least. With Sunday's splash, McCain is now the most famous Lance Corporal in the Marine Corps--a title he clearly loathes. And, it raises concerns for the Corps. Jimmy McCain's fellow Marines joked with him about "patrolling with the Secret Service," if his father wins the fall election.
That's obviously a stretch, but the Corps would have to go to added lengths to protect future deployments by the younger McCain and his unit. It's not unreasonable to suggest that the Marine Corps might impose similar rules to those that accompanied Prince Harry's recent deployment to Afghanistan--a tour that was cut short after the Drudge Report (and other media outlets) broke the media embargo.
Clearly, that's not the way that Lance Corporal McCain wants to serve out his enlistment. He has the same right (he would use the word "obligation") to face the same hazards as other Marines, without regard for his family's history, or his father's bid for the White House. Like the rest of his family, Jimmy McCain understands that you don't join the military for personal glory or for political expediency. The desire to serve is rooted in a thousand different motivations--love of country, a desire to improve one's self, an opportunity to make your own way in life--concepts clearly beyond the grasp of The New York Times.
We wish Lance Corporal McCain all the best during the rest of his tour. According to the paper, the younger McCain has aspirations of eventually earning his commission and becoming a naval aviator, like his father. We hope he has the opportunity to pursue that dream with the privacy that all service members deserve.
ADDENDUM: While the Times finds it a bit strange that Senator McCain doesn't mention his Marine son on the campaign trail, the paper had no problem with a Democratic politician using his son as a campaign prop. During his successful run for the Senate in 2006, Virginia's Jim Webb made a point of wearing his son's boots on the campaign trail, to emphasize his opposition to the Iraq War. Shortly before taking office, the Senator-elect used his son to score more political points, chastising President Bush when he asked about the younger Webb's tour in Iraq. Apparently, the NYT saw nothing wrong with Webb's behavior, though many in the military shuddered at his feckless--and opportunistic--display.