Thursday, February 28, 2008

As Desperate as Hillary?

Last year, we mourned the passing of the Weekly World News, the late, great supermarket tabloid that amused readers with repeated “discoveries” of Big Foot, the Loch Ness Monster, and space aliens masquerading as world leaders. As we observed at the time, the WWN could hold its head high as it faded into history; at least they were honest about their journalistic fraud.

Unfortunately, the same can’t be said of The New York Times. Last week, the Grey Lady published a story on GOP presidential candidate John McCain, suggesting that he had an inappropriate relationship with a female lobbyist. The article was so inconclusive—and poorly sourced—that the Times would have better luck in claiming that McCain fathered an alien love child, cheekily citing the same “experts” and “leading scientists” that were stock-in-trade for exclusives in the Weekly World News.

Never mind that the Times was roundly criticized for the McCain/lobbyist “investigation.” Even the paper’s Public Editor, Clark Hoyt, admitted the article failed to substantiate its salacious claims. Reader reaction to the story was overwhelmingly negative, and the anti-Times backlash actually produced a spike in donations to the McCain campaign.

Undeterred by that little setback, the NYT is at it again, reviving the “musty” debate over Senator McCain’s eligibility for the presidency, based on his birth in the Panama Canal Zone 71 years ago. The Constitution, of course, states that only “natural-born” citizens can hold the nation’s highest office.

But, as Times reporter Carl Hulse suggests ominously, the meaning of the term “natural born” is subject to legal interpretation:

“There are powerful arguments that Senator McCain or anyone else in this position is constitutionally qualified, but there is certainly no precedent,” said Sarah H. Duggin, an associate professor of law at Catholic University who has studied the issue extensively. “It is not a slam-dunk situation.”

Mr. McCain was born on a military installation in the Canal Zone, where his mother and father, a Navy officer, were stationed. His campaign advisers say they are comfortable that Mr. McCain meets the requirement and note that the question was researched for his first presidential bid in 1999 and reviewed again this time around.

But given mounting interest, the campaign recently asked Theodore B. Olson, a former solicitor general now advising Mr. McCain, to prepare a detailed legal analysis. “I don’t have much doubt about it,” said Mr. Olson, who added, though, that he still needed to finish his research.

Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina and one of Mr. McCain’s closest allies, said it would be incomprehensible to him if the son of a military member born in a military station could not run for president.

“He was posted there on orders from the United States government,” Mr. Graham said of Mr. McCain’s father. “If that becomes a problem, we need to tell every military family that your kid can’t be president if they take an overseas assignment.”

The “growing interest” in this matter appears limited to “internet buzz” and conjecture by immigration professors, attorneys and law students. At one point in his article, Mr. Hulse even acknowledges that Senator McCain’s citizenship “was established by statutes covering the offspring of Americans abroad and laws specific to the Canal Zone as Congress realized that Americans would be living and working in the area for extended periods.”

Case closed, right? Well, not according to the Times. One of McCain’s supporters, former Oklahoma Senator Don Nickles, says he “wouldn’t be surprised if someone tries to make an issue out of it. But Nickles quickly added: “If it goes to court, I think he will win.” We might also add that (so far) there’s no real suggestion that anyone plans to legally challenge Mr. McCain’s status as a natural-born citizen, given the rather inconvenient facts of the case. We rather doubt that Mr. Olson's research into the issue is one of his--or Senator McCain's--top priorities.

Let’s see. Both of his parents were natural-born; Mr. McCain’s father was a naval officer, stationed in the Canal Zone (then American territory) at the time of his son’s birth. His assignment there was based on official government orders, and he was born in a U.S. military hospital. And, according to at least one poster on another blog, children born to military parents in the Canal Zone--and other overseas locations--receive papers from the government, identifying them as “natural-born” U.S. citizens.” Contrary to the assertions of Professor Duggin, it sounds like a slam-dunk case to us.

But then again, we’re not lawyers—or reporters for The New York Times. Patterico
summed up the non-story rather well,
asking if the Times has become “as desperate as Hillary.” We’d say the answer to that one is as clear as John McCain’s status as a “natural-born” U.S. citizen.


ADDENDUM: Patterico also has a link to a detailed discussion of key laws and legal precedents on this issue, courtesy of Simon Dodd at Stubborn Facts.


antithaca said...

It seems open and shut to me. Are military installations (including ships for example) not considered extensions of the United States?

Being born on a USN ship or a base = being born on American soil?

drip, drip, drip...for the NYT as usual.

Ken Prescott said...

I think the NYT realizes two things:

1. Hillary Clinton is going down in flames.

2. McCain's going to whomp Obama like he's a baby harp seal in the general, because there's just no "there" there with Obama.

BTW: baby seal's least favorite beverage: Canadian Club. :o)

none said...

I'm by no means a McCain fan, but this story is ridiculous and a total non-issue. The NYT is conveniently ignoring the fact that generally as a matter of law, children born to U.S. citizens no matter where they are in the world are de facto U.S. Citizens and considered "Natural Born." (There are a few technicalities to this, but nothing that would apply to the Hon. John McCain).

none said...


2. McCain's going to whomp Obama like he's a baby harp seal in the general, because there's just no "there" there with Obama.

Not if voter turnout stays as high as it has been. Poli-sci 101: High levels of turnout generally favor two groups. One is moderates, the other is Democrats.

Johnnie said...

Just some notes on citizenship. Citizenship by birth in a place is not obtained by the type of hospital, your parents citizenship, or their military status. Citizenship is based on two legal standards, jus soli and jus sanguinas, e.g. place or blood. Americans born overseas obtain citizenship based on the citizenship status of their partents, e.g. blood, jus sanguinas.

Americans born on U.S. territory, state, possession or commonwealth, e.g. jus soli, place.

When John McCain was born, the Panama Canal Zone was part of the U.S. Even though it was not a state, it was U.S. territory. There have been various possessions of the U.S. at various times. The Philippines being one, but not anymore. Persons born their were at one time citizens, just as persons born on Puerto Rico are now. Congress determines if birth on a U.S. territory confirs citizenship and the conditions.

Now, John McCain is a citizen. He is not a naturalized citizen, e.g. an alien who becomes a citizen.

Now, what does natural born citizen mean? It means anyone a citizen at birth, regardless of the status of their parents, e.g. an child born abroad to U.S. citizen partents; the child of aliens on U.S. territory, a child born to U.S. citizen parents born in the U.S.

However, whether you are born in a military hospital is irrelevant. Many military people think being born on a U.S. base confers citizenship. It does not. The fact that your parents are citizens does.

Now there are restrictions on the birth to U.S. citizen parents overseas, including the parents time in the U.S., etc.

But as far a McCain is concerned he was born on U.S. territory and is a citizen by the legal principle of jus soli.