Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.
Many of the same news organizations and research groups today dismissing concerns about Barack Obama’s constitutional eligibility were far more eager to cover the issue when Republican presidential candidate John McCain was the subject.
An archive search shows the question of McCain’s birth certificate and his eligibility to be president was actively pursued by Democratic Party activists and the mainstream media in the run-up to the 2008 presidential election, despite the ridicule now heaped upon those questioning Obama’s qualifications under Article II, Section 1 of the Constitution.
In an article published Feb. 28, 2008, months before McCain was nominated for president by the Republican Party, FactCheck.org, at the very center of Obama’s defense against eligibility questions, was itself raising them about McCain.
In a piece that led off with the question, “How can Panamanian-born McCain be elected president?” FactCheck.org conceded McCain did meet the natural-born citizen requirements. But the website qualified its answer, stating that if McCain did win the presidency, the issue could be challenged in court.
After the Republican and Democratic conventions, on, FactCheck.org weighed into the Obama eligibility debate Aug. 21, 2008,” claiming its “staffers have now seen, touched, examined and photographed the original birth certificate.” The certificate in question, however, was a short-form Certification of Live Birth, or COLB, not a hospital-generated long-form birth certificate listing the hospital where Obama was born as well as other relevant birth information, including the name of the attending physician.
Almost coincident with the FactCheck.org article, a flurry of mainstream media news pieces popped up about McCain’s eligibility to be president.
On Feb. 28, 2008, Carl Hulse wrote a New York Times article, “McCain’s Canal Zone Birth Prompts Queries About Whether That Rules Him Out.”
“To date, no American to take the presidential oath has had an official birthplace outside the 50 states,” Hulse wrote.
Picking up on the Times piece, MSNBC.com ran a feature on the same day posing the question, “Born in the USA?”
The Wall Street Journal the same day published a Law Blog column asking: “Does John McCain Have a Birthplace Problem?”
CBS News speculated McCain’s eligibility question “could conceivably end up in before the Supreme Court,” adding the comment, “And you thought counting chads was a circus.”
The next day, the Times of London published a similar piece, “McCain’s Panama birth prompts eligibility probe by his campaign.”
NBC correspondent Pete Williams also published a piece Feb. 29, 2008, on the MSNBC website, “McCain’s citizenship called into question.”
“Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and his advisers are doing their best to brush aside questions – raised in the liberal blogosphere – about whether he is qualified under the Constitution to be president,” Williams wrote. “But many legal scholars and government lawyers say it’s a serious question with no clear answer.”
On April 10, 2008, ABC reporter Jake Tapper published a piece on the ABC News website in which he noted the Constitution “does not define ‘natural born citizen,'” pointing out that “McCain was born in the Panama Canal Zone to parents who were U.S. citizens, but some scholars have questioned that it suffices.”
Then, on April 11, 2008, the Wall Street Journal’s Law Blog published a piece noting that Sens. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., introduced a non-binding resolution expressing McCain qualifies as a natural-born citizen under terms of the Constitution.
The Leahy-McCaskill resolution, ultimately passed by the Senate unanimously was co-sponsored by Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, who at the time were competing for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination.
Even this was not enough to stop liberal activists and the mainstream media from continuing to keep alive questions about McCain’s eligibility.
In a Washington Post story May 2, 2008,
reporter Michael Dobbs questioned whether the Senate’s unanimously passed resolution was sufficient to settle the matter of whether McCain was a natural-born citizen eligible to be president.
Dismissing the Senate resolution, Dobbs wrote that the Senate vote “is simply an opinion that has little bearing on an arcane constitutional debate that has preoccupied legal scholars for many weeks.”
Dobbs noted at the time the article was published “three pending cases are challenging McCain’s right to be president” because even though both his parents were U.S. citizens, his father was in the Navy, and McCain was born at the U.S. Naval Station based in Coco Solo in the Panama Canal Zone on Aug. 29, 1939.
While acknowledging that a senior official of the McCain campaign had shown reporters a copy of McCain’s birth certificate issued by the Canal Zone hospital – something the Obama presidential campaign and presidency have so far refused to do – he questioned why McCain did not release the birth certificate to the press generally.
In addition to media scrutiny, McCain testified before a U.S. Senate committee and produced his long-form birth certificate for inspection.
On May 12, 2008, PolitiFact.com, a website that has dismissed questions about Obama’s eligibility, published an article authored by Robert Farley, “Was McCain born in the USA?”
Noting that the question of McCain’s eligibility is “rooted in legal opinions,” not in facts, PolitiFact.org begged off giving McCain’s eligibility question a truth rating, claiming its “customary True-False ratings don’t quite fit here.”
PolitiFact repeated the Washington Post complaint that McCain had not released his hospital-generated birth certificate publicly, opting instead to “let a Washington Post reporter take a peek at it.”
PolitiFact, however, did not note that the Obama campaign refused all inquiries asking to see the Illinois senator’s hospital-generated long-form birth certificate.
PolitiFact also dismissed congressional resolutions affirming McCain’s eligibility to be president as a natural-born citizen, quoting Atlanta attorney Jill Pryor, who wrote a 20-year-old paper published in the Yale Law Journal in which she argued that Congress’ interpretation of the natural-born citizen clause is not binding on the courts.
On June 12, 2008, the left-leaning DailyKos.com posted a piece by blogger “andyfoland”, “The Bombshell on McCain’s Birth Certificate,” claiming McCain had “no interest in releasing his birth certificate” because he “actually wasn’t born in the United States,” and “McCain has done a good job keeping the public at large from catching on that he was born in Panama.”
On June 20, 2008, editorial writer Tod Robberson wrote in a Dallas Morning News opinion blog that McCain’s citizenship was “still in question,” after a lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District courts questioning the issue.
Displaying what he claimed was a copy of McCain’s hospital-generated long-form birth certificate, Robberson wrote, “The argument is very strong against McCain being regarded ‘a natural-born’ citizen’ as required by law.”
“[McCain] was born in Panama in 1936, at a time when the State Department and the Hay-Bunau Treaty, which granted the U.S. access to the Panama Canal Zone, specifically stated that the Canal Zone was not sovereign U.S. territory,” Robberson argued.
To drive home the point, a link in Robberson’s piece displayed as a .pdf file the lawsuit papers filed by plaintiff Fred Hollander in the U.S. District Court in New Hampshire questioning McCain’s eligibility.
The New York Times returned once again to McCain’s eligibility in a July 11, 2008, article published by law reporter Adam Liptak, with contributions from Carl Hulse, “A Hint of New Life to a McCain Birth Issue.”
The New York Times featured an analysis by University of Arizona law professor Gabriel J. Chin that asserted a 1937 law conferred citizenship on children of American parents born in the Canal Zone after 1904, arguing the law made John McCain a citizen just before his first birthday.
“In his paper and in an interview, Professor Chin, a registered Democrat, insisted he had no political motive in raising the question,” the Times wrote.
UPI published a story July 11, 2008, under the headline “McCain not natural-born citizen, prof says,” repeating the New York Times story about Gabriel Chin’s legal analysis.
A lawsuit challenging McCain’s qualifications was pending in a federal court in Concord, N.H., the UPI story noted.
Newsbuster.org characterized Liptak’s New York Times article as “a meaningless, but prominently placed, 900-word story to further chip away at John McCain’s stature,” noting the New York Times had yet to publish an article discussing Internet questioning about Obama’s eligibility.
In July 2008, Snopes.com, which portrays itself as an independent fact-checker, classified as “undetermined” the claim that John McCain does not qualify to be president as a natural-born citizen.
“As much as we’d like to dismiss this one as just another frivolous election season rumor, it’s impossible to make any definitive statement about Senator McCain’s presidential eligibility because the issue is a matter of law rather than fact, and the law is ambiguous,” Snopes.com wrote.
But only one month before, in June 2008, Snopes.com confidently disqualified as “false” the assertion that Barack Obama was not eligible to be president, affirming instead that he was a natural-born citizen within the meaning of Article II, Section 1.
On Sept. 18, 2008, after McCain had won the Republican Party presidential nomination, Law.com reported a San Francisco federal judge ruled McCain’s assertion of U.S. citizenship was “highly probable.”
Third-party presidential candidate Alan Keyes was excoriated for bringing a federal lawsuit challenging Obama’s eligibility, but as the Law.com article pointed out, Keyes had also brought the U.S. District court challenge of McCain’s eligibility.
Throughout the 2008 presidential campaign, the Web continued to buzz with stories questioning McCain’s eligibility without reporting similar issues were being raised about Obama.
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