Natural Born Citizen — Chapter 12: The Media
The role the media has played in the natural born citizen issue
What role has the media, and in particular the main stream media (both television and print) as well as the cable news networks, played in the issue of John McCain’s and Barack Obama’s natural born citizen issue? On April 11, 2008, Ashby Jones of the Wall Street Journal wrote a law blog entitled “Clinton, Obama Agree: McCain’s a Natural Born Citizen.” Jones begins the article by stating:
Well here’s something that John McCain, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton apparently all agree on. John McCain is, in fact, eligible to serve as president. [i]
Jones then pointed to a February New York Times article for the bulk of the information contained within the Wall Street Journal blog posting on this subject.
On February 28, 2008, Carl Hulse wrote an article entitled “McCain’s Canal Zone Birth Prompts Queries About Whether That Rules Him Out.” [ii] In the article, Hulse mulls over some of the points we’ve discussed here including alluding to The Naturalization Act of 1790 and rightly pointing out that the provision in it for natural born was later removed. He cites an expert on the subject by the name of Sarah H. Duggin whom comes to the conclusion that McCain may in fact have an issue here. What appears interesting to me in Mr. Hulse’s article are several phrases he uses to describe this situation. He refers to the controversy surrounding the natural born citizen provision as “reviving a musty debate.” He later refers to the Constitutional provision as an “arcane” subject. And finally, toward the end of the article he refers to the provision as the “natural-born” enigma. Mr. Hulse chooses musty, arcane and enigma which means outdated, obscure and puzzling respectively. We will see this theme play out many times in the media when referring to the natural born citizen clause.
On July 11th, published in the New York Times, Adam Liptak wrote “A Hint of New Life to a McCain Birth Issue.” In the article, Liptak stated:
In the most detailed examination yet of Senator John McCain’s eligibility to be president, a law professor at the University of Arizona has concluded that neither Mr. McCain’s birth in 1936 in the Panama Canal Zone nor the fact that his parents were American citizens is enough to satisfy the constitutional requirement that the president must be a “natural-born citizen.”
The analysis, by Prof. Gabriel J. Chin, focused on a 1937 law that has been largely overlooked in the debate over Mr. McCain’s eligibility to be president. The law conferred citizenship on children of American parents born in the Canal Zone after 1904, and it made John McCain a citizen just before his first birthday. But the law came too late, Professor Chin argued, to make Mr. McCain a natural-born citizen. [iii]
The article went on to say that legal scholars including Professor Chin did not think it was plausible that McCain would ever be disqualified on this technicality or that any court would hear this issue if the people voted McCain into office. But this article gave us our first glimpse of the issue of natural born citizenship being an immutable condition. If Professor’s Chin’s arguments are correct, she is unquestionably arguing that no law can change that status after the fact.
Shortly after the February New York Times article previously referred to, CNN’s “The Situation Room” with Wolf Blitzer had on its “Cafferty File” segment a discussion regarding McCain’s eligibility. The report by Jack Cafferty was basically a rehash of the New York Times article. No further information during the segment was provided as to the importance of this issue or its potential significance. [iv]
Also in February of 2009 covering the same New York Times article, The Hannity and Colmes program on Fox News had a segment on the show where they discussed the issue. [v] Ken Rudin, from National Public Radio (NPR) and Ari Flescher were guests on this segment. During the segment Alan Colmes stated: “The Times isn’t saying he shouldn’t be President. I don’t think anybody’s saying that are they?” His guest Ken Rudin agreed that nobody was saying that. Rudin went on to layout that George Romney ran in 1968 even though he was born in Chiauiau, Mexico, but of course he didn’t gain the nomination making the point moot. Ken Rudin emphatically stated in the segment that the courts had yet to rule on the issue. Ari Flescher in the segment pointed out that Sean Hannity had mentioned the Naturalization Act of 1790 earlier in the show. Nobody appeared in this segment of the show to illuminate the fact that the term natural born citizen was removed from subsequent naturalization legislation. The gist of this report was much like the rest. Since we have no definition for natural born citizen and since it’s just an esoteric or “arcane” provision within our Constitution, the public should be assured that the candidates, and, in particular, candidate John McCain should be eligible.
In May of 2008, writing for The Washington Post, Michael Dobbs penned an article entitled: “McCain’s Birth Abroad Stirs Legal Debate” with the subtitle: “His Eligibility for Presidency is Questioned.” Dobbs opens the article by stating:
The Senate has unanimously declared John McCain a natural-born citizen, eligible to be president of the United States.
That is the good news for the presumptive Republican nominee, who was born nearly 72 years ago in a military hospital in the Panama Canal Zone, then under U.S. jurisdiction. The bad news is that the nonbinding Senate resolution passed Wednesday night is simply an opinion that has little bearing on an arcane constitutional debate that has preoccupied legal scholars for many weeks. [vi]
There’s that term “arcane” again. The mantra of the main stream media continued to be to dismiss the natural born citizen clause as an outdated portion of the U.S. Constitution having no place in our enlightened modern day America. I wonder what other “arcane” provisions, the main stream media finds in the U.S. Constitution? As we have discussed before, this type of thinking where portions of the Constitution can be dismissed without going through the legal and called for process of Amending the U.S. Constitution should give every American pause. For if all provisions of the Constitution are not upheld, adhered to with fidelity, then we simply have no legal Supreme Law of the Land because it need not be followed.
We must say at this point that at least the main stream media covered the McCain natural born citizen question. Very little main stream media coverage was forthcoming regarding Barack Obama’s natural born citizenship status. On October 10, 2008, Ann Sanner wrote an Associated Press article: “Washington – As John McCain and Barack Obama vie to become president, certain fevered voices persist in saying they should not even be allowed to try.” She writes in the opening:
In an argument popular on the Internet and taken seriously practically nowhere else, critics of the candidates argue that each does not qualify to run for the White House because he’s not a “natural-born citizen ” as the Constitution requires.
Obama plainly is, because he was born in the U.S.
McCain qualifies, too, although the circumstances of his birth _ on a U.S. naval base in the Panama Canal Zone in 1936 _ were unusual enough to merit a review. [vii]
It should trouble most American’s that the writer, Sanner, can so easily dismiss the extremely complicated issue we have been discussing here as to the definition of natural born citizen. The author goes on to state:
Alsup ruled in September that McCain was essentially a qualifying citizen two times over _ first, because both his parents were U.S. citizens, which satisfied eligibility rules of the time; and because a law passed a year after his birth retroactively recognizing people born in the zone as natural-born Americans. [viii]
Sanner admits in this piece that a judge ruled McCain was a natural born citizen because in part “both of his parents were U.S. citizens which satisfied eligibility rules of the time.” Then, Sanner goes on in the piece to talk about those in opposition to Barack Obama’s natural born citizenship are solely concerned with Barack Obama’s place of birth. She writes:
Theories abound that Obama actually was born abroad and that his birth certificate, proving he was born in Hawaii, is a fake.
Obama was born in Honolulu in 1961, two years after Hawaii became a state. He is the son of a Kenyan father and a mother from Kansas, who met and married in Hawaii. After the marriage failed, a 6-year-old Obama left Hawaii to spend four years in Indonesia with his mother and Indonesian stepfather. In 1971, when he was 10, Obama’s mother sent him back to Honolulu to stay with his maternal grandparents.
In response to the allegations, Obama’s campaign in June posted the Illinois senator’s birth certificate on his campaign Web site, http://fightthesmears.com/articles/5/birthcertificate.
The nonpartisan Web site Factcheck.org examined the original document and said it does have a raised seal and the usual evidence of a genuine document. [ix]
The author seems to have no problem sharing that Barack Obama has a Kenyan father and then makes no effort to understand what that might mean in relation to his natural born citizen status. She goes as far as to link to the Fight The Smears website and makes claims of the non-partisan nature of Factcheck.org, yet Ms. Sanner sees no reason to question the statement from that site regarding Barack Obama Sr.’s citizenship being governed by the British Nationality Act of 1948 and what that same Act might say regarding Barack Obama’s citizenship. Could it be any clearer that the media was manipulating how we viewed this issue?
Then, right after the election, there were some newspaper reports with respect to Leo Donofrio’s cases (an attorney whose cases we will discuss in length in the next chapter) where the main stream media tended to get his case wrong or mislead the public regarding his case(s). Leo provides an overview on two such reports in his blog post entitled: “ABC News Gets the Donofrio SCOTUS Story Wrong.” [x]
But the most egregious misrepresentation of the natural born citizen issue occurred just recently in an article written by James Taranto in The Wall Street Journal. As Leo Donofrio pointed out on his blog naturalborncitizen.wordpress.com what Taranto did in his piece amounts to nothing less than pure propaganda. As Leo Donofrio describes in his piece entitled “Wall Street Journal Caught Spreading False Legal Propaganda Via James Taranto:”
Yesterday, American journalism reached a new low when James Taranto of the Wall Street Journal published legal propaganda that appears to blatantly lie to readers. In discussing the issues surrounding Obama’s birth to an alien father, Taranto added text to a US statute which does not contain such text. Here is the offensive passage:
“Someone born overseas and after 1986, but otherwise in identical circumstances to Obama, would be a natural-born citizen thanks to a law signed by President Reagan.” <snip>
§ 1401. Nationals and citizens of United States at birth
The following shall be nationals and citizens of the United States at birth:
(g) a person born outside the geographical limits of the United States and its outlying possessions of parents one of whom is an alien, and the other a citizen of the United States who, prior to the birth of such person, was physically present in the United States or its outlying possessions for a period or periods totaling not less than five years, at least two of which were after attaining the age of fourteen years…
The statute does not use the words “natural born citizen.”(emphasis Leo’s) [xi]
So it wasn’t enough for the early journalists reporting on the issue to obscure the facts surrounding the natural born citizen issue, at least one journalist now needed to resort to outright lies/propaganda when reporting on the situation. There was no honest intellectual discussion on whether or not Barack Obama’s dual citizenship at birth presented an eligibility challenge. The public was left thinking that it had two eligible candidates running for the two primary parties’ nominations for President. The public has continued to be fed that lie throughout the months following the election. As a result, this issue never reached the main stream media regarding a proper discussion as to the issues with both candidates natural born citizenship. So we were left with the courts as our last resort to resolve the matter, but as we will see in the next chapter, the courts want nothing to do with defining the term natural born citizen, and have no desire to see to it that the American people are led by a President that is in fact eligible to hold the office.
[i] Wall Street Journal Law Blog “Clinton, Obama Agree: McCain’s a Natural Born Citizen” — http://blogs.wsj.com/law/2008/04/11/clinton-obama-agree-mccains-a-natural-born-citizen/
[ii] The New York Times “ McCain’s Canal Zone Birth Prompts Queries About Whether That Rules Him Out — http://www.nytimes.com/2008/02/28/us/politics/28mccain.html?pagewanted=print
[iii] The New York Times “ A Hint of New Life to a McCain Birth Issue” — http://www.nytimes.com/2008/07/11/us/politics/11mccain.html
[vi] The Washington Post “McCain’s Birth Abroad Stirs Legal Debate” — http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/05/01/AR2008050103224.html
[vii] FoxNews.com publishing of AP Press Article by Ann Sanner — http://www.foxnews.com/wires/2008Oct10/0,4670,CandidatesNaturalBorn,00.html
[viii] FoxNews.com publishing of AP Press Article by Ann Sanner — http://www.foxnews.com/wires/2008Oct10/0,4670,CandidatesNaturalBorn,00.html
[ix] FoxNews.com publishing of AP Press Article by Ann Sanner — http://www.foxnews.com/wires/2008Oct10/0,4670,CandidatesNaturalBorn,00.html
[x] [x] Leo Donofrio’s Natural Born Citizen Blog — http://naturalborncitizen.wordpress.com/2008/12/04/abc-news-gets-the-donofrio-scotus-story-wrong/
[xi] Leo Donofrio’s Natural Born Citizen Blog — http://naturalborncitizen.wordpress.com/2009/07/31/wall-street-journal-caught-spreading-false-legal-propaganda-via-james-taranto/
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