Notes From Babel

Before You Lynch McCarthy As a Birther Nut…

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NRO’s Andy McCarthy has taken a lot of flak for his recent article, in which he suggests that Obama not be let off the hook completely for his secret-keeping. The attacks on McCarthy seem to be largely based on misinterpreting McCarthy’s piece as being something other than what it really is: a lament over the abandonment of investigative reporting.

At the outset, McCarthy does not once take up cause with Birthers–those who believe that Obama was not born on U.S. soil, and is otherwise not qualified to be President based on citizenship grounds. In fact, he states just the opposite:

The mission of National Review has always included keeping the Right honest, which includes debunking crackpot conspiracy theories. The theory that Obama was born in Kenya, that he was smuggled into the U.S., and that his parents somehow hoodwinked Hawaiian authorities into falsely certifying his birth in Oahu, is crazy stuff. Even Obama’s dual Kenyan citizenship is of dubious materiality: It is a function of foreign law, involving no action on his part (to think otherwise, you’d have to conclude that if Yemen passed a law tomorrow saying, “All Americans — except, of course, Jews — are hereby awarded Yemeni citizenship,” only Jewish Americans could henceforth run for president).

Instead, McCarthy bemoans the poverty of research done by investigative reporters whose job it is to, ahem, investigate. Burden of proof is the operative concept underlying McCarthy’s point, as I take it. That is, to waive McCarthy off because he cites to questionable sources misses the issue entirely. The burden of proof does not lie in favor of the subject of a news investigation, viz., the President of the United States. Every hint, every lead, every suspicion is to be ferreted out with the zealous assumption that the fellow is a rat and a sneak and a crook ready to yield his tale of lies to that would-be case-cracker with the tenacity and contempt for public figures’ privacy to go the distance and get the story, dad-gummit.

Instead, somehow the burden of proof is now shifted to those who would challenge the “official” record provided by the Administration. A formal investigation is not warranted, under this view, unless and until substantial and corroborated evidence has already been amassed. Proffering less than this with a request for further investigation is derided as crackpot paranoia fit for scorn, contempt, and general hecklery.

That’s not how this is supposed to work. No, McCarthy’s is not piece of investigative reporting. But it doesn’t purport to be. McCarthy is not an investigator or a prosecutor—he was a fine one of those already, and I doubt he would volunteer to continue doing it on an opinionator’s wage. His piece simply suggests that there are some clues here, the sort that investigative journalists used to take up and sniff down and let us know at the end whether there is anything to jump up and down about. The observation here is that there is a curious lack of interest in any such sniffing.

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Written by Tim Kowal

August 1, 2009 at 8:19 am

Posted in Miscellany

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