Which Birth Certificate?

Ben Smith thinks I’ve glossed over a major difference between Obama’s birth certificate and Trig’s:

The Obama conspiracy theory had bearing on his eligibility for the White House. Palin, by contrast, isn’t running for anything, and if she were, the constitutional requirement bears on your own birth, not your kids’. If Obama hadn’t released his birth certificate, it wouldn’t have been unreasonable to ask for it. Indeed, reporters are supposed to ask obnoxious questions. But Trig Palin isn’t running for president, and that makes this fixation a bit harder for me to get exercised about.

 Justin Elliott’s response to me makes the same point:

[I]n the case of Obama, his place of birth presented a potentially urgent constitutional problem. If Obama had been born abroad, there would have been questions about his eligibility to be president, hinging on the murky definition of the phrase “natural-born citizen.” Absurd as it all seemed, there was a reason in 2008 for a reporter to ask the Obama campaign for a copy of the birth certificate. (And remember: Obama wasn’t the only ’08 candidate who faced questions from the press about the circumstances of his birth.)

The parentage of Trig Palin presents no similarly urgent issue.

Agreed. But if the only basis for asking for documentary evidence of various biographical facts in a politician’s campaign is that they pertain to core legal eligibility for public office, then there would be no journalism at all. On what grounds did reporters uncover that Richard Blumenthal had lied about his war record? Surely not that it would have legally disbarred him from office. The man is still in office. But Blumenthal’s war record was only a minor theme in his biography and his mis-statements were few and far between. They were not an integral part of his campaign’s message or a central part of his appeal to his base. And there was no obvious reason to doubt him. The story was even ginned up by his political opponent in a campaign. And yet the New York Times rightly had no qualms about running a big story refuting his occasional untrue statements with empirical data. And Politico rightly had no qualms doing its own investigation. How does Justin defend this, given his current refusal to get on the phone and ask Palin for proof? Or talk to more than other journalists?

Palin, moreover, unlike Blumenthal, has reiterated her birth and pregnancy stories many many times. She has written a book detailing it all. She has been obsessed with rebutting it since it first emerged months before she hit the national spotlight – and yet has consistently refused to do so by what Frank Bailey called the “simple solution”. She held up her newborn child at the Republican national convention. She ran for vice-president of the US – not even the Senate. Her local newspaper tried to clear all this up – only to be stonewalled by Palin. Her doctor refused to take calls from the New York Times which ran a puff-piece on the whole thing. But Salon is uninterested. And Politico won’t go there.

The question before us is: why? Are they scared? Or squeamish? No journalist has any business being either. And simply stating the following is a cop-out:

We’re prepared to do that right here and now: Sarah Palin, we’d be happy to see and publish your medical records. But the point of our package is that Palin simply doesn’t need to do this — there is no credible evidence to suggest that anyone other than Sarah Palin is the mother of Trig.

Has Salon ever aired the countless questions so many have had about this bizarre pregnancy? Or the persistent disbelief around it? About the wild ride? By not even acknowledging the natural skepticism of people toward these strange narratives, by arguing there is nothing fishy here at all without even going into what people have found fishy, is also a cop-out. It’s basically an insult to the many people who remain genuinely puzzled by all this.

This blog, moreover, has diligently offered up evidence on both sides. Salon will not publish anything that might counter their a priori position. I mean: how many politicians in history have claimed that they gave a political speech while experiencing contractions? If that isn’t de facto curious and remarkable enough to be worth asking about, what is? And yet no one – even those supportive of her – will go near that question. Why on earth not? Here’s what counts for journalism today:

“She went into labor and got an airplane to go back to Alaska — that’s pretty cool!”

If that’s your standard of skepticism in today’s press corps, you get to host Meet The Press.

There is also the matter of consistency. When a politician has publicly claimed she has produced a birth certificate and hasn’t, is it illegitimate for the press to ask why she simply lied about this? Can any sane person misremember such a thing? And if she’s claimed she has released it, what on earth is the ethical reason for not asking her to do it along with medical records? When she publicly derides skeptics in speech after speech, is it not the press’s duty to see if her derision has empirical validity? Or are we skeptics supposed to just sit back and be mocked by a pathological liar putting her own credibility against ours?

We all have cognitive biases. I have one – profound skepticism of anything Palin says – and may be judging evidence in ways that others wouldn’t. But so do Justin and Ben and Weigel who have an interest in dismissing the possibility that they may have missed uncovering the biggest hoax in American political history. That same cognitive bias question applies to Loy and Quinn. It does not mean they they may not be right. It just means that their cognitive bias is as real as my own.

It seems to me that when some simple, readily available medical records could end this excruciating debate in one easy swoop – and could have more than two years ago – it is professional negligence that the MSM won’t even ask for such proof, and devote far more energy to defending their own past than the facts at hand.