In Jumping to Rubio’s Defense, Romney Exacerbates the Origin Story Uproar

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Yesterday I posted a commentary in this space on what I believe was liberal hypocrisy in the wake of last Thursday’s Washington Post article on conservative U.S. Senator Marco Rubio. But today, in fairness, I think former Massachusetts Governor and leading Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney should be called to question for labeling the Post piece a “smear.”

The Post pointed out that Rubio’s Cuban parents, contrary to what his website and some of his speeches have suggested, did not flee the island after Fidel Castro’s 1959 communist revolution, but had arrived in the U.S. three years before that. My concern wasn’t so much with Manuel Roig-Franzia’s article – as I pointed out yesterday, he was right to call Rubio on being too loose with the details of his parents’ immigration record – but on how Democrats and liberals were suddenly, and unfairly, using Roig-Franzia’s reporting to denounce Rubio’s son-of-exiles story as a fraud and therefore Rubio himself as a sinister fraud. For three years the left has decried the right’s gratuitous demonization of Barack Obama, and now it seems poised to gratuitously demonize Rubio.

That’s where Romney also should have directed his criticism this weekend. Instead, he went after the Post and called Roig-Franzia’s article a “smear.” It wasn’t. Roig-Franzia, who has done well respected journalism in both the U.S. and Latin America, raised the kind of question that newspapers are supposed to ask. As I wrote yesterday, I do think it’s an exaggeration to say, as his article seemed to imply, that the immigration facts somehow nullify Rubio’s son-of-exiles bona fides. In Miami, “Cuban exile” is a fairly broad term that includes not only those who fled Castro’s revolution but those prevented from returning to Cuba because of that revolution.

But even so, Roig-Franzia did not “smear” Rubio. In fact, I admit I was remiss in my earlier post when, as I mentioned Rubio’s argument that his parents had intended to return to reside in Cuba and that they had traveled between Miami and Havana in the late 1950s, I did not include a mention of Roig-Franzia’s investigation of Rubio’s parents’ passports, which indicated that they didn’t spend as much as time in Cuba between 1956 and 1959 as Rubio would have us believe. Again, I don’t think that invalidates Rubio as a son of exiles, but I do think it indicates journalistic due diligence on Roig-Franzia’s part – in other words, hardly a “smear” and Romney should know better.

Nobody left Rubio open to scrutiny about his parents’ immigration story except Rubio himself – and he needs to think hard about that while GOP friends like Romney attack the Post for him. That said, I also don’t think the Post’s report merited the overheated reaction from the left – which needs to think hard about whether turning reports like Roig-Franzia’s into liberal smears is the way it really wants to go.