CNN reporter Jeff Zeleny said Thursday that Hillary Clinton’s unsubstantiated anecdote about trying to join the Marine Corps in 1975 was "unusual" given Clinton’s anti-war activism and professional track, raising questions about its veracity.
On the campaign trail Tuesday, Clinton resurrected the story that she tried to join the Marines in 1975 but was turned away because of her age (26), bad eyesight, and sex.
Clinton has used the story since 1994 to emphasize her early dedication to public service and the challenges that women face breaking into certain professional fields.
Observers familiar with her life circumstances question whether the story could have happened at all.
"It seems so unusual that a Yale-educated lawyer who worked on the anti-war campaigns of McCarthy and McGovern, who had just moved to Arkansas, whose husband was about to become the attorney general of the state, would decide to want to join the Marines," Zeleny said.
"The questions are left to discuss here," Zeleny said.
New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd cast a skeptical eye on the story when it emerged in 1994, noting that Clinton was already firmly established in the legal profession in 1975. Dowd also noted the unlikeliness that Clinton would run out to join the Marines as a "way to serve [her] country" when she spent her college years organizing teach-ins against the Vietnam War—which ended, at best, months before Clinton popped into a recruiting station.
Several of Clinton’s confidantes have said they remember a similar episode from Clinton's past, although details remain hazy.
Some have speculated that if Clinton did look into the Marines, she may have had an ulterior motive for doing so. Clinton may have inquired into the Marine Corps to test its openness to women. Such tests were carried out from time to time by feminist faculty members. That possibility does not explain why she has used the anecdote as evidence of her patriotism and desire to serve the country.
Zeleny concluded that there is likely no way to determine whether Clinton is telling the truth about her flirtation with the Marine Corps.
"We just want to try to understand why it is she wanted to try to join the Marines," Zeleny said.