Not many people know that John McCain has a son stationed in Iraq. James McCain enlisted in the Marine Corps at 17, and his unit deployed to Iraq months ago. He found out his father won the New Hampshire primary while digging a truck out of the mud.

If you didn’t know this, thank the McCain campaign and Senator McCain himself. He has tried to keep that story quiet, even to the point of not introducing his son at campaign events the younger McCain manages to attend. The campaign asked the New York Times to kill a story on his son’s service to keep the public eye off of him — to which the paper reacted like a bull to a red cape:

Mr. McCain has largely maintained a code of silence about his son, now a lance corporal, making only fleeting references to him in public both to protect him from becoming a prize target and avoid exploiting his service for political gain, according to friends. At the few campaign events where Lance Corporal McCain appeared last year, he was not introduced.

The McCains declined to be interviewed for this article, which the campaign requested not be published. “The McCain campaign objects strongly to this intrusion into the privacy of Senator McCain’s son,” Steve Schmidt, a campaign spokesman, said in a statement. “The children of presidential candidates in this election cycle should be afforded the same respect for their privacy that the children of President Bush and President and Senator Clinton have been afforded.” (To protect Lance Corporal McCain in case he is again deployed to a war zone, The New York Times is not publishing recent photographs of him and has withheld some details of his service). …

Two of Jimmy’s three older brothers went into the military. Doug McCain, 48, was a Navy pilot. Jack McCain, 21, is to graduate from the Naval Academy next year, raising the chances that his father, if elected, could become the first president since Dwight D. Eisenhower with a son at war.

The McCains come from a long military tradition. Unlike the derogatory general implications about conservative supporters of the war that Michael Moore included in his film Fahrenheit 9/11, McCain’s sons have continued that tradition. Jimmy McCain went out of his way, however, to eschew the McCain family name by enlisting in the Marines rather than enter the academies for a career as an officer, and now finds himself in the middle of the action that his father espouses — just as McCain’s own father did when the Senator was a POW in Hanoi.

Does it seem irresponsible to offer this profile of Jimmy McCain while he serves in the combat zone? The McCain campaign has taken pains not to talk about his son’s service, so it hasn’t been a political theme for either Republicans or Democrats. If the candidate doesn’t want it discussed, even though it would redound to his credit, why bring it up at all?

Over the last few years, anti-war activists have picked up on Moore’s theme of a lack of familial sacrifice from the nation’s leaders, especially in their weird insistence on shaming George Bush’s daughters into military service. That could make this relevant. John McCain has insisted on the forward military strategy against terrorists and the securing and stabilization of Iraq despite, as it turns out, the risk to his own son, and possibly two of them. That would demonstrate American egalitarianism that makes all of us proud.

However, as the controversy that surrounded the reporting on Prince Harry in Afghanistan shows, it comes at a cost. It would make Jimmy McCain and his unit a bigger target for terrorists and insurgents if they return to Iraq. The focus unfairly highlights the efforts of the younger McCain and the burden on his parents more than the same efforts and burdens facing all of our Marines and their families.

While it may paint McCain in a better light, the Senator obviously doesn’t want to run for office on the back of his son. Given that clear indication, the Times should have left the story alone until such time as the Senator wanted it told.