Watchdog Blog

Barry Sussman: Questions For and About McCain

Posted at 1:40 pm, September 23rd, 2008
Barry Sussman Mug

John McCain doesn’t seem interested in dealing with very serious questions about his years as a Navy pilot, his time as a prisoner of war and why as a U.S. Senator, according to writer Sidney Schanberg, he “has worked very hard to hide from the public stunning information about American prisoners in Vietnam who, unlike him, didn’t return home.”

McCain probably needn’t worry–there has been no pressure by the news media to examine these issues or by political opponents to push him on them. Instead, the pressure, from people like keynote convention speaker Fred Thompson, is in the opposite direction—consisting of bullying comments likely to have a chilling effect on reporters and editors.

The mainstream press has done numerous profiles on McCain in print and on TV but none that I know of dwell on his record as a pilot or his Senate activity against releasing POW files.

As for his five and a half years as a POW himself, that’s obviously a sensitive area. Who would want to be the first to question that? Except they wouldn’t be the first. They’d only be the first in the MSM in 2008.

In the October 6 Nation magazine, Schanberg revisits a subject he wrote about extensively in 2000 —McCain’s record as a Senator on missing American soldiers in Vietnam. Writes Schanberg this time around:

John McCain, who has risen to political prominence on his image as a Vietnam POW war hero, has, inexplicably, worked very hard to hide from the public stunning information about American prisoners in Vietnam who, unlike him, didn’t return home. Throughout his Senate career, McCain has quietly sponsored and pushed into federal law a set of prohibitions that keep the most revealing information about these men buried as classified documents. Thus the war hero who people would logically imagine as a determined crusader for the interests of POWs and their families became instead the strange champion of hiding the evidence and closing the books.

Almost as striking is the manner in which the mainstream press has shied from reporting the POW story and McCain’s role in it, even as the Republican Party has made McCain’s military service the focus of his presidential campaign.

There were sharper looks at McCain in 2000, when he failed to get the nomination, than there have been in 2008, when he succeeded. The Vietnam veteran Col. David Hackworth, now deceased, wrote a syndicated weekly column, “Defending America,” for a period of time. In April 2000 he wrote, among other charges, “McCain refused an early release. An act of valor? Three former POWs told me he was ordered to turn it down by his U.S. POW commander and he ‘just followed orders.’”

On Sept. 2, I suggested on this site that reporters look into McCain’s record as a pilot before he was shot down over Hanoi, as there had been questionable incidents—ones that might tell something about his judgment—including two in which he crashed planes and a third, over Spain, when he flew so low that he hit power lines, cutting off electricity. Schanberg’s item in the Nation is all the more reason for reporters to examine McCain’s records. And reason also for McCain to open them up.

5 Responses to “Questions For and About McCain”

  1. Thomas says:

    Well, in case anyone wondered: the Obama campaign will go as low as they need to to win, and Barry is here to help!

  2. Jed says:

    McCain’s USS Forrestal incident has been been swept under the rug. With good evidence that his ‘maverick-ness” lead to the catastrophe which left 134 US sailors dead and another 68 severely injured.

    The incident and pushback are discussed at

    The media won’t ask, but it is an issue which goes to the heart of who John McCain really is.

  3. Sal says:

    Tim Dickerson in Rolling Stone did a bang-up job writing about McCain’s life and work:

  4. Sal says:

    My apologies: Dickinson.

  5. Sal says:

    Correction: Dickinson.

Comments are closed.

The website is no longer being updated. Watchdog stories have a new home in Nieman Reports.