A cover story in the upcoming issue of Rolling Stone magazine depicts John McCain as a coward, cheat, adulterer and pampered admiral’s son who owes his reputation in part to the liberal media.
The article, “Make-Believe Maverick,” retells much of McCain’s familiar story and doesn’t dispute any of the well-known facts of his capture and subsequent torture during the Vietnam War.
But it places those facts in a less-forgiving light and quotes some of McCain’s fellow soldiers and former POWs as raising questions about his heroism, and his ability to lead.
The author, Tim Dickinson, quotes John Dramesi, a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel who was also imprisoned in Vietnam, as saying that McCain is undeserving of his reputation.
“McCain says his life changed while he was in Vietnam, and he is now a different man," Dramesi is quoted as saying. "But he's still the undisciplined, spoiled brat that he was when he went in."
Unlike McCain, Dramesi never broke under torture, according to the article. McCain, though, gave more than his name, rank and serial number in return for medical treatment to save his broken arms.
“This business of my country before my life?" Dramesi continues. "Well, he had that opportunity and failed miserably. If it really were country first, John McCain would probably be walking around without one or two arms or legs — or he'd be dead.”
Though it follows several books critical of McCain — written by both liberals and conservatives — the Rolling Stone cover story is likely to ignite partisan fire coming so close to election day. The piece is unsparing in its depiction of McCain as a childish lout — its cover and website art depicts McCain as a crying child in a sailor’s uniform — and it’s in a magazine that has already endorsed Barack Obama for president.
Moreover, publisher and Obama supporter Jann Wenner has already been lambasted for a controversial cover story on Sarah Palin in his other magazine, Us Weekly. Coming just days before her speech at the Republican convention, "Babies, Lies and Scandal” attacked Palin without offering any solid evidence of a scandal. MSNBC and other news organizations reported that thousands of people cancelled their subscriptions in protest.
The Rolling Stone article also credits McCain with an early ability to spin reporters dating back to the Vietnam War — especially R.W. “Johnny” Apple of The New York Times.
Apple, now deceased, was a famed war correspondent who often wrote the paper’s front-page analyses and was a frequent target of conservatives during the Nixon and Reagan eras.
In July 1967, McCain was almost killed in a devastating accident aboard the U.S.S. Forrestal that claimed 134 lives. Instead of fighting to save the ship and his fellow soldiers, McCain flew off the ship with Apple and other reporters to drink and chase women in Saigon, according to Dickinson.
“Ensconced in Apple's villa in Saigon, McCain and The Times reporter forged a relationship that would prove critical to the ambitious pilot's career in the years ahead,” Dickinson writes. “Apple effectively became the charter member of McCain's media ‘base,’ an elite corps of admiring reporters who helped create his reputation for ‘straight talk.’"
“Sipping scotch and reflecting on the fire aboard the Forrestal, McCain sounded like the peaceniks he would pillory after his return from Hanoi. ‘Now that I've seen what the bombs and napalm did to the people on our ship,’ he told Apple, ‘I'm not so sure that I want to drop any more of that stuff on North Vietnam.’ Here, it seemed, was a frank-talking warrior, one willing to speak out against the military establishment in the name of truth.”
Three months later, McCain was shot down over North Vietnam. He would survive broken bones, disease and repeated torture for five years before he was released in 1973.
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