The fake ‘cone of silence’ … plus: is John McCain embellishing his Vietnam stories for political gain?

Apparently, Pastor Rick Warren was surprised to learn that his pretend maverick guest, John McCain, wasn’t in a “cone of silence” after all while Barack Obama was taking questions at the Saddleback Church’s civil forum:

The McCain campaign, which flew here Sunday from California, said Mr. McCain was in his motorcade on the way to the church as Mr. Obama was being interviewed by the Rev. Rick Warren.

The matter is of interest because Mr. McCain, who followed Mr. Obama’s hourlong appearance in the forum, was asked virtually the same questions as Mr. Obama. Mr. McCain’s performance was well received, raising speculation among some viewers, especially supporters of Mr. Obama, that he was not as isolated during the Obama interview as Mr. Warren implied.

Mr. Warren, pastor of Saddleback, had assured the audience while he was interviewing Mr. Obama that “we have safely placed Senator McCain in a cone of silence” and that he could not hear the questions.

After Mr. Obama’s interview, he was joined briefly by Mr. McCain and the candidates shook hands and embraced.

Mr. Warren started by asking him, “Now, my first question: Was the cone of silence comfortable that you were in just now?”

Mr. McCain deadpanned, “I was trying to hear through the wall.”

Yeah, the wall of his car, in which he was riding to the church while most likely being briefed on the questions by an aide who was following the forum for him on his or her iPhone (sure, McCain doesn’t know how to use one, but that’s what young aides are for…)

Which leads to the question: did Mac lie to the pastor about the ‘cone of silence’, or did the pastor lie to us?

The McCain camp trotted out this not-unexpected defense:

Nicolle Wallace, a spokeswoman for Mr. McCain, said on Sunday night that Mr. McCain had not heard the broadcast of the event while in his motorcade and heard none of the questions. “The insinuation from the Obama campaign that John McCain, a former prisoner of war, cheated is outrageous,” Ms. Wallace said.

Sure, sure, when in doubt, draw for the “war hero” card.  We all know that former POWs never lie… Well if the McCain campaign wants to talk incessantly (as the candidate did himself at Saddleback,) about the greatness of John McCain’s Vietnam service, is it fair to ask whether he is embellishing the stories of that service for political gain? I say it is. So let’s… 

From CQ Politics:
Last week, a speech by Sen. John McCain had phrases that were likely lifted directly from Wikipedia.

Now it seems McCain may have lifted another story last night at megachurch pastor Rick Warren’s Faith Forum. According to a very persuasive Daily Kos diary, the anecdote McCain told about a North Vietnamese prison guard making a cross in the dirt as a sign of solidarity — or as he said, “just two Christians worshiping together” — is very similar to a story about Alexander Solzhenitsyn and his times in the Soviet Gulags.

CQP has the Solzhenitsyn passage, along with links to other doubters about McCain’s version of events when in ‘Nam:

Steven Waldman [on Beliefnet] notes that McCain’s recounting of this story has changed over the years and “has gradually morphed from being about the humanity of the guard to being about the Christian faith of the guard and John McCain.”

Andrew Sullivan says that McCain’s early accounts of his years as a POW do not even include this story.

That last piece is important, because if McCain only recently began telling that story, or worse, if he did so in conjunction with his candidacy for office, that seems to me to be a serious thing, especially given what was done to John Kerry in 2004. And just to make things interesting, guess who McCain’s witness is for the cross story? Why, one Bud Day, the Florida crank and member of the Swiftboat Veterans for Truth. Day figures in many of McCain’s Vietnam-faith stories, but curiously, the cross story often does not, as in this glowing profile of McCain in the Chicago Tribune, where a Christmas riot makes the grade, but the cross in the sand does not...

The Sullivan(?)/”Calouste” entry in the Daily Kos reinforces the point:

Shortly after John McCain came back from Vietname in 1973, he wrote a detailed 12,000 word report of his experiences that was published in US News and World Report.

Even though McCain goes into a lot of detail in that story and mentions religion a few times, there is no mention of the cross in the sand story, even though it would have fitted in well with the whole narrative. There are numerous mentions of Vietnamese guards in the reports, mostly bad ones but also good ones, but there is no indication at all that any of them would have been Christian, although “[a] lot of them were homosexual”.

So even though McCain yesterday said:

It was Christmas day, we were allowed to stand outside of our cell for a few minutes, and those days we were not allowed to see or communicate with each other although we certainly did. And I was stadning outside for my few minutes, outside my cell. He came walking up. He stood there for a minute and with his handle [sandal?] on the dirt in the courtyard he drew a cross and he stood there and a minute later, he rubbed it out and walked away. For a minute there, there as just two Christians worshiping together. I’ll never forget that moment so every day -

That moment he will never forget wasn’t worth spending a few of those 12,000 words on.

Recall that McCain has already been caught massaging his “NFL team as my squadron” story to pander to Pennsylvania voters. He is becoming notorious for failing to remember details about his own voting record, including last night, when he served up four “liberal” Supreme Court justices he wouldn’t nominate, despite the fact that he voted to confirm two of them when Bill Clinton was president (something he bragged about to Hillary Clinton dead-enders as recently as June…) And also at the Rick Warren forum, he cited a story about “evil” Iraqis strapping suicide belts on two retarded women — a story that has long since been debunked. On the “cross in the sand story,” there’s also this problematic fact:

There is a real question here about whether McCain embellishing the story of his captivity in ‘Nam, in order to make it more compelling to certain voters — in this case, members of the religious right, who the inimitable Frank Rich points out McCain hasn’t exactly been friendly with in the recent past. And if he is, does anyone in the media, or the Obama campaign, have the stones to call him on it?

UPDATE: The McCain campaign has adopted nearly the entire Hillary Clinton/Mark Penn primary playbook, complete with attempts to bully the press into getting back to the traditional, suck-up coverage of John McCain. This time, the campaign has demanded a meeting with NBC News president Steve Capus to protest, of all people, Andrea Mitchell, probably the one consistently objective reporter left in Washington. The reason? That darned “cone of silence…” Part of the letter from Rick Davis to Capus reads:

We are extremely disappointed to see that the level of objectivity at NBC News has fallen so low that reporters are now giving voice to unsubstantiated, partisan claims in order to undercut John McCain.

Nowhere was this more evident than with NBC chief correspondent Andrea Mitchell’s comments on “Meet the Press” this morning. In analyzing last night’s presidential forum at Saddleback Church, Mitchell expressed the Obama campaign spin that John McCain could only have done so well last night because he “may not have been in the cone of silence and may have had some ability to overhear what the questions were to Obama.” Here are Andrea Mitchell’s comments in full:

Mitchell: “The Obama people must feel that he didn’t do quite as well as they might have wanted to in that context, because what they are putting out privately is that McCain may not have been in the cone of silence and may have had some ability to overhear what the questions were to Obama. He seemed so well-prepared.” (NBC’s “Meet The Press,” 8/17/08)

Make no mistake: This is a serious charge. Andrea Mitchell is repeating, uncritically, a completely unsubstantiated Obama campaign claim that John McCain somehow cheated in last night’s forum at Saddleback Church. Instead of trying to substantiate this blatant falsehood in any way, Andrea Mitchell felt that she needed to repeat it on air to millions of “Meet the Press” viewers with no indication that 1.) There’s not one shred of evidence that it’s true; 2.) In his official correspondence to both campaigns, Pastor Rick Warren provided both candidates with information regarding the topic areas to be covered, which Barack Obama acknowledged during the forum when asked about Pastor Warren’s idea of an emergency plan for orphans and Obama said, “I cheated a little bit. I actually looked at this idea ahead of time, and I think it is a great idea;” 3.) John McCain actually requested that he and Barack Obama do the forum together on stage at the same time, making these kinds of after-the-fact complaints moot.

Indeed, instead of taking a critical journalistic approach to this spin, Andrea Mitchell did what has become a pattern for her of simply repeating Obama campaign talking points.

Are you kidding me? Andrea Mitchell? Talking points? You must have her confused with David Gregory and YOUR talking points…

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