Establishment Media Protect McCain, Pile Onto Trump

Ample reasons exist beyond Donald Trump’s July 18 comments to criticize GOP Senator John McCain’s war and related professional records, which have made the Arizona senator the favorite mouthpiece for the nation’s hawks who dominate both political parties and the nation’s prestige media.

Michael Morell, former deputy CIA director, Andrew Kreig Photo May 18, 2015The Justice Integrity Project posed a question to former CIA Deputy Director Michael Morell this spring, for example, about whether McCain had met future ISIS leaders on his controversial trip to drum up more U.S. support for overthrowing the incumbent Assad government.

Morell, shown at right in a photo we shot at his press conference, is now a CBS News analyst promoting his memoir The Great War of Our Time that touts his expertise at the CIA on Middle East wars. He responded that he did not know whom McCain, the ranking member (and now chairman) of the Senate Armed Services Committee, had met on McCain's highly promoted trip in 2013.

Critics claim the photos like the one at left show McCain meeting the future leader of ISIS, Abu-Bakr Al Bagdadi, at center. McCain has responded that John McCain on 2013 tripthe photos are phony. They include shots featuring his Senate aide who made the arrangements. But McCain has provided scant detail, in part because few besides Trump dare question him in any depth about such sensitive matters.

On July 20, Ron Unz, former publisher of the American Conservative magazine and now a software entrepreneur, reminded his followers about two hard-hitting investigations he has published examining McCain’s war record and policy shortcomings.

The web-based Unz Review published in March John McCain: When "Tokyo Rose" Ran for President. It claimed that McCain was treated well by his Vietnamese captors because he cooperated in their propaganda efforts, similar to the notorious "Tokyo Rose" Japanese radio propagandist during World War II.

In 2010, the American Conservative Magazine (whose founding editor was the conservative commentator Pat Buchanan) published an 8,100-word piece by former New York Times columnist Sydney Schanberg McCain and the POW Cover-Up: The “war hero” candidate buried information about POWs left behind in Vietnam. 

American Conservative McCain Cover 2010In a cover note July 20, Unz praised "Schanberg's massively documented expose about McCain’s role in the POW/MIA cover up." The publisher summarized the "cover up" here and its scanty follow up by major media:

In 1993 the front page of the New York Times broke the story that a Politburo transcript found in the Kremlin archives fully confirmed the existence of the additional POWs, and when interviewed on the PBS Newshour former National Security Advisors Henry Kissinger and Zbigniew Brzezinski admitted that the document was very likely correct and that hundreds of America’s Vietnam POWs had indeed been left behind.

In my opinion, the reality of Schanberg’s POW story is now about as solidly established as anything can be that has not yet received an official blessing from the American mainstream media.

And the total dishonesty of that media regarding both the POW story and McCain’s leading role in the later cover up soon made me very suspicious of all those other claims regarding John McCain’s supposedly heroic war record. Our American Pravda is simply not to be trusted on any “touchy” topics.

The last remark Unz above, which he reiterated in an email July 21 republishing the Schanberg column, serves as an apt warning that the establishment media are prone to sabotaging on dubious grounds presidential campaigns, not just Trump's. Orchestrated attacks are disguised as ordinary news and commentary.

Precisely how the system works is a topic for another day here in a process others also describe. But the upshot is the vast majority of reporters and editors are just trying to do their jobs on deadline. They (doubtless well over 90 percent even of Washington political journalists) are probably unaware of the accusations below, much less whether any might be true.

Yet one thing the Trump insults and others' documentation help clarify: For all the righteous indignation directed against Trump for insulting McCain, few if any of the businessman's critics have dared even mention -- much less investigate -- these kinds of accusations.

Pack Journalism On the Presidential Campaign Trail?

Here's what happened over the weekend:

John McCainTrump, responding to McCain’s description that the mogul’s supporters convened in Arizona were “crazies,” fought back by upping the ante against McCain. The establishment media then rallied almost in unison to McCain's defense. Many one-side news articles and columns pilloried Trump as an arrogant, nasty poseur who deserves to be eliminated from the Republican presidential race because of his comments about Mexican immigrants, McCain, and other Republican candidates.

The spectacle recalled similar situations through the years, particular efforts by the establishment to banish from serious presidential contention candidates (including current Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul and, in 202, his father Ron Paul, the Texas congressman) who did not share the bipartisan consensus for military interventions abroad and high-level electronic and undercover surveillance of American citizens. More on that below.

For now, Trump is tapping the deep and legitimate public skepticism about faux leaders in the rest of the race, in Congress, in the White House, and in the media. A new Washington Post poll July 20 put Trump at the top of the GOP field, with 24 percent support, nearly double that of his nearest competitor, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker. Details: Poll: Trump surges to big lead in GOP presidential race.

The Rest of the Story About McCain's War Record and Policies

The Justice Integrity Project comes to the current Trump-McCain media circus after spending years researching anomalies in McCain’s public record. McCain and his staff have been helpful to this editor in substantive encounters in years past. But with the stakes so high these days, we all need to go beyond our personal and partisan inclinations to at least mention contrary views in assessing substance.

McCain, now chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, receives markedly little substantive scrutiny from our supposedly thoughtful and professional media.

For years, the senator has been far the most frequent guest on the Sunday talk shows, especially now that his Senate ally Joe Lieberman (I-CT) left office rather than face voters again.

Yet McCain rarely receives tough questions about his past, which includes a remarkable array of major historical initiatives, disasters, scandals, and intrigues, as well as widely reported positive accomplishments.

As positive context, he is a Naval Academy graduate whose father, John Sidney McCain Jr. (1911-1981) was a four-star admiral during the future senator's Vietnam service -- and also son of a four-star admiral. That made them the only father-son group in U.S. history to have achieved the rank of full admiral.

He was present at the minimum, for example, at the devastating fire and series of chain-reaction explosions that killed 134 sailors and injured 161 on the aircraft carrier USS Forrestal on July 19, 1967. The disaster, which occurred while the carrier was in the Gulf of Tonkin and heavily engaged in bombing runs, was the worst in Navy history since World War II.

USS Forrestal Fire 1967; USS Forrestal on fire, the worst US carrier fire since WWII; USS Rupertus (DD-851) maneuvers to within 20 ft (6 m) to use fire hoses The photo shows the USS Rupertus maneuvering to within 20 feet to use fire hoses.

The cause is generally ascribed to an electrical failure but a persistent rumor exists among some Navy veterans that McCain's actions may have contributed. Author and former Navy intelligence officer Wayne Madsen has published such a claim, which has been endorsed off-the-record to us by a senior former Navy executive and GOP official but also denied by, among others,, a project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center.

One of the more detailed accounts via the alternative media was by Mary Hershberger for Truthout in 2008, Investigating John McCain’s Tragedy at Sea. "In considering the 1967 catastrophe, it is important to note that the official report concluded that no individual bore responsibility for the fire or its spread," she wrote and concluded, "Whatever the circumstances of the fire’s origins, McCain did not stay on deck to help fight the blaze as the men around him did. With the firefighting crew virtually wiped out, men untrained in fighting fires had to pick up the fire hoses, rescue the wounded or frantically throw bombs and even planes over the ship’s side to prevent further tragedy. McCain left them behind and went down to the hangar-bay level, where he briefly helped crew members heave some bombs overboard. After that, he went to the pilot’s ready room and watched the fire on a television monitor hooked to a camera trained on the deck." She concluded:

McCain has never been asked to explain why he claims that the Zuni rocket struck his plane. If a bomb or bombs subsequently fell from McCain’s plane as he has said, it seems to strongly suggests pilot error, and if a bomb or bombs did not fall from his plane, it suggests rash disregard for important facts in his accounts of the accident.

McCain's U.S. Return

As additional parts of the McCain background, he divorced his first wife after his return from Vietnam and married Cindy Hensley, the much-younger daughter of one of Arizona's richest men, Jim Hensley. Hensley hired his new son-in-law to become vice president for public relations for Hensley & Co. in 1981 before McCain's election to Congress the following year in his adopted state. Hensley made his fortune in the beer distribution business.

Hensley endured suspicions, never proven, that his co-founder Kemper Marley, was involved in the car-bomb murder of Arizona Republic reporter of Don Bolles in 1976. Bolles, investigating both Mafia and whDon Bollesite-collar crimes, became an iconic figure to colleagues nationally after his death. They founded the group Investigative Reporters and Editors to solve his murder. At left, a statue honors Bolles at the Clarendon Hotel in Phoenix, where he had gone to meet a source while his car was being wired with a bomb in the garage.

A New York Times column published during McCain's 2008 presidential race, For McCains, a Public Path but Private Wealth, shows how such matters were portrayed in very gingerly fashion even at one of the peaks of McCain's prominence.

In 1989, McCain (by then a senator) was one of five senators accused of corruption for using their offices in 1987 to help Charles Keating Jr., chairman of the Lincoln Savings and Loan Association, which was under investigation by the Federal Home Loan Bank Board. All others in the so-called "Keating Five" left office under a cloud during the Savings and Loan crisis that cost federal taxpayers billions of dollars in bail-out funds. 

Little of this ever arises in the many interviews of McCain. Part of this doubtless stems from a pack journalism view that the past is largely irrelevant to the news at the time, except on anniversaries or other concocted special occasions.

Yet part of McCain's near-immunity from tough questions from the media is doubtless also because all of the networks and their major hosts share his worldview, as is evident from the many specialized conferences in Washington whereby the journalists most highly rewarded with top jobs, book contracts and other perks share their near-uniformly hawkish views about United States military actions. Any disagreements are merely around the edges of a consensus view that, for example, the United States should be able to create weapons of mass destruction (such as the deadly anthrax used in the 2001 attacks) and launch deadly drone attacks on foreign lands that have never attacked the United States or threatened to do so.

McCain’s long political career and justification of warlike policies are usually ascribed to his Vietnam experiences and supposed “maverick” status. But the public rarely heard even during the 2008 presidential campaign of the kind of sinister views that Unz published and many others in Washington and elsewhere discuss privately but never publish. His "Tokyo Rose" column in March asserted:

It is certainly acknowledged that considerable numbers of American POWs were indeed tortured in Vietnam, but it is far from clear that McCain was ever one of them.....[T]hroughout almost the entire war McCain was held at a special section for the best-behaving prisoners, which was where he allegedly produced his Communist propaganda broadcasts and perhaps became such good friends with his guards as they later claimed. Top-ranking former POWs held at the same prison, such as Colonels Ted Guy and Gordon “Swede” Larson, have gone on the record saying they are very skeptical regarding McCain’s claims of torture.

Ron UnzUnz, shown in a file photo, was a former guest of ours on the Washington Update weekly public affairs radio show. His July 20 note continued:

The recent remarks of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump have triggered a political media firestorm regarding the Vietnam War record of Sen. John McCain, resulting in a surge of renewed traffic to my "Tokyo Rose" piece, which I am now republishing below.

An even greater flood of attention has gone to Sydney Schanberg's original 8,000 word article, which I had published as a cover story for The American Conservative several years ago. I urge people to read that remarkable expose. As a Pulitzer Prize winning former top editor at the New York Times, there are few living Americans who can match Schanberg's journalistic authority in this subject, and the fact that our entire American media has spent years entirely ignoring the explosive and massively-documented charges of one of its most distinguished members demonstrates to all of us that we are indeed living in the world of "American Pravda."

The conservative watchdog Judicial Watch, as another example, has obtained Pentagon documents raising a serious question about whether the U.S. government played a role in creating ISIS to help overthrow Syria’s government, a longstanding goal of McCain’s. Tyler Durden of the alternative website Zero Hedge explored this in, Secret Pentagon Report Reveals US "Created" ISIS As A "Tool" To Overthrow Syria's President Assad

We won’t attempt to retrace all that here except to note our recent columns questioning McCain's denial of meeting in 2013 with a future ISIS leader along with former CIA deputy director Michael Morrel's  reply to our question at a press conference this spring that he did not know whom McCain met on the 2013 trip to Syria, portrayed below.

John McCain and alleged ISIS and Al Qaeda leaders in Syria 2013


These matters are just a small part of the questions that should be prominent about McCain’s influence over foreign policy debates.

Critics of McCain allege current ISIS Caliphate leader Abu-Bakr Al Bagdadi (a pseudonym), for example, was in the 2013 photos but was not with ISIS then because the new organization was not announced until 2014. That leads to the second question: Are denials by McCain and the newspapers based on the sophistic argument that McCain could not have been meeting with ISIS in 2013 because it was not created until 2014? Or is his denial more substantive: that none of those now fighting for ISIS and Al-Qaeda-affiliated groups were even in his photos?

The Washington Times reported on March 3 U.S. backed rebel reportedly leads Islamic State in Libya. The newspaper summarized reporting from John McCain and Abdelhakim Belhaj and NATO awardconservative U.S. media that senior Al Qaeda leader Abdulhakim Belhaj, a major figure allied with the U.S. in Libya, has thrown his support to ISIS.

In the 2011 photo at left, U.S. Senator John McCain poses with Belhaj after NATO helped empower his leadership in Libya. Assisting McCain in the awards presentation but not shown in the cropped photo were Senators Dick Blumenthal (D-CT) and McCain's close foreign policy ally Lindsey Graham (R-SC).

We now explore a particularly explosive but also unproven allegation: That McCain's track record dating back at least to the Vietnam era has made him vulnerable to blackmail by war hawks who want to use his prominence and power to promote conflicts highly lucrative for defense contractors and otherwise attractive to ideologues for patriot or religious reasons.

Madsen, the author and former Navy intelligence officer, has repeatedly raised these allegations, most notably on the Wayne Madsen Report (WMR) during the 2008 presidential campaign. As context, Madsen has been a donor to McCain's 2000 presidential campaign and also a volunteer organizer in his Northern Virginia congressional district.

Yet by 2008, Madsen (shown in a file photo from that period) posted a video (below) of the Forrestal  fire and wrote such columns as More on blackmail of John McCain:

GOP presidential candidate John McCain may have more skeletons transferred from his closet into the files of the neocons than originally thought.

On January 16, 2006, WMR reported on the access by the neocons to McCain's Navy files held within the Pentagon. WMR reported: "Why is John McCain so supportive of Bush and Cheney after being so viciously attacked by them in the 2000 campaign?

The answer to this question may partially rest in Navy records detailing the events that took place on the USS Forrestal in 'Yankee Station' in the Gulf of Tonkin at the end of July 1967. The neo-cons, who have had five years to examine every file within the Department of Defense, have likely accessed documents that could prove embarrassing to McCain, who was on board the USS Forrestal on July 19, 1967, and whose A-4 Skyhawk was struck by an air-to-ground Zuni missile that had misfired from an F-4 Phantom."



Resolution of such questions is beyond the scope of this article.

But the still-murky facts suggest the difficulty of relying on McCain, other congressional leaders, and supposedly independent and expert media to sort it all out for the public.

While Donald Trump may not know any of the answers either, or even basic facts, he has, in general, tapped into widespread suspicions that even Washington's greatest eminences should not be above suspicion or question.

Media Bias?

Multiple stories since Saturday have reported Trump's imminent demise as a candidate. One example was the one-side feature published in the Washington Post's print edition July 20, What Donald Trump was Donald Trump via Gage Skidmore up to while John McCain was a prisoner of war. The Post article showed a young Trump in the 1960s contrasted with a hospitalized McCain. More recently,Trump is shown in a file portrait by Gage Skidmore, distributed via a Creative Commons license.

Taking a longer view, the Washington Post and the New York Times are among the mainstream publications with a shabby record of personality-driven smears of previous candidates. Examples abound: Ron Paul in 2012, Hillary Clinton in 2007, John Kerry in 2004, Al Gore in 1999, and Joe Biden in 1988.

In 2012, the major newspapers provided scant coverage to evidence that GOP presidential candidate Ron Paul was being cheated out of votes during the primary season and former GOP governors Buddy Roemer of Louisiana and Gary Johnson of New Mexico were being denied speaking slots at any of the GOP debates despite past positions of stature.

Also remarkable was the media firestorm in late 2007 against front-running Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and her husband over controversies that ultimately signified little except that many in the prestige media preferred Obama and wanted Clinton tarnished before the caucus and primary season even began.

The coverage, combined with Obama's brilliant campaign and her over-confident campaign strategy, had the effect of hurting her performance in the Iowa caucuses early the next year. That prompted unprecedented calls from supposedly independent journalists for her to drop out of the race simply because she finished narrowly behind second-place finisher John Edwards and Obama in the first contest of the campaign.

In 2004, the country saw similar imbalance in coverage. The Swift Boat Veterans for Truth attacked Democratic nominee John Kerry for his Vietnam service. Meanwhile, the war record of Kerry's rival George W. Bush was removed from negative scrutiny in effect by means of trap for CBS News anchor Dan Rather and his team to lead them into an error that could be used to end their careers, protect Bush, and serve as a lesson to other journalists not to investigate Bush's Vietnam-era service. Our Presidential Puppetry provides details, as do Rather and his former producer Mary Mapes in their memoirs. The dirty tricks remain relevant because the perpetrators continue to use the same methods.

In sum, many previous personality-driven “scandals” were touted as major compaign issues even when they were sometimes planted by opposition candidates, including within the same party.

Vice President Joe Biden deserves great criticism, for example, as we have often written here. But one of his most enduring images is a trivial claim from 1988 that he was a plagiarist. Here is the story, as reported in Presidential Puppetry:

Joe BidenBiden became well known in the Senate for tough attacks and for his ability to work privately with opponents. He also remains notorious in political circles as a plagiarist for having quoted another politician’s speech without attribution one day in Iowa over two decades ago.

Upon closer examination by biographer Jules Witcover, however, Biden’s culpability turns out to have been greatly inflated by the political press. During Biden’s unsuccessful 1988 campaign, he used one of his favorite passages from a speech by British Labour Party leader Neil Kinnock without giving him credit. Biden had previously quoted the speech many times, always attributing it.

An aide to Biden rival, Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis, persuaded top reporters from the New York Times and Des Moines Register to portray the Iowa incident as a scandal. This led to a media frenzy of “gotcha” attacks on other Biden speeches and on his school records, eventually leading to Biden’s withdrawal from the race.  

In retrospect, the supposed plagiarism scandal suggests less about Biden than it does about presidential news coverage. Examples abound of the national media elevating trivial incidents from planted news stories into major public dramas.

One of the most dramatic early interventions of the leading news outlets during recent elections was their phony crusades against Vice President Al Gore in 1999 as he began his 2000 campaign to be the Democratic nominee.

Contrary to conventional wisdom repeatedly misreported at the time, Gore did not say he “invented” the Internet in response to CNN host Wolf Blitzer's question about what Gore had accomplished during his long career. Gore answered by including among his initiatives his leadership in the Senate in obtaining federal funding for what became the Internet – a statement so obviously accurate that virtually reporter mentioned it in coverage of Gore's announcement until GOP political operatives persuaded an Associated Press reporter to paraphrase Gore’s remarks into the now-notorious pseudo “quotation” of “I invented the Internet.”

This set the tone for many negative stories promoted by the New York Times and Washington Post especially that portrayed Gore as insufferably arrogant and even reliant on a female consultant to teach him how to dress, how to act like an “Alpha-male,” and similar rubbish documented extensively by the Daily Howler media critic Bob Somerby.

The lesson? Here is one that applies to the current brouhaha over Trump’s comments regarding McCain: These hoked-up incidents supposedly reveal the candidate’s character and personality. Meanwhile, issues that affect millions of lives are ignored. But the public is catching on and, so far at least, is willing to follow anyone into the desert who even looks like a leader who will challenge the establishment. If it's a mirage? That's better than the pap others are selling.

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Related News Coverage


The Hill, Poll: Trump doubles nearest competitor in 2016 GOP race, Elliot Smilowitz, July 26, 2015. Donald Trump has surged to 28 percent support in an Economist/YouGov poll of the 2016 Republican presidential field — double his closest competitor. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush checks in at second place with 14 percent support, followed by Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker at 13 percent. Retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson follows with 7 percent, then Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) with 5 percent.

USA Today, Trump still tops CNN-poll, leads Bush by three points, Davd Jackson, July 26, 2015. Even after a week of attacks over his criticism of John McCain, Donald Trump continues to lead the Republican Party presidential field, a new CNN/ORC poll says. Trump, at 18% among Republican and GOP-leaning voters, leads Jeb Bush at 15% and Scott Walker with 10%, the survey says. The many other Republican candidates are in single digits. Editor's Note: Establishment media can't figure it out....

Washington Post, Poll: Trump surges to big lead in GOP presidential race, Dan Balz and Peyton M. Craighill, July 20, 2015. Businessman Donald Trump surged into the lead for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, with almost twice the support of his closest rival, just as he ignited a new controversy after making disparaging remarks about Sen. John McCain’s Vietnam War service, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll. Even with the drop in support on the final night of the survey, Trump was the favorite of 24 percent of registered Republicans and Republican-leaning independents. That is the highest percentage and biggest lead recorded by any GOP candidate this year in Post-ABC News polls and marks a sixfold increase in his support since late May, shortly before he formally joined the race. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who announced his candidacy a week ago, is in second place, at 13 percent, followed by former Florida governor Jeb Bush, at 12 percent. Walker’s support is strongest among those who describe themselves as “very conservative.”

Donald Trump, after being called "jackass," announces Lindsey Graham's phone number at rally July 21, 2015

Donald Trump, after being called "jackass" by rival GOP presidential candidate Lindsay Graham, describes Graham begging for donations and reads Graham's cell number at rally, July 21, 2015

CNN, Donald Trump: As president, 'I'll change my tone,' MJ Lee, July 22, 2015. In an interview with CNN's Anderson Cooper on Wednesday, Trump — who created one of the most memorable moments of the 2016 campaign so far by sharing rival Lindsey Graham's cell phone number on national television — suggested that he would shift his rhetoric as president. Trump defended his recent attacks on his fellow candidates, saying he has been hitting back because he was first provoked. "I didn't start it with Lindsey Graham. I couldn't care less about Lindsey Graham. He's registered at I think zero in the polls," Trump said. "Lindsey Graham called me a jackass. So am I supposed to say, 'Oh, it's OK'? I'm called a jackass. You have to fight back."

The former host of "The Apprentice" was referring to comments Graham made in an interview with CNN's Kate Bolduan earlier this week. The South Carolina Republican has harshly criticized Trump for making disparaging comments about Sen. John McCain's service in the Vietnam War. On Wednesday, Trump told Cooper that he had been "unfairly" targeted by Graham — whom Trump said just years ago had solicited him for money and advice. "I was called names by somebody," Trump said. "Somebody that's hitting me saying what a bad guy I am, who was up in my office asking for money, and asking if I can get him on television."

Huffington Post, 162 Talking Heads Have Weighed In On Trump vs. McCain, Is that too much? Yeah, probably. Michael Calderone and Sam Stein, July 21, 2015. Ever since Donald Trump claimed Saturday that Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) isn’t a war hero cable networks have covered those remarks without pause. The national media are obsessed with Trump, who has ridden the feedback loop of press attention to the top of the Republican presidential primary polls. Trump’s comments last month about Mexican immigrants being “rapists” drew extensive coverage as well. But the McCain swipe seemed to send TV bookers into a unique frenzy. Over four days, the Huffington Post found 162 people -- rival presidential candidates, other politicians, strategists, analysts, journalists and former prisoners of war -- have been asked to offer their take on Trump’s comment and/or how it will affect the 2016 primary.

Mainstream Attacks On Trump

John McCainWashington Post, What Donald Trump was up to while John McCain was a prisoner of war, Michael E. Miller and Fred Barbash, July 20, 2015. As Trump was preparing to take Manhattan, McCain was more than 8,000 miles away, sitting in a squalid Vietnamese prison cell.

Washington Post, John McCain calls on Donald Trump to apologize to military families, Jose A. DelReal, July 20, 2015. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) called on Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump to apologize to military families Monday during his first public comments since the flamboyant real estate mogul mocked his military record in a campaign event Saturday. “I think he may owe an apology to the families of those who have sacrificed in conflict and those who have undergone the prison experience in serving their country,” McCain said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” Monday, stressing that prisoners of war serve honorably. “Somehow to denigrate that in any way, their service, I think is offensive to most of our veterans.” McCain called Trump’s comments “totally inappropriate” but dismissed questions over whether Trump owes him a personal apology, instead placing the emphasis on other veterans who have been captured during conflict. He added that it was “the great honor of my life to serve in the company of heroes."

Washington Post, Trump’s attack on McCain marks a turning point for him — and the GOP, Dan Balz, July 19, 2015. The Republican presidential hopeful has faced an avalanche of criticism over his characterization of illegal immigrants as “rapists,” drug dealers and other criminals. It was only a matter of time before Donald Trump crossed the kind of line he did on Saturday, when he questioned the heroism of Sen. John McCain, a Vietnam War POW. The question now is whether Candidate Trump is immune from the laws of political gravity or soon will be isolated and regarded as an object of scorn or curiosity rather than of presidential seriousness.

Daily Beast, Draft-Dodging Trump Says POW McCain ‘Not A War Hero’, Oliveria Nuzzi, July 18, 2015. Despite five draft deferments, the very rich political bully thinks he has the right to criticize Sen. John McCain’s war record. During a discussion at the Family Leadership Summit in Iowa Saturday afternoon, Trump said, “He’s not a war hero. He’s a war hero because he was captured. I like people that weren’t captured, OK? I hate to tell you.”

Criticism of McCain

Ron UnzUnz Review, John McCain: When "Tokyo Rose" Ran for President, Ron Unz (shown in a file photo), March 9, 2015. What Was John McCain's True Wartime Record in Vietnam?  My earliest recollections of John McCain are vague. I think he first came to my attention during the mid-1980s, perhaps after 1982 when he won an open Congressional seat in Arizona or more likely once he was elected in 1986 to the U.S. Senate seat of retiring conservative icon Barry Goldwater. All media accounts about him seemed strongly favorable, describing his steadfastness as a POW during more than five grim years of torture by his Vietnamese jailers, with the extent of his wartime physical suffering indicated by the famous photo showing him still on crutches as he was greeted by President Nixon many months after his return from enemy captivity. I never had the slightest doubts about this story or his war-hero status.

McCain’s public image took a beating at the end of the 1980s when he became one of the senators caught up in the Keating Five financial scandal, but he managed to survive that controversy unlike most of the others. Soon thereafter he became prominent as a leading national advocate of campaign finance reform, a strong pro-immigrant voice, and also a champion of normalizing our relations with Vietnam, positions that appealed to me as much as they did to the national media. By 2000 my opinion had become sufficiently favorable that I donated to his underdog challenge to Gov. George W. Bush in the Republican primaries of that year, and was thrilled when he did surprisingly well in some of the early contests and suddenly had a serious shot at the nomination. However, he then suffered an unexpected defeat in South Carolina, as the large block of local military voters swung decisively against him. According to widespread media reports, the main cause was an utterly scurrilous whispering campaign by Karl Rove and his henchmen, which even included appalling accusations that the great war-hero candidate had been a “traitor” in Vietnam. My only conclusion was that the filthy lies sometimes found in American politics were even worse than I’d ever imagined.

Although in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, I turned sharply against McCain due to his support for an extremely bellicose foreign policy, I never had any reason to question his background or his integrity, and my strong opposition to his 2008 presidential run was entirely on policy grounds: I feared his notoriously hot temper might easily get us into additional disastrous wars.

Everything suddenly changed in June 2008 when I read a long article by an unfamiliar writer on the leftist Counterpunch website. Shocking claims were made that McCain may never have been tortured and that he instead spent his wartime captivity collaborating with his captors and broadcasting Communist propaganda, a possibility that seemed almost incomprehensible to me given all the thousands of contrary articles that I had absorbed over the decades from the mainstream media. How could this one article on a small website be the truth about McCain’s war record and everything else be total falsehood? The evidence was hardly overwhelming, with the piece being thinly sourced and written in a meandering fashion by an obscure author, but the claims were so astonishing that I made some effort to investigate the matter, though without any real success.

However, those new doubts about McCain were still in my mind a few months later when I stumbled upon Sidney Schanberg’s massively documented expose about McCain’s role in the POW/MIA cover up, a vastly greater scandal. This time I was presented with a mountain of hard evidence gathered by one of America’s greatest wartime journalists, a Pulitzer Prize winning former top editor at The New York Times. In the years since then, other leading journalists have praised Schanberg’s remarkable research, now giving his conclusions the combined backing of four New York Times Pulitzer Prizes, while two former Republican Congressmen who had served on the Intelligence Committee have also strongly corroborated his account.

The American Conservative via the Unz Review, McCain and the POW Cover-Up: The “war hero” candidate buried information about POWs left behind in Vietnam, Sydney Schanberg, May 25, 2010. John American Conservative McCain Cover 2010McCain, 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. Reporters who had covered the Vietnam War turned their heads and walked in other directions. McCain doesn’t talk about the missing men, and the press never asks him about them.

Truthout, Investigating John McCain’s Tragedy at Sea, Mary Hershberger Oct. 7, 2008. John McCain’s personal account of his life has shaped a powerful political narrative that accords him deference on the full range of policy issues. His first effort at shaping that narrative received a remarkable boost when the May 14, 1973, edition of U.S. News & World Report gave him space for what is perhaps the longest article the magazine had ever run, a 12,000-word piece composed entirely of his unedited and often rambling account of his prisoner-of-war experience. Ever since, McCain has added compelling details at key points in his political career. When his stories are placed beside documented evidence from other sources, significant contradictions often emerge. One such case involves McCain’s experience in the devastating fire and explosions that killed 134 sailors on the aircraft carrier USS Forrestal during the Vietnam War three months before he was shot down over North Vietnam. McCain has made claims about this accident that differ dramatically from parts of the official Navy report and accounts of reliable eyewitnesses.

In considering the 1967 catastrophe, it is important to note that the official report concluded that no individual bore responsibility for the fire or its spread. There are a number of conflicting accounts of the Forrestal accident, but here is the story as based on the strongest sources. The fire started at 10:51 a.m. Saturday, July 29, 1967, as 30-year-old Lt. Cmdr. John McCain sat on the port side of the Forrestal in his A-4 Skyhawk going through preflight checks.

Justice Integrity Project, Rand Paul, 2 Other Senators: Expose Financiers Of 9/11 Hijackers, Andrew Kreig, June 9, 2015. The campaign to expose the financiers of the 9/11 attacks has heated up as GOP presidential candidate Rand Paul and two other senators co-sponsored legislation to require release of a 2002 joint House-Senate report that has remained secret. Paul, shown in an official photo, spoke at a June 2 press conference on Capitol Hill with representatives of 9/11 families to urge his senate colleagues and President Obama to release the report, which reputedly states that Saudi Arabia funded several of the accused 9/11 hijackers in Florida and California.

Zero Hedge, Secret Pentagon Report Reveals US "Created" ISIS As A "Tool" To Overthrow Syria's President Assad, Tyler Durden, May 24, 2015. From the first sudden, and quite dramatic, appearance of the fanatical Islamic group known as ISIS which was largely unheard of until a year ago, on the world's stage and which promptly replaced the worn out and tired al Qaeda as the world's terrorist bogeyman, we suggested that the "straight to beheading YouTube clip" purpose behind the Saudi Arabia-funded Islamic State was a simple one: use the Jihadists as the vehicle of choice to achieve a political goal: depose of Syria's president Assad, who for years has stood in the way of a critical Qatari natural gas pipeline, one which could dethrone Russia as Europe's dominant - and belligerent - source of energy, reaching an interim climax with the unsuccessful Mediterranean Sea military build up of 2013, which nearly resulted in quasi-world war. The narrative and the plotline were so transparent, even Russia saw right through them.

Catching Our Attention on other Media & Elections Issues

Justice Integrity Project, Donald Trump Triumphs At National Press Club, But Gets Shafted In Story, Andrew Kreig, June 2, 2014. Last week, Donald Trump gave a well-received speech to a sellout crowd at the National Press Club but then had to endure a curious variety of coverage, especially from the club's in-house report. The problem? The National Press Club "Wire" account of the speech denounced him as arrogantly persisting in a proven falsehood in raising a question about President Obama's birthplace. The account included in the news account an editorial statement that his allegation was "discredited," and failed to include Trump's explanation, which was not entirely unreasonable on its face. Separately, the Washington Post's initial story simply mocked him by cherry picking comments he had made.

Cook Political Report, Our 2016 TV Ad Spending Projection, Elizabeth Wilner, July 20, 2015. Elizabeth Wilner leaders the Cook Report's Campaign Media Analysis Group (CMAG), which projects likely spending of $4.4 billion on TV candidate ads in 2016. Projecting total political ad spending on television is where Main Street politicking meets Wall Street finance. As noted in this space before, after retransmission fees, broadcast groups count on political advertising as their second biggest source of incremental new revenue. Cable companies eye political advertising as a similarly crucial source of cash. This is why Wall Street analysts have begun tabulating their own projections for 2016 TV ad spending—and asking us for ours. The following two assertions are squarely at odds. First, CMAG’s over-under on total TV ad spending on 2016 races is $4.4 billion. Second, trying to project total 2016 TV ad spend before the end of the Republican presidential primary may just be a fool’s errand. 

Spotting the impact of Citizens United on congressional election spending is like spotting the Great Wall of China from space. According to OpenSecrets, $2.8 billion was spent on U.S. Senate and House races in 2006, $2.5 billion in 2008 — contrasted with $3.6 billion in 2010 and 2012, followed by $3.8 billion in 2014.