How The New York Times Saved John McCain


If it’s true that a military man should never forget who’s got his back, then perhaps John McCain should give up his battle with the New York Times.

Yes, the Times has practically accused McCain of an affair with a Washington lobbyist. Yes, the Times rejected a McCain Op-Ed on the Iraq War on the grounds that it didn’t “articulate, in concrete terms, how Senator McCain defines victory in Iraq” (though one could argue that the Obama Op-Ed the Times published earlier was no less evasive). Yes, the Times has even accused McCain of “race-baiting” and taking his campaign on the “Low-Road Express.”

But the Times also does McCain favors sometimes, such as its important Super Tuesday endorsement. And McCain should remember this: the Times probably saved his life. If he doesn’t believe it, he need only look at the pages of his own memoir, Faith of My Fathers.

As the story goes, McCain, then a lieutenant commander and naval pilot, was shot down over Hanoi on October 26, 1967. He survived the crash barely, floating in and out of consciousness as he was captured by a group of angry Vietnamese and taken as POW to the now famous Hanoi Hilton.

The Times‘ Johnny Apple was the first to report on the situation in a special report to the Paper of Record on October 27. While the Pentagon only releases the name and rank of those who are killed or captured, Apple, who was familiar with McCain, included detailed reporting of the McCain family history, including the fact that the Senator’s father and grandfather were both admirals.

McCain mentions the Times report as he discusses how his lineage worked to help him get better treatment. Just a few days after the story came out, he recalls, one of the prison guards shouted to him, “’Your father is a big admiral. Now we take you to the hospital.” Realizing they had a valuable bargaining chip in their prisons, McCain writes, the Vietnamese gave him treatment “they would have usually refused to the seriously injured.”

Of course he still suffered greatly at his captors’ hands. But as McCain duly admits, “I…suspected that my treatment was less harsh than might be accorded to other prisoners. This I attributed to my father’s position and the propaganda value the Vietnamese placed on possessing me, injured but alive.” His suspicions, he goes on to say, would later be confirmed.

How else would McCain’s captors have known who he was, and who his father was, if not from Apple’s reporting?

So whether or not the New York Times has it out for him this year, maybe McCain, who is normally chummy with the media anyway, ought to let them slide this time, returning a favor that has been outstanding for over forty years now.