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The Trouble With Keeping Cindy McCain's Story Straight: In yesterday's New York Times profile of the putative First Lady, she blames the whole John-has-a-temper meme on the South Carolina Bushites of 2000:

"There's no temper," Mrs. McCain countered, before a question concerning it was even finished. "I think it's been fabricated by a race in 2000. I think that's what the then-Bush candidate was trying to point out. But there's no temper. There is an extreme amount of passion, yes."

Clutching tightly her giant Starbucks cup, she added: "I get a little frustrated when I hear that because it's not temper. That's a concoction that they made up. And I don't like that."

Leaving aside the thousands of pre-2000 news articles that have detailed McCain's temper, or the people who know him that I've talked to, let's go straight to, um, John McCain:
During an otherwise tranquil early childhood, I had quite unexpectedly developed an outsized temper that I expressed in an unusual way. At the smallest provocation, I would go off in a mad frenzy, and then, suddenly, crash to the floor unconscious.... When I got angry I held my breath until I blacked out.
Hmmm. But he grew out of it, right?
My first purpose during my brief stay in these schools was to impress upon my classmates that I was not a person to suffer slights lightly.... When I was disciplined by my teachers, which happened regularly, it was often for fighting.
How about at the Naval Academy?
Whatever the cause, I instantly lost my temper and what little self-restraint I possessed in those days.
All right, but surely he'd left it behind once he started his second life in politics?
Worse, I was letting the accusation [of being a carpetbagger in Arizona, which he totally was] get under my skin, more so with its every iteration. In truth, if you will pardon the vulgarity, I was becoming pissed off by the carpetbagger label, and my temper was getting the better of my judgment (as it often has).
OK, one-time deal, right?
Over the years, my temper has become one of my most frequently discussed attributes. I have one, of course, and its exercise, usually when I am very tired, has caused me to make most of the more serious mistakes of my career. It is fair to say that my temper has now become legendary.
So yeah, Cindy, George Bush totally made it up.

And as usual with the richer, better-looking half of the McCain marriage, the facts about her famous prescription drug abuse/crime are a little off, too:

In 1994, her addiction to painkillers was exposed, in tandem with a federal investigation into her theft of painkillers from a medical charity she ran.

Mrs. McCain said in the interview that it was the most difficult period in her marriage and stemmed from her inability to deal with back pain. Mr. McCain made weekend trips from Washington to Arizona; she informed her husband of the addiction over the phone.

Uh, if by "she" you mean "crisis-management lawyer John Dowd," then sure. Here's the Arizona Republic's John Kolbe (brother of Jim; small state) in August 1994:
Because Cindy "couldn't find the words" to tell her husband, Dowd picked up the phone and called.

"I was stunned," said John McCain.

The Phoenix New Times -- that's the chain that wouldn't know a good story if it hit 'em on the head, is that right? -- provided this (un)helpful (for Cindy) timeline not long after:
Phoenix Gazette columnist John Kolbe, who compared Cindy McCain's addiction to her husband's captivity in a Vietnamese POW camp, devoted a paragraph to the revelation that it was John Dowd who informed the senator that his wife was an addict in January 1994. County records show that Dowd was representing Cindy McCain in talks with the DEA in May 1993.

Both Kolbe and McEachern reported that McCain had checked into a drug rehab clinic in Wickenburg earlier this year [1994].

But in their report, county attorney's investigators state flatly: "Mrs. McCain admits that she acquired a drug dependency for Percocet because of a back problem and received rehabilitation in Wickenburg Arizona in 1991 & 1992."

Now that's confusing!

Cindy usually "comes clean" about her habit every election cycle; this year's no different. In a Harper's Bazaar profile this month she again displays her curious version of Percocet straight-talk:

"That was the darkest period of my life. I was in pain, took too many pills, and, like many women, just fell into it," she says slowly of her three-year struggle. "I knew I was slipping into addiction but couldn't get out. Finally, my mom, tears in her eyes, confronted me: 'There's something wrong with you.' I told her exactly what it was and never again put another pill in my mouth."
Only three problems with that story, the first two of them minor:
1) Like many women? Come on, I thought Narcotics Anonymous (which she has vowed to attend weekly for the rest of her life) would encourage a little more self-responsibility!
2) That anecdote about her mom? She's told the exact same story ... about her dad. From a 2000 Good Housekeeping profile called "The Courage of Cindy McCain":
"I knew I was in trouble, but I didn't want to face it," she says. "But when my father looked at me with tears in his eyes and said, 'There's something wrong with you,' I knew he was right." Cindy stopped cold turkey.

3) That whole "never again put another pill in my mouth" thing? Cindy's lying. Either now, or back in 1994. From the Arizona Republic back then:
McCain said she briefly relied on painkillers again while in the hospital in January 1993 after a hysterectomy.
Other than that, clean as a baby's bottom!

06/30/2007 12:08 AM  |  Comment (4)

The McCain Campaign's Attitude Toward Talk Radio: From a WashPost story today on McCain's immigration woes:

A top fundraiser for the Arizonan, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to talk for the campaign, [...] added that the constant barrage of criticism from the likes of Rush Limbaugh is making it difficult to raise money from the conservative wing of the party.

"Like it or not, our base listens to that stuff," the fundraiser said. "Whether it's a good bill or a bad bill or an indifferent bill doesn't matter. The folks who are listening to that stuff, it's hard to persuade them with facts."

06/28/2007 01:56 PM  | 

When it Comes to the LA Weekly, I'm Not Part of Tim Rutten's "We": Inside a long, predictable Nation magazine lament about how the evil right-wing New Times (and that terrible Jill Stewart) crushed the internationalist-leftist spirit of the LA Weekly (by, uh, running more local investigative pieces instead of Bush-lied columns, dropping political endorsements, and letting Harold Meyerson walk), L.A. Times media columnist Tim Rutten says the following:

"There was a time not all that long ago," said Rutten of the LA Times, "when we felt like we had to read the Weekly as soon as it came out, because they were competing with us. I don't think people at the Times feel that way any more. That's a loss to the city."
Kinda reminds me of back when the late LAT media critic David Shaw wrote: "Few Times reporters or editors read the Los Angeles Business Journal, and those who do don't pay any attention to it."

I wouldn't presume to speak about the 900 or so other editorial employees of the Times, particularly those who work under the editor in chief, but *I* certainly don't feel that way. In fact, it's the opposite -- since the New Times exerted its influence over the paper, I've felt more of both a need and desire to read the thing, since it's been publishing so many more pieces of interesting journalism relevant to my coverage area. This, I would hazard a guess, does not constitute a "loss to the city," given that there is no shortage of locally produced left-bent umbrage about national and international affairs, and a comparative paucity of tough City Hall coverage.

Rutten is also flat-wrong when he says, of this controversial David Zahniser cover story about the murky death of beloved labor leader Miguel Contreras, that:

The story had no bounce. There are reasons for that, and they don't have to do with deference toward the power structure. Nobody else thought it was a story.
"Nobody else"? How about the L.A. Times, the very next day, publishing a 687-word story that begins like this?
When Los Angeles County labor chief Miguel Contreras died of a heart attack in May 2005, some news reports said he had been stricken in his car after a long day of meetings.

But according to an LA Weekly cover story published Thursday, Contreras was found unconscious at a business that purported to sell herbal medicines on Florence Avenue in South Los Angeles.

In a 911 call, a woman who was with him said the man, later identified as Contreras, was there to have his fortune told, the Weekly reported. Fire Department officials did not respond to repeated requests Thursday to release the tape.

The Weekly reported that six months after his death, police made three arrests related to prostitution at the same address where Contreras was found. Los Angeles Police Lt. Paul Vernon confirmed the arrests Thursday, but said that police had made no connection between Contreras and prostitution, and that it would be unfair to infer one.

No autopsy was conducted, a decision made at the request of Contreras' family, labor sources told The Times on Thursday. The Weekly, also citing anonymous sources, reported that then-City Councilman Martin Ludlow, who was among the politicians and labor leaders at the Inglewood hospital where Contreras was pronounced dead, made phone calls from the hospital to find a doctor who would sign the death certificate so there would be no autopsy.

I also love the constant assumption that my pal Jill Stewart is "politically biased from the right," or better yet (in the humorous words of Harold Meyerson), "classically neocon." Now, it's more than true that Jill has taken lefty/journo-bashing Democratic centrism to positively Kausian levels over the years as a writer, but I dare guess that as an editor she requires ideological correctness much less than Comrade Meyerson. Also, this never struck me as a particularly neocon sentiment:
Let me be among the too-few columnists in this self-absorbed, egocentric, materialistic, pleasure-obsessed, jingoistic country of ours to cry out into the great mindless void that no, in fact, we have not changed in the year since September 11.

Moreover, since I feel so much better getting that off my chest, let me add that I am achingly weary of seeing Americans treat the tragedy as if it outstrips every other contemporary tragedy in our world, and I am irked beyond belief that the victims of September 11 and their survivors are treated with a holy sanctity not afforded to other victims and other survivors of man's horrific actions against mankind.

Indeed, I say without shame to America's ever-growing, increasingly troubling and loudly throbbing Cult of Nine Eleven, "For God sakes, get a grip!" [...]

Instead, say a prayer for the 20,000 obliterated in India, or the 1,100 trampled in Nigeria, or the untold dead child soldiers. Do not buy a "Let's Roll!" T-shirt, but do send a dollar to an Afghan group helping illiterate girls and boys learn to read normal childhood books. Play a small part in helping our self-indulgent nation to become a better citizen of the world. You'll feel oh so much better.

The Nation article also contains some, shall we say credulous interpretations of Will Swaim's departure from the OC Weekly.

Just to be clear, I am no groupie of the New Times chain; the strong centralization approach definitely has its plusses and minuses, the formula can become wearisome, and I don't think they place high enough value on the cranky old writers from the Voice chain who have earned huge followings. But the portrayal of their alleged knuckle-draggingness is frequently hysterical, and -- reportedly unlike the rest of my newspaper -- I do feel like I have to read the paper (at least when I'm not on book sabbatical), because it covers Los Angeles aggressively.

UPDATE: More interesting stuff at FishbowlLA.

06/28/2007 11:47 AM  |  Comment (17)

The Terrible, Terrible Life of Rock Musicians: This is the Stone Roses' first-ever appearance on television. Nothing otherwise special about it, except it goes terribly, normally wrong, and the lead singer -- he's always been crazy, right? -- is clearly all set to lose his shit before they cut off the camera.

I was glad, in watching five minutes of HBO's new Flight of the Conchords program, that someone is taking a new crack at the heroic banality of the music racket. Don't get me wrong -- nothing beats playing, singing, recording, writing. But 90% of rock life is awful, pointless tedium like loading up drum kits, playing for indifferent audiences, and having the power go out on some cheapjack chat show during your historic, first-ever teevee appearance.

Meanwhile, that first Stone Roses record is aging better than just about anything I remember liking in the late 1980s. Unlike the rest of the victims of '80s-snare-sounditis, they seemed to actually use that tinny reverby stuff for an interesting purpose.

06/27/2007 10:33 PM  |  Comment (5)

Missed it by That Much!!: Perhaps the only thing that wasn't awful about Brill's Content magazine -- I'll pause, while the memories come flushing back -- was its "Pundit Scorecard" or whatever they called it. Which was only good because it's nice to say "Ha-ha, teevee expert!" in graphical form.

Anyway, my project has forced me to read a l-o-t of crappy predictions by Weekly Standard writers, but this April 2003 bit of "post-war" endzone-dancing by David Brooks struck me as some kind of special. Excerpt:

These dream palaces [constructed in the fanciful minds of various Arabists & Bush-haters, etc.] have taken a beating over the past month. As the scientists would say, they are conceptual models that failed to predict events. But as we try to understand the political and cultural importance of the war in Iraq, the question is this: Will they crumble under the weight of undeniable facts? Will the illusions fall, and the political landscape change? [...]

My [...] guess is that the Bush haters will grow more vociferous as their numbers shrink. Even progress in Iraq will not dampen their anger, because as many people have noted, hatred of Bush and his corporate cronies is all that is left of their leftism. And this hatred is tribal, not ideological. And so they will still have their rallies, their alternative weeklies, and their Gore Vidal polemics. They will still have a huge influence over the Democratic party, perhaps even determining its next presidential nominee. But they will seem increasingly unattractive to most moderate and even many normally Democratic voters who never really adopted outrage as their dominant public emotion.

In other words, there will be no magic "Aha!" moment that brings the dream palaces down. Even if Saddam's remains are found, even if weapons of mass destruction are displayed, even if Iraq starts to move along a winding, muddled path toward normalcy, no day will come when the enemies of this endeavor turn around and say, "We were wrong. Bush was right." They will just extend their forebodings into a more distant future. Nevertheless, the frame of the debate will shift. The war's opponents will lose self-confidence and vitality. And they will backtrack. They will claim that they always accepted certain realities, which, in fact, they rejected only months ago.

Almost impressive how much of that he got exactly backward.

06/26/2007 04:24 PM  |  Comment (1)

Kicking the "Overdog' While He's Down: Johann Hari's account of the National Review cruise is certainly worth whatever non-monetary registration hassle required....

06/26/2007 12:18 PM  |  Comment (2)

Quick Media-Literacy Question: How in heck did William Kristol and David Brooks get regular gigs as presumably straight-shootin' TV & radio talking heads, commenting sagely on political affairs? Discussing matters like, you know, John McCain's electability?

Seriously. You invite Jonah Goldberg or Rich Lowry, and you rightly expect a partisan conservative. John Judis and Franklin Foer would get you some kind of thoughtful/muscular liberalism, or whatever they're calling it nowadays. David Corn and Katrina vanden Heuvel would give you the traditional-left perspective, and you can bet Nick Gillespie and Jesse Walker would, at minimum, act like gleeful, you-can't-handle-the-freedom jackasses. Point being, everyone expects these other writer/editors of well-defined opinion magazines to have a reasonably non-dispassionate take.

Except, magically, for the Weekly Standard boys (Fred Barnes too, now that I think of it). I bring this up since I've been spending the afternoon mining through the retrospectively comical (because of bad predictions) but nonetheless valuable Kristol/Brooks "coverage" of the McCain 2000 insurgency they so greatly helped to will into existence. (This is no exaggeration, but tragically the Standard puts its old stuff behind a firewall.) In between writing cover stories telling McCain which parts of Teddy Roosevelt's bio he should stress, or grafting the Maverick's stump speeches onto their pet sociological observation of the day (Brooks' "The Anti-Boomer Candidate" is my favorite of the genre), they served as disinterested panelists on CNN, "All Things Considered," Brit Hume, Jim Lehrer, whatever. Then they'd spend their off hours writing political analysis for the New York Times, Washington Post, L.A. Times and Newsweek. Neat.

Maybe it's just that every White House needs its In-house magazine for Air Force One, and anyone who would consciously produce such a publication will automatically be imbued with Bob Woodward-like gravitas. But seriously, having Brooks or Kristol comment on McCain impartially is less credible than having Hugh Hewitt give his clinical diagnosis of the Romney campaign. Much less credible, in fact.

Kristol and Brooks invented "National Greatness Conservatism" in 1997 (one of the hundreds of various "conservatisms" Brooks has coined over the years ... in this February 2000 Newsweek column alone, he name-checked "Commuter Conservatives" and "Columbine Conservatives," in addition to the more traditional Supply-Siders, the soon-to-vanish America Fisters Firsters, and his legion(s) of National Greatness fans); they then designated McCain as its leader, T.R. as its antecedent, the Roaring '90s as its depraved backdrop and the Kosovo War as its crucible. They were so drunk on the idea of McCain riding the Greatness wave into the White House that they co-wrote passages like this, mere days before his 2000 candidacy came to an end:

John McCain could cruise to such a massive win in New Hampshire because the Republican establishment has ossified. It cannot save a faltering campaign no matter how well funded it might be, no matter how many firewalls it claims to erect. It is possible that a revitalized Bush could save himself -- but the establishment's weakness has been exposed, and some other insurgency will eventually take advantage of it.

For a time it seemed that the Republican party would not need an insurgency. It seemed that the Republicans had found a candidate who could transform the party from the top, revitalizing its message and broadening its support. But in the heat of the election campaign -- in the debates, up against real competition and increased media scrutiny -- all that had seemed potentially transforming about the Bush campaign withered. By the end of New Hampshire, compassionate conservatism was a memory. George W. Bush sounded almost indistinguishable from the Robert Dole of 1996 or the George Herbert Walker Bush of 1992.

Such confidence! Hilariously, when NPR asked Brooks just days later "What is the big lesson for the Republican Party from the South Carolina primary?", he unblinkingly responded: "That establishments win. In movies, the underdog always beats the establishment, but in real life the establishment always wins."

Anyway, more power to them, etc., good luck with the whole opposition thing, and congratulations on being portrayed as even-handed observers when in fact they were the most partial (and ultimately culpable) of all.

06/25/2007 11:42 PM  |  Comment (4)

If Ever You Were Considering Taking a Gander at A&E's Version of Faith of My Fathers....: Don't. It's a dreadful adaptation. Not because the actors & such aren't good -- they're fine. But because, for reasons I can only surmise are based on incompetence, they left out some of the few honest-to-God highlights of McCain's Hanoi captivity. Such as, oh, the time he single-handedly ruined a made-for-propaganda Christmas celebration in 1968, by flipping off the Vietnamese cameras and cheerfully yelling "F-u-u-u-u-ck you, you son of a bitch!", much to the morale-boosting delight of his fellow prisoners, many of whom he'd never seen before. How in hell would you miss that?

The crimes don't end there. The filmmakers invent anecdotes out of whole cloth (like the moment McCain meets his first wife, or his dad's upbeat toast at his grandpa's wake), then reference them later as key biographical moments worth repeating. And worst of all, they warp the largely unspoken, taciturn and perhaps even strained relationship between McCain and his admiral-father, into some Oprah-style everything-gets-discussed Hallmark fantasia. IT'S CALLED FAITH OF MY FATHERS, YA DOPES!!! If you can't portray the central relationship in question, even if it's largely metaphorical, then use a freakin' voice-over.

Real shame, too. Faith of My Fathers is a great book.

In case it isn't obvious, I wouldn't have been drawn to figuring out McCain in the first place if he wasn't a compelling, frequently likeable person. Lord knows I don't anticipate ever spending this much time researching such actor-fantasies as Fred Thompson, or Mitt freakin' Romney.

Speaking of which, who's everybody's favorite non-contender? I mean besides Ron Paul? I tend to heart Huckabee, not for any good reason, but because he seems like a nice enough fellow. Haven't really been paying any attention to the Defeatocrats....

06/24/2007 08:13 PM  | 

Hi! What are you doing down here?

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