The lead item in the Arizona Republic's "Political Insider" column on October 8 told how U.S. Senator John McCain was displaying "his notorious sense of humor" to win friends and disarm enemies in his quest for the White House.
"Republicans had lost 'a good man in Dan Quayle,' McCain said, adding a quip about the fomer vice president's move to the Southwest. 'If I lived in Indiana, I'd move to Arizona, too.'"
This guy is a regular Mo Udall!
On September 28, the Republic reported earlier McCain high jinks, quoting him as telling a plane full of reporters and supporters: "We haven't raised as much money as we had hoped, so I'm going to have to pilot the plane today."
He's beyond Mo. He's Mark Russell!
But Humble John's sense of humor may be more brittle than either he or the Republic would have you believe.
The Flash picked up the airplane quote for the September 30 "Flashes" column, in an item that pointed out that McCain was in a fund-raising frenzy while continuing to piously tout campaign-finance reform. After reprinting McCain's quote, the Flash fabricated a quote for humorous effect:
"Prospective First Lady Cindy McCain was overheard in the background, interjecting, 'And if anyone failed to pick up their prescriptions, I've got a purse full o' Percocet! Hahahahahahahahahah.'"
Not to the McCains.
According to John Dowd -- the Washington, D.C., lawyer who got Humble John out of the Keating Five mess and is still trying to keep J. Fife Symington III out of a federal penitentiary -- this little funny, this little dab of satire, was "a false and defamatory statement about Ms. McCain [that] has caused, and will continue to cause, serious damage to her reputation." He demanded a retraction and an apology.
Ms. McCain, you see, was once addicted to painkillers, and stole them from her American Voluntary Medical Team (AVMT). Her pilferage eventually triggered a federal Drug Enforcement Administration investigation, and the senator's wife entered a federal diversion program to avoid being charged with a crime. One of the "volunteer" doctors who wrote prescriptions for her wound up losing his license.
That's the antecedent to the Flash's little joke.
Yet, for the benefit of the legions of gullible readers out there, let the Flash clear up any confusion: Cindy McCain did not say that she had a "purse full o' Percocet." The Flash doesn't know if she was even on the plane.
Words cannot describe the Flash's sorrow over this offense.
The Flash wonders who holds the McCains' hands when they're watching Saturday Night Live. One wonders how President McCain would stand up to ribbing.
This lawyer mobilization didn't make sense -- after all, the Flash has launched many one-liners about Cindy McCain's onetime drug jones over the years.
It all became clearer when the Flash heard that the senator had decided it was time for his wife to bare her curse to voters, in the form of an exclusive interview with Jane Pauley on NBC's Dateline.
This is no time to be making light of someone's illness -- especially when her husband is about to go on national TV and pre-empt future campaign critics by rending his vestment and swearing he was completely in the dark about it but that it was his fault anyway. Except the Keating Five thing; Cindy told Dateline that was her fault.
You know about Cindy McCain's larceny and pill-popping because of New Times.
In 1994, NT got wind of a county attorney's investigation into a complaint -- lodged by Dowd -- that a former employee of AVMT was attempting to extort money from the McCains. That employee, Tom Gosinski, had filed a lawsuit against Cindy McCain, alleging he had been fired because he had complained about her unlawful acquisition of prescription drugs. The lawsuit went nowhere.
But after New Times put in a public records request for the county attorney's investigative report into the extortion complaint, the McCains and Dowd knew it was only a matter of time before the story got out.
So the McCain spin doctors rounded up four sympathetic journalists -- John Kolbe of the Phoenix Gazette; Doug MacEachern, then of the Mesa Tribune, now a Republic editorial writer; Steve Meissner, then of the Arizona Daily Star; and Cater Lee, then of Channel 3.
Cindy McCain gave interviews to the quads on August 19, 1994, and they all agreed not to publish the story until August 22 -- the very day New Times would get its hands on the investigative reports.
The resulting beatifications were surely the biggest embarrassments of the four journalists' careers. Oblivious to the forces driving the story, the four parroted the party line, telling of Cindy McCain's grace, "bravery" and rectitude in overcoming her addiction.
Reality was much messier.
But the Flash has to give the McCain camp props for once again manipulating the media to the senator's advantage.
The Flash didn't see the Dateline interview with the McCains, which aired Sunday. But the Flash did read a transcript of that interview, which casts the McCains in the softest pastels. A good indication of how the interview was cast is to track descriptions of the images projected to America during Pauley's numerous voice-overs. From NBC's transcript:
"(Cindy and Senator McCain; newspaper headlines depicting Ms. McCain's drug history; Betty Ford; Michael Dukakis with his wife; Cindy McCain) . . .
"(Cindy McCain; drugs) . . .
"(McCains in public; marriage photograph; footage of relief missions; victims of Bangladesh typhoon; Bridgett; AVMT literature) . . .
"(Senator McCain speaking; newspaper clippings; four unidentified senators) . . .
"(Ms. McCain at computer; Charles Keating; Senator McCain, wife and daughter sitting on porch swing; McCain in service uniform) . . .
"(Washington capitol; McCain fishing with boy) . . .
"(Senator McCain and Cindy; Cindy among volunteers) . . .
"(Cindy McCain sitting quietly) . . .
"(Senator McCain relaxing) . . .
"(Drug Enforcement Administration building) . . .
"(Cindy McCain walking with Jane Pauley) . . .
"(Cindy McCain near lake with her children) . . .
"(Cindy McCain at computer) . . .
"(Cindy McCain sitting near stream with her husband) . . .
"(Senator McCain in political campaign; Cindy McCain with children; Macedonia mission; Cindy McCain with children) . . ."
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Meanwhile, the online magazine Salon reported recently that McCain has sold the movie rights to his best-selling memoir, Faith of My Fathers, to the USA Network.
Salon reported that McCain responded to the sale of the option by saying, "Well, maybe they can get Danny DeVito to play me."
That's a joke, right?
Feed the Flash: voice, 602-229-8486; fax, 602-340-8806; online, firstname.lastname@example.org