Dear John

I'd like to point out that it's been a wonderful two weeks for me. I haven't had quite this much fun since I was interrogated in Hanoi.

--Senator John McCain

His anti-tobacco bill bombed. He was caught making fun of the First Daughter. The Supremes canned his line-item veto.

And finally-finally-FINALLY, after years of showering him with Valentines in the form of glowing, fawning, swooning, butt-kissing profiles, national reporters have begun sending McCain "Dear John" letters.

Maureen Dowd started the backlash on Father's Day with a New York Times column chastising McCain for his Chelsea-Janet joke. (In case you've forgotten, the joke reportedly goes, "Why is Chelsea Clinton so ugly? Because Janet Reno is her father.") But Dowd's words are downright tepid--kind, even--next to what has followed.

Last Friday, a swarm of anti-McCain sentiments hit the newsstands and the World Wide Web.

Long Island Newsday columnist Robert Reno (Janet's brother, no less, which probably accounts for the over-the-top nastiness of his prose) writes in "Sen. McCain Getting Nowhere in Hurry in Presidential Race":

"Now everybody seems to be rediscovering McCain was a member of the Keating Five. If you've forgotten who they were, it wasn't the honor roll at Keating Junior High. Then there was the messy business of his first wife, which in the name of good taste, I'm not going into.

". . . [It] is exceedingly infuriating to a lot of Republicans who get rotten press day in and day out and then see McCain slobbered over in the media as the 20th Century Lincoln.

"And now we seem to have yet another horse race, which is this: How many disgusting things will the noble, goody-goody McCain have to do to re-establish his manhood with the rabid Republican right wing?"

Don't hold back, Robert Reno. Tell us how you really feel.
As if that wasn't enough to give McCain a bad what's-left-of-his-hair day, Slate's David Plotz chimed in with, "The media want him to be president. It's a bad idea."

Plotz begins his piece with a parody of a smarmy John McCain profile, in which he actually makes fun of McCain's war wounds:

"It is this arm, this right arm, that North Vietnamese torturers worked over for days in a hellhole called the Plantation, till it was broken and bruised and lacerated. It is this arm, this right arm, that is still stiff, still scarred, still bent. And it is this arm, this right arm, that the avaricious barons of tobacco, who sell death and call it commerce, think they can twist, think they can break, think they can make reach out to them, open-palmed. . . ."

In his final analysis, Plotz concludes, ". . . the McCain hagiography is not harmless. It misleads the American people, and it will disserve him if he does run for president. He isn't just an honorable, truth-seeking hero, a selfless iconoclast. He's a schemer, a politician, a calculating populist who has built his career on sexy, attention-getting issues. He is opportunistic. He arrived at a convenient time in the tobacco fight: He had no strong feelings about the evil weed, and he became the tobacco scourge only when Republican leaders asked him to shepherd the bill through the Senate. He adopted campaign finance reform only after he was tarred in the Keating Five scandal several years ago. Others who've devoted years to campaign finance and tobacco have watched McCain get credit as the heroic martyr, the patron saint of lost causes."

When the going gets tough, John McCain gets nasty--something Arizona reporters have known for years. Seems that the national press is starting to get a taste of it, too. The National Journal asked McCain last week if his reputation among Republican senators had suffered because he championed the tobacco bill. NJ reports that McCain "snapped": "Look, if you are trying to write a story that says that I am, quote, 'isolated from the Republican Party, that I have alienated my friends, and that I am in trouble in Arizona,' go ahead and write it. But don't waste my time."

Apparently, McCain isn't wasting any time battening down the hatches here at home. Last Thursday, he pulled the plug on his endorsement of the Spur Cross land exchange--a complicated matter that would have involved a three-way trade of private, state and federal lands, with the goal of protecting ancient artifacts on Spur Cross, a ranch in Scottsdale. Opposition was brewing among local environmentalists, who didn't like the plan, in part because it would leave until later a decision on which federal land is to be traded, opening the door for decimation of a valuable hunk of national forest with little or no public input.

That could be political suicide for a senator who already gets poor ratings from environmental groups, and it could be fodder for yet another "Dear John" from a national reporter.

Such a move might have seemed too risky for a guy who's had the kind of fortnight John McCain's had.

Check out New Times' Field Guide to the John McCain Campaign Trail at

Contact Amy Silverman at her online address: [email protected]

KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Amy Silverman is a two-time winner of the Arizona Press Club’s Journalist of the Year award. Her work has appeared on the radio show This American Life and in the New York Times, the Washington Post, Lenny Letter, and Brain, Child. She’s the co-curator of the live reading series Bar Flies, and a commentator for KJZZ, the NPR affiliate in Phoenix. Silverman is the author of the book My Heart Can’t Even Believe It: A Story of Science, Love, and Down Syndrome (Woodbine House 2016). Follow her on Instagram (@amysilverman), Twitter (@amysilvermanaz), and at