Gilding the lily is nothing new to politics. From the 1840s when William Henry Harrison claimed to have been born in a log cabin (it was actually a Virginia plantation) to Ronald Reagan’s reminiscing about flying over Germany in World War II (he did, but only in a movie), politicians have taken perfectly good stories and embellished them.
This campaign is no exception.
The latest embellishments come from the McCain camp. Cindy McCain has repeatedly referred to herself as an “only child.” This week came news that she actually has two half sisters, although apparently she had very little contact with them.
The McCain campaign had also put out the story that Mother Teresa “convinced” Cindy to bring home two orphans from Bangladesh in 1991.
Mrs. McCain, it turns out, never met Mother Teresa on that trip. (Once contacted by the Monitor, the campaign revised the story on its website.)
The story about Mother Teresa “convincing” Mrs. McCain to bring home two children from an orphanage in Bangladesh has been retold many times. Initially, the “About Cindy McCain” page on the McCain campaign website read: “Mother Teresa convinced Cindy to take two babies in need of medical attention to the United States. One of those babies is now their adopted daughter, 16-year-old Bridget McCain.”
The media picked up the theme. A story earlier this year on ABC’s “Good Morning America” stated, “With Mother Teresa’s encouragement she brought her fourth child, Bridget, home.” An April 2008 Wall Street Journal profile states that Mother Teresa “implored” Cindy to bring the girls to the United States. Other articles say Cindy did it “at the behest” of Mother Teresa.
According to biographies of Mother Teresa, in 1991 she was in Mexico where she developed medical problems. From there, she went to a hospital in La Jolla, Calif.
A McCain source acknowledged that Cindy McCain did not meet Mother Teresa during the 1991 trip to Bangladesh but said McCain did meet her later on, although the source could not say when or where.
In another instance, McCain told the Chicago Tribune earlier this year that on one of her medical missions to Vietnam she was in “the very hospital – and in the very room – where her husband was brought after being shot down and then beaten by a mob during the war.”
A 1992 Washington Times story recounts a different version: “Mrs. McCain asked to see the operating room and her husband’s cell, but was turned down. She took the rejection philosophically. ‘It’s 27 years later. Let’s go on,’ Mrs. McCain said.”
The McCain campaign again declined to comment on the discrepancy.
And let’s not forget these little fibs, kids:
Oct. 18, 1999 | PHOENIX — GOP presidential candidate John McCain’s wife Cindy took to the airwaves last week, recounting for Jane Pauley (on “Dateline”) and Diane Sawyer (on “Good Morning America”) the tale of her onetime addiction to Percocet and Vicodin, and the fact that she stole the drugs from her own nonprofit medical relief organization.
It was a brave and obviously painful thing to do.
It was also vintage McCain media manipulation.
She granted semi-exclusive interviews to one TV station and three daily newspaper reporters in Arizona, tearfully recalling her addiction, which came about after painful back and knee problems and was exacerbated by the stress of the Keating Five banking scandal that had ensnared her husband. To make matters worse, McCain admitted, she had stolen the drugs from the American Voluntary Medical Team, her own charity, and had been investigated by the Drug Enforcement Administration.
The local press cooed over her hard-luck story. One of the four journalists spoon-fed the story — Doug McEachern, then a reporter for Tribune Newspapers […] wrote this rather typical lead:
“She was blonde and beautiful. A rich man’s daughter who became a politically powerful man’s wife. She had it all, including an insidious addiction to drugs that sapped the beauty from her life like a spider on a butterfly.”
What McEachern and the others didn’t know was that, far from being a simple, honest admission designed to clear her conscience and help other addicts, Cindy McCain’s storytelling had been orchestrated by Jay Smith, then John McCain’s Washington campaign media advisor. And it was intended to divert attention from a different story, a story that was getting quite messy.
The irony is that Cindy’s secret would have stayed secret if John McCain’s heavy-hitting lawyer, John Dowd (of D.C.’s Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld; his most recent claim to fame was serving as co-counsel for fellow partner Vernon Jordan during impeachment) hadn’t heavy-handedly pulled out all the stops to protect the McCain family.
Dowd tried to get back at the man on Cindy McCain’s staff, Tom Gosinski, who had blown the whistle on her drug pilfering to the DEA. But in the course of trying to get local law enforcement officials to investigate Gosinski — Dowd and the McCains considered him an extortionist; others might call him a whistleblower — Dowd set in motion a process that would eventually bring the whole sordid story to light. When that maneuver backfired, the McCain media machine went into overdrive to spin the story.
In the early 1990s, Tom Gosinski was the director of government and international affairs for the American Voluntary Medical Team, which did relief and medical volunteer work in third world countries.
Hired by Cindy McCain in 1991, Gosinski enjoyed his job, but he began to notice McCain’s erratic behavior in the summer of 1992. In his journal, he wrote that he and others suspected the boss was addicted to painkillers and might have been stealing them from the organization.
From Gosinski’s journal, July 27, 1992:
[…] During my short tenure at AVMT I have been surrounded by what on the surface appears to be the ultimate all-American family. In reality, I am working for a very sad, lonely woman whose marriage of convenience to a U.S. Senator has driven her to: distance herself from friends; cover feelings of despair with drugs; and replace lonely moments with self-indulgences.
In January 1993, McCain fired Gosinski. She told him that AVMT was having financial problems and couldn’t afford him.
Gosinski had already come to suspect that Cindy McCain had gotten volunteer doctors with AVMT to sign prescriptions for her, and had used employees’ names to fill them. Worried his own name had been used (he would eventually learn that it had), Gosinski approached DEA agents in the spring of 1993 to report McCain’s suspicious behavior. The DEA launched an investigation.
Almost a year later, with the statute of limitations about to run out, Gosinski hired a labor attorney and sued Cindy McCain for wrongful termination. He intended to claim that she fired him because she suspected he knew about her addiction, but the lawsuit never got that far. Instead, Gosinski’s attorney wrote to the McCains, asking for a settlement of $250,000.
The entire story would likely have gone unreported if attorney John Dowd hadn’t entered the picture. He wrote to Maricopa County attorney Richard Romley, a political ally of McCain, and asked him to investigate Gosinski for extortion.
Thus began the inadvertent outing of Cindy McCain.
Among the questions asked: Did Cindy McCain get preferential treatment by the feds? True, Cindy was a first-time offender, which partially explains the fact that she did no prison time; instead, she entered a diversion program. But at the time, defense lawyers told New Times that if Cindy McCain had been a poor minority and not married to a U.S. senator, she likely would have been locked up.
And, of course, there was….Recipegate! From The New York Observer:
In April, Cindy McCain posted a few recipes, including one for a Passion Fruit Mousse and another for an Ahi Tuna with a Napa Cabbage Salad, in a section of John McCain’s Web site titled Cindy’s Recipes.
Unfortunately, these were not her recipes. They were lifted word-for-word from recipes on the Food Network website, one of which was penned by Rachael Ray. The McCains claimed that it was all an intern’s fault and called it a “low-level unpaid staff debacle.”
Mrs. McCain may have to find another intern to blame because somehow she’s managed to do it again!
The current issue of Family Circle magazine put Michelle Obama’s recipe for Shortbread Cookies with zest of lemon and orange against Mrs. McCain’s Oatmeal Butterscotch Cookies for readers to choose the best. Now, according to the blog Meaningful Distraction, Ms. McCain’s recipe appears to once again be plagiarized. This time from Hershey’s.
Tsk, Tsk, Ms. McCain.