On numerous May 8 programs, Fox News anchors and reporters promoted the notion that Sen. John McCain is reluctant to discuss his experience as a prisoner of war in Vietnam. In fact, as Media Matters for America has documented, McCain has repeatedly highlighted that experience.
On May 8, Fox News anchors and reporters repeatedly promoted the notion that Sen. John McCain is reluctant to discuss his experience as a prisoner of war in Vietnam, making such assertions at least 15 times between 10 a.m. and 8 p.m. ET. During Special Report, while introducing chief political correspondent Carl Cameron's interview with retired Col. George E. "Bud" Day, guest anchor Bret Baier asserted that "McCain rarely talks about his experience as a prisoner of war during Vietnam." During the interview, Cafmeron reiterated the claim: "[R]epeating what he went through is something McCain almost never does as a presidential candidate." One hour later, during The Fox Report, anchor Shepard Smith falsely asserted, "One thing McCain has not brought up during the campaign: his days as a prisoner of war in Vietnam." In fact, as Media Matters for America has documented, McCain has repeatedly highlighted his experience as a POW, even as he and the media have promoted the notion that he is reluctant to do so.
During the Republican primary, numerous McCain campaign advertisements on television and the Internet noted McCain's time as a POW. One ad, a 60-second spot titled "One Man," begins with 27 seconds of footage of McCain being interrogated during his captivity. Additional footage of McCain in captivity appears while a narrator says, "One man sacrificed for his country." Five other McCain campaign ads released between September 2007 and February 2008 include footage of McCain in captivity, including one ad titled "Tied Up," which showed footage of McCain in Vietnam while audio played of McCain referring to his captivity while attacking Sen. Hillary Clinton during an October 21, 2007, Republican presidential debate.
Additionally, a 12-minute video titled "Courageous Service" and posted on McCain's campaign website also begins with the 27-second clip of McCain being interrogated while being held captive. Later in the video, McCain discussed the circumstances of his capture and subsequent captivity in North Vietnam. The video also includes footage of McCain discussing his captivity during a campaign event.
McCain has also highlighted his POW experience since clinching the Republican nomination. For instance, on March 27, McCain's campaign released its first general election television ad. The ad -- titled "624787," his Navy serial number -- highlights McCain's military experience by airing footage of him as a POW in Vietnam. Soon after, on March 31, McCain began a five-day, six-city "Service to America Tour," during which McCain visited various locations that related to his and his family's military history. The tour was launched in Meridian, Mississippi, "[h]ome of McCain Field named after John McCain's grandfather, an admiral in the U.S. Navy." During his speech in Meridian, McCain recounted his father's service in the Navy and mentioned his own experience as "a prisoner of war in Hanoi":
During the Vietnam War, he commanded all U.S. forces in the Pacific, at the top of a chain of command that included, near the bottom, his son, a naval aviator on Yankee Station in the Tonkin Gulf, and later a prisoner of war in Hanoi. My father seldom spoke of my captivity to anyone outside the family, and never in public. He prayed on his knees every night for my safe return. He would spend holidays with the troops in Vietnam, near the DMZ. At the end of his visit, he would walk alone to the base perimeter, and look north toward the city where I was held. Yet, when duty required it, he gave the order for B-52s to bomb Hanoi, in close proximity to my prison. [emphasis added]
During the tour, McCain also visited Jacksonville, Florida, which his campaign described as "[h]ome of John McCain base before his deployment to Vietnam and following his return after 5 years as a POW." During his speech in Jacksonville, McCain again referred to his experience as a prisoner of war:
The quality of persevering for your own sake, for your reputation or your sense of personal honor is good but over valued. Persevering with others for a common goal is not only more satisfying in the end, but teaches you something about life you might not have known before, and can influence your direction in ways your own fortitude never could. I once thought I was man enough for almost any confrontation. In prison, I discovered I was not. I tried to use every personal resource I had to confound my captors, and it wasn't enough in the end. But when I had reached the limit of my endurance, the men I had the honor of serving with picked me up, set me right, and sent me back into the fight. I became dependent on others to a greater extent than I had ever been before. And I am a better man for it. We had met a power that wanted to obliterate our identities, and the cause to which we rallied was our response: we are free men, bound inseparably together, and by the grace of God and not your sufferance we will have our freedom restored to us. I have never felt more powerfully free, more my own man, than when I was a small part of an organized resistance to the power that imprisoned us. [emphasis added]
Additionally, as Media Matters has documented, contrary to McCain's 2004 assertion that he "didn't talk about" his military service during his 2000 presidential campaign, McCain highlighted his experience as a POW in Vietnam in campaign advertisements and on the stump. McCain's 2000 presidential campaign released a biographical video of McCain that prominently featured McCain's time in the Navy during Vietnam. McCain himself appeared in the video and discussed, among other things, his time as a POW. Further, The Boston Globe (accessed via the Nexis database) reported on March 1, 2000, that "John McCain ran a campaign ad about the Christmas sermon he wrote for fellow prisoners of war in North Vietnam 30 years ago." And USA Today noted on January 4, 2000, that McCain ran a television ad featuring Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) "accusing [then-President Bill] Clinton of betraying the military" and "mention[ing] McCain's time as a prisoner of war in Vietnam."
Likewise, a "Campaign 2000 ad watch" item in the February 25, 2000, Los Angeles Times (accessed via Nexis) featured the text of the McCain ad titled "Leader," which highlighted his experience as a POW in Vietnam:
Text: "A young Navy pilot who volunteered for duty in Vietnam, John McCain was shot down over Hanoi. McCain refused early release from prison, where he suffered repeated beatings and was held for 5 1/2 years. He returned home just as devoted to his country, taking on the establishment. (McCain on camera) 'I'll give the government back to you, and I promise you that.' (voice-over) Ready to be president and leader of the free world. John McCain -- character courage -- for president."
Analysis: Media consultants agree no one can beat John McCain's life story as a war hero. McCain was a U.S. Navy pilot shot down on Oct. 26, 1967. Offered early release to embarrass his Navy admiral father, McCain refused and was a POW until March 1973. The ad features grainy black-and-white photographs of McCain in his flight suit, as an imprisoned soldier and lying on a bed bandaged. It alludes to his return to the U.S. and a life of public service. He was elected to the House in 1982 from Arizona and the U.S. Senate in 1986, where he still serves. McCain's "taking on the establishment" refers to his controversial campaign finance reform plan. The plan is a cornerstone of his presidential campaign, attracting supporters as well as critics who say McCain is hypocritical since he has a prolific fund-raising record. [emphasis added]
Other media outlets, including the National Review, The Washington Post, and Time magazine also reported that McCain highlighted his POW experience during the 2000 campaign.
From the 10 a.m. ET hour of the May 8 edition of Fox News' America's Newsroom:
BILL HEMMER (anchor): He was held captive, tortured in Vietnam for five and a half years. It's not something John McCain brings up on the trail. But there is a former war veteran talking. An exclusive one-on-one with the man who shared a cell with McCain in Hanoi. That's coming up.
HEMMER: It's a part of John McCain' s life story he doesn't talk about much: the five and a half years he was held captive and tortured in a Vietnamese prison. A former cellmate at the Hanoi Hilton, as it is known, is now talking.
CAMERON: McCain, of course, was shot down and spent a lot of time as a POW, and it's one of the defining moments of his life. But he seldom talks about it in public. Many say it's because, as with so many soldiers, they just think that it's not important and not appropriate to trade on what they've been through.
CAMERON: John McCain almost never speaks publicly about these sorts of stories. His supporters and Bud Day certainly believe that he should be, so that the American people can get a little bit of an insight as to what this man has been through and what kind of character he would bring into the White House.
From the noon ET hour of the May 8 edition of Fox News' Happening Now:
JANE SKINNER (anchor): On the campaign trail, John McCain doesn't often talk about his time as a prisoner of war. It is quite a story, though. The Arizona senator survived five and a half years of torture and captivity in the notorious Hanoi Hilton, as they called it, during the Vietnam War.
CAMERON: The military records show that he won 17 medals, accommodations, and awards for his time in Vietnam, both as a fighter -- as a Naval aviator and as a prisoner of war. In the Hanoi Hilton and as part of his shoot-down injuries, he was terribly beaten up and tortured, and those injuries and wounds were even made worse. McCain doesn't like to talk about this stuff, largely because he thinks that it's inappropriate and that the heroism isn't something that should be sort of traded on politically.
From the May 8 edition of Fox News' America's Pulse with E.D. Hill:
E.D. HILL (anchor): In 1967, John McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee, was captured by the enemy in Vietnam. He was held in a notorious Hanoi prison and tortured repeatedly for five and a half years. Now, he doesn't talk about that experience very often, but his former cellmate at what was known as the Hanoi Hilton is talking.
From the May 8 edition of Fox News' Studio B with Shepard Smith:
SMITH: Well, John McCain doesn't talk about it on the campaign trail, but his heroic actions during his time as a prisoner of war are pretty well-documented.
CAMERON: This is where Senator McCain actually did his flight training. And not too long after completing it, he was flying sorties in Vietnam and was shot down. McCain almost never talks about what happened to him as a POW, even though it's what -- one of the things that really just sort of defines his character. But Colonel Bud Day, who was also a POW at the Hanoi Hilton and at other camps across South -- North Vietnam, talks about it quite a bit and thinks McCain should be more willing to describe that part of his makeup.
DAY [video clip]: I have never seen any shortcomings or any shortfall out of him talking about that, but he just doesn't -- he doesn't trade on that. I think he feels that it's just wrong to try to trade on being a hero. But he is.
From the May 8 edition of Fox News' America's Election HQ:
MEGYN KELLY (anchor): Well, coming up: John McCain does not talk much about his time as a prisoner of war in Vietnam, but now a man who actually shared a cell with McCain for two years is speaking out about it. He describes their ordeal. You'll hear it firsthand next.
KELLY: Well, you know, there are very few people in this world who know exactly what John McCain went through as a prisoner of war in Vietnam. It is not something McCain talks about a whole lot. But apparently McCain was close to death when his former Hanoi Hilton cellmate first laid eyes on him.
From the May 8 edition of Fox News' Special Report with Brit Hume:
BAIER: Well, John McCain rarely talks about his experience as a prisoner of war during Vietnam. But one of the men who was held with him says McCain was a leader and an inspiration to other prisoners during a horrendous ordeal, and he says voters should know about that. Chief political correspondent Carl Cameron reports.
[begin video clip]
DAY: I asked John if he would be my -- one of my preachers. He said, "Sure." So, he had a great handle on the Episcopalian liturgy. He could just repeat it verbatim.
CAMERON: But repeating what he went through is something McCain almost never does as a presidential candidate. Day thinks he should.
DAY: I have never seen any shortcomings or any shortfall out of him talking about that, but he just doesn't -- he doesn't trade on that. I think he feels that it's just wrong to try to trade on being a hero. But he is.
From the May 8 edition of The Fox Report with Shepard Smith:
SMITH: One thing McCain has not brought up during the campaign: his days as a prisoner of war in Vietnam. But now, someone else is bringing it up for him -- a man who shared a Hanoi cell with McCain for two years.
CAMERON: McCain actually helped Day with injuries, resetting a broken arm and getting his fingers back to working condition after they'd become cramped from torture. Senator McCain doesn't talk about this very much; he doesn't think that he should be trading off of his military history. But a lot of supporters think he should -- Bud Day being one of them. His time as a POW obviously defines him, so they believe a lot of voters should hear more about it, Shep.