by Adam Johnson
Professional truth-teller and self-appointed Russian counter-propagandist Jake Tapper had Arizona Sen. John McCain on his State of Union show (CNN, 9/10/17) for a chummy interview Sunday night. The interview began with Tapper lobbing softballs at McCain about his mortality and reminiscing about buddying up on the 2000 campaign trail (Tapper was, according to his then-editor David Talbot, a McCain “groupie”) before moving on to “issues.”
After letting McCain claim that the US ushered in, after World War II, the “longest period of peace and prosperity” in history (what, one is compelled to ask, was McCain dropping on Vietnamese peasants, Ovaltine?), Tapper let the Republican lawmaker pivot to his default position of warmonger (“We have got to spend more money on defense“), with no pushback of any kind.
The ritual was kicked off with a distortion by McCain that Tapper didn’t challenge. “The Korean defense minister, just a few days ago, called for nuclear weapons to be redeployed—we had them there once—in South Korea,” McCain said. “You think the US should do that?” Tapper asked, when what he ought to have said was, “That’s a mischaracterization of the defense minister’s comment.” What Korea’s Song Young-moo actually said, according to the Washington Post (9/4/17), was that “the redeployment of tactical nuclear weapons is an alternative worth a full review.”
But the crusader against Fake News can’t be bothered with messy details that complicate McCain’s regime-change advocacy. Also left unmentioned was that the weapon systems McCain touts, like the THAAD anti-missile system, are opposed by the majority of South Koreans, and the current president was elected with a mandate to halt THAAD—which he promptly did.
But the real lowlight of the interview was the casual genocidal threat by McCain: “If Kim Jung Un acts in an aggressive fashion,” he told Tapper, “the price will be extinction.”
Note that McCain didn’t even say “if North Korea attacks the US,” but simply if it “acts in an aggressive fashion.” What constitutes an “aggressive fashion”? More importantly, what does McCain mean by “extinction”? As McCain seems to be threatening to kill 25 million Koreans, isn’t it worth clarifying what precisely he’s calling for?
Tapper did no such thing; he simply moved on to DACA. And just like that, a distorted pro–regime change narrative is cemented, without so much as a hiccup from “the most trusted name in news.”
Building on this corporate synergy, CNN’s resident dullard Chris Cillizza wrote a creepy hagiography for the senator the very next day (9/11/17), headlined “The Inspiring Joy of McCain.” (Not to be confused with the creepy McCain hagiography he wrote two months ago, “The Absolutely Remarkable Life of John McCain”—7/20/17.)
After assuring the reader McCain was “no saint” who had “made mistakes” (borrowing from McCain’s own faux-humble language in the linked interview), Cillizza went on to praise the lawmaker with generic flattery, noting his “willingness to get knocked down seven times and get up eight,” whatever that means.
In a political world in which it seems like the worst behavior is rewarded the most and which people appear to have lost total faith in the men and women they have sent to Washington to represent them, McCain’s joy should matter.
It should be a reminder that most politicians are in politics for the right reasons. That politicians can represent the best of us rather than our worst impulses. That getting knocked down isn’t a death sentence. That we are a resilient people and that our politics can once again be not only resilient but downright joyful.
What does any of this mean? How can Cillizza possibly know that “most politicians are in politics for the right reasons”? He doesn’t; it’s simply groveling, power-serving flattery of a sitting senator from a news network that maintains, at least in theory, that its purpose is to hold power to account.
Clearly it’s commentary—though not labeled as opinion—but of what use is it? What did Tapper’s interview or Cillizza’s vacuous write-up of it accomplish? A bit of legacy-buffing for McCain, some deeply pernicious pro-war talking points, and a few chuckles between two old friends.