This is interesting. Part of the McCain Celebrity, as packaged for the evangelical base, is the rescue of two Bangladeshi girls at the behest of Mother Theresa, one of whom, Bridget, they subsequently adopted. During my live-blogging of Saddleback, I described the McCain adoption story as "peerless." And it is indeed an admirable, selfless thing - and a completely legitimate aspect of a candidate's life to be part of his campaign message. The story of how Mother Teresa talked them into it makes it all the more poignant.
The only trouble is: it's not true:
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.
But a source who was with McCain on that 1991 trip, and who asked that his name not be used because of prior legal dealings with the McCain family, says that Mother Teresa was not at the orphanage when Cindy decided to bring the two girls home.
A 1991 article in the Arizona Star at the time of the adoption only mentions that the children were from an orphanage that was started by Mother Teresa. It does not mention a meeting with Mother Teresa or her asking McCain to bring the girls to the US.
This is the pattern:
A story that shows the McCains' genuine compassion and faith is embellished over the years to make the story a little more perfect, a little more salient, a little better as a narrative. It's especially important to add these embellishments when your goal is to appeal to a fundamentalist base, when your own prickly, personal and private faith isn't very marketable. And when your adopted daughter is Bangladeshi, and when that fact has been disgracefully used against you by the Bush machine in 2000, and when some fringes of your base get queasy about multi-racial families, what better way to describe the adoption than as something Mother Teresa herself "implored" you to do? More interesting: the first actual reports of this event do not mention this fact. They are added later.
I note that this false story was on the McCain website and has since been corrected. Now, the question is whether and when Cindy McCain met with Mother Teresa:
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. The campaign has since reworded the reference to the adoption on its website.
Can we nail down the date of that meeting? Or are these questions no one should dare ask of a POW war hero?
(Photo: Doug Collier/Getty.)