Salter On The Cross Story

Byron York gets testimony from Mark Salter that McCain told him that story:

As part of the book research, Salter says, he said to McCain, "Give me personal experiences about all three categories. So he talked about a couple of Christmas services that they had, the event known as the 'church riot,' and the punishment cell. And he told me the 'cross in the dirt' story, which we used in the book and in speeches."

This tracks with the Robert Timberg account of McCain's Christmas references, with one omission. Guess what?

The chapter is titled "'Tis the Season to Be Jolly." It says that on Christmas Eve 1968, a guard tried to compel McCain to attend a church service that was being staged for the benefit of visiting photographers. McCain decided "to ruin the picture," letting out a series of curses ("'Fu-u-u-u-ck you, you son of a bitch!' shouted McCain, hoisting a one-finger salute whenever a camera pointed in his direction"). There's certainly no mention of a cross in the sand in this account.

On Christmas Eve 1969, we're then told, McCain had a civil conversation with the Cat, the one guard he's said in other accounts was considerate to him -- but again there's no mention of a cross in the sand.

(Timberg tells us that McCain and the Cat discussed the Cat's tie clip and cigarette lighter, as well as McCain's decision not to accept early release.)
On Christmas 1970, Timberg writes, McCain was transferred to a cell with his friend Bud Day -- "the perfect Christmas present" because he'd just spent two and a half years in solitary.  Again, no cross.

Now the reason this is weird is that it's not just one memory out of countless ones. It's a very specific Christmas memory about a character McCain recounts in other anecdotes - and was a significant enough memory to be packaged as a Christmas-themed campaign ad last year. But this riveting story which McCain "will never forget" didn't occur to McCain when asked to come up with Christmas memories in captivity in 1995. Salter explains that McCain could easily have forgotten it because it was not "pivotal." Watch the ad again and listen to McCain's testimony from Saturday night. It sure sounds pivotal to me - something that would surely resonate deeply over the years.

This is not about impugning McCain's heroism. His decision to forgo early release in Vietnam - despite being subjected to "enhanced interrogation" - makes him a far, far better man than I and most of us will ever be. It is about how Christianism corrupts a campaign. And how even a man like McCain is susceptible to these pressures.