The death of John McCain has been met with the traditional response. The media outlets you would expect to support the official line, because they do not report anything else, are full of praise for this former presidential candidate, war veteran and distinguished public servant, choosing to focus on those dimensions of his career rather than others.
However the ones which print the stories the mainstream ones won’t print are taking the opposite line. They are reminding readers of McCain’s sordid record as a gun runner for terrorists, and one who made his fortune from organised crime. He was bankrolled by the arms dealers whose products strangely ended up in the hands of terrorists who McCain told “we are with you”, without ever defining who “we” were. It is not that the other outlets don’t know these facts, but that they aren’t interested in them, and don’t want the public to associate them with McCain now his story is over, and we can evaluate the whole picture.
You would expect agendas to be at work here. But the question remains, who sets them? Independent outlets are as biased as mainstream ones, which is one reason people still place undue trust in mainstream outlets. But there is a fundamental difference between the two which prevents the agendas of the big outlets being discussed, a fact they have long exploited.
The more people consume an outlet, the more that outlet is assumed to publish stories reflecting all shades of opinion, even when it firmly supports one political side or another. Otherwise, it wouldn’t have a significant number and range of consumers. Smaller outlets are perceived to reflect smaller ranges of opinion, and be responding to cult audiences. Therefore they are thought to be guiltier of following party lines, even if they are merely digests of articles from across the board.
So bigger outlets can say what they like, just like smaller ones, but couch it in terms of observable facts everyone assumes are the ones they themselves would observe if they were on the spot. Those who actually observe those events may see things differently, but they are only isolated individuals. The generality must have seen what the big outlets saw, or those outlets wouldn’t report them for such audiences. One person’s insignificant detail is another person’s core fact, if the mainstream media says so.
We are told what those in power wish us to hear about John McCain. But as in many other cases, this doesn’t matter very much. The interesting thing will be what is said when those same powerful people decide they don’t want to defend him any more – and that will tell us who is also guilty, and why they don’t want us to know.
You are our fears
History shows many examples of people’s reputations, good or bad, changing after their deaths. Sometimes this happens merely when they have finished their jobs.
In February 1952 Harry Truman had the lowest approval rating of any US President, even worse than those George W. Bush or Richard Nixon had at their most unpopular. By the time of his death twenty years later he had one of the highest rankings, because the same issues which had driven his ratings down (stalemate in war, corruption in the administration, affirmative action gone wrong) were still part of the public agenda, but now people felt their consequences as well as seeing them, putting Truman’s performance, sanitised by time, in a different light.
Environmentalists still revere the memory of Grey Owl, the Native American best-selling author and lecturer who promoted the values of conservation and wilderness life. These have always been held by Native Americans, but were then very radical in the industrialised world which thought itself more advanced. His obviously sincere love for the ways of his people, and belief in their values, made him an international celebrity who was given gushing tributes after his death in 1938, at the age of 49.
Many people, and some in the media, knew that Grey Owl was actually an Englishman called Archie Belaney, who had migrated to Canada as a young man in search of adventure, not the wilderness life. Having adopted a Native American identity, for apparently high motives, he omitted to mention this in his books or lectures, claiming to have been born to a Scottish father and Apache mother in Mexico.
This presentation was accepted because Native Americans were being subjected to all kinds of humiliations, as they are to this day, “for their own good”. Exposing a highly respected one as a fake would not be seen as an act of “kindness”. Even when English relatives recognised him on tour he was not exposed, as treating him as an exotic source of redundant ancient wisdom, rather than a “civilized person” who had come to such views, played into the official policy on the Native American peoples on both sides of the North American border.
Only on the day of his death did a small Canadian newspaper run the story, which it had been sitting on for three years. Now he was dead, he could be publicly attacked as a fraud, and all “his people” with him. His books were withdrawn, and the cause he supported received fewer donations. Now the Native American way of life, and those who supported it, could be attacked without attacking a real Native American, so everyone would abandon his alternative lifestyle and be an obedient servant of the military-industrial complex once again.
John McCain would never have been able to rise as high as he did without embodying the American Dream: that you can sacrifice everything for profit (he dumped his wife to get a stake in Anheuser-Busch, fiddled his accounts, sold his soul to arms dealers) and still be a respected member of society, whose morals must be better than those of less respected people. Sooner or later, the dark side of McCain will be presented as more important by the same people who are lauding him now. But why would they do that, when they also see themselves as embodiments of this dream?
Long, dark tunnel
Sir Jimmy Savile was one of the biggest stars of the UK media, as a radio disc jockey and TV presenter. He was known for raising huge amounts of money for charity, working a menial job at Stoke Mandeville hospital at the height of his TV fame and fortune and gaining many friends in high places as a result of his litany of good works.
We knew all this because this is how Savile was continually presented by others in the media. There used to be two fictional DJs on a comedy show, one of whom would always introduce the other by saying “does a lot for charity, doesn’t like to talk about it”. We now know this comment was a veiled reference to Savile, who likewise got everyone else to talk about him, so that any contrary presentation would be drowned out, or not believed because it was too far removed from the general public opinion.
Of course media figures wanted a poster boy, one of their own who was lauded wherever he went, regardless of what he actually did. So did the politicians and fixers he got to know in the other part of his life. As with McCain, he demonstrated that as long as you succeeded, nothing else really mattered. All your sins were washed away by the pound sign, not repentance, as there was no longer a need to explain yourself if you made everyone admire your fame and wealth.
During his lifetime dozens of people made allegations of sexual harassment against Savile, but he used his connections, who knew about him because they were doing the same or knew friends who did, to buy off his accusers and the police. Only after his death was he revealed as one of the most prolific paedophiles in history, who had abused at least 400 children over a period of six decades. Immediately the question was asked: how had he got away with it? Is it feasible to think that no one had known what he was up to while he was being canonised as a great philanthropist?
One of the first TV celebrities to comment on the allegations, which were swiftly given credence by Savile’s own family, was Esther Rantzen, the campaigning journalist and founder of Childline. She is likewise associated with a multitude of good causes, and also works for the BBC, as Savile did. If his behaviour had been known about, she would have been one of those who had known, given her track record of protecting vulnerable children and gathering information for her exposes of various crooks and abusers on her programmes.
Predictably Rantzen said that she did not agree with what Savile had done, and that there had been “rumours” about him, but no one could question him because he was all-powerful. However many other BBC figures, some associated with Savile and his causes and some not, later confirmed that they had also heard these “rumours”, and were expecting them to get out sooner or later.
Every celebrity is subject to rumours, good or bad, and knows not to pay too much attention to them. If celebrities are saying that they expected a story to get out, not just another rumour, they know we are dealing with something with more foundation than the latest gossip.
No one has ever suggested, or is suggesting, that Esther Rantzen is herself involved in child abuse. But she is also patron of a charity called CWAC, which stands for Children With AIDS Charity. A fellow BBC presenter, Kate Copstick, was once Vice-Chair of this charity and advertised her association with it in the same places she advertised her personal website, http://www.bobbysgirl.co.uk. This lists various vídeos this company of hers produces, which are either overtly pornographic or instructional vídeos for porn actors.
There is no evidence or suggestion that Kate Copstick is recruiting children to the porn industry through her involvement with this charity, or in any other way. But many might question how appropriate it is for someone involved with a children’s charity to produce porn videos. If Esther Rantzen does not know about this connection, and ask why it exists, she should, as she is a patron of that charity and it uses her name. But this information is not widely known, despite Kate Copstick’s best efforts, so Esther Rantzen sees no need to investigate or comment.
Jimmy Savile is now reviled because the information got out, not because of what he did. British people are deluged with articles and documentaries which try to link everything he did to paedophilia, and explain his whole personality by his sexual deviancy. The implication is that someone with a different personality to this once-lovable eccentric can’t be a child abuser or an apologist for them. This is happening whilst investigations are being held into paedophile and sexual harassment rings in parliament, which also involved members of the media as participants or silent witnesses.
The dead can’t answer back
John McCain will be treated with honour for as long as it serves the purposes of those who know about the rest of his life. Then it will be all about how McCain fooled everyone, and what a bad person he really was. What his former-associates-turned-accusers will say, however, will be more about them than him.
It is not difficult to trace the weapons McCain supplied to his favourite terrorists through fake end user certificates, often facilitated by the Government of Georgia through that country’s ports. Various branches of the US Government must also know about these arrangements, as they breach various laws about arms supply, customs declaration and domestic manufacture.
He can’t have done these things without the help of many people powerful enough to get round the laws. But we will hear that McCain’s actions are the product of his unique deviant personality when the finger starts pointing at those same people.
Whenever a new conflict broke out we would see McCain on TV, professing his support for the likes of Bin Laden. He never did this on US soil, but in the conflict zone itself, sometimes alongside the terrorists he was professing undying support for.
He didn’t get to these places on the back of a camel. Someone booked and paid for his flights, which would have been automatically recorded if he had undertaken them in an official government capacity, as McCain always implied was the case. We will soon discover if it was the same people who knew that his campaign donors were illegally supplying arms to those same terrorists, when they themselves suddenly discover this connection.
McCain is widely believed to have betrayed his comrades in Vietnam. The Russians claim to have a file on who he betrayed and how. The same US government which entered into the Vietnam War, and continued its involvement despite great public hostility, has long since tried to dismiss it as an aberration of a degenerate era. It has consistently portrayed the veterans of that war as dirty, unprincipled junkies in film and print, unlike the veterans of other conflicts, such as Desert Storm.
McCain was not portrayed as a disgrace to America but as the honourable exception, despite apparently being more dishonourable than most. The US political mainstream sees nothing wrong in selling Vietnam combatants down the river because it has been doing the same for 45 years. When the US public gets tired of being asked to see everything the wrong way round, we will find, in the identities of those who will finger McCain as the only one, who has supported this abuse the most vigorously for so long.
Everyone is free to choose how they view John McCain, his actions and his legacy. But when they are told insistently by the mainstream media what they are supposed to think about him, they should ask what those who fund it do not want us to think about them.
Seth Ferris, investigative journalist and political scientist, expert on Middle Eastern affairs, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.