As a war hero, former presidential candidate, influential voice in the Senate, and ready quote, John McCain has been a constant presence in the public eye for decades. His final book, The Restless Wave, is out today. McCain’s brain cancer diagnosis provides the opportunity for a slow motion, living eulogy, and the press has responded with a steady drumbeat of coverage.
The details of McCain’s life—his heroism in Vietnam, scandal-marred early years in politics, cross-aisle friendships with Democrats like Ted Kennedy and Joe Biden, presidential runs in 2000 and 2008, and years as an elder statesman—are well known. His long and complicated career presents challenges for journalists who need to encapsulate his life in a few sentences. How does one cover a towering figure in American politics without slipping into hagiography? As The New York Times’s Jonathan Martin writes in a recent profile of McCain at rest, he “has long been both a flawed politician and a larger figure of history.”
McCain’s image as a maverick willing to subvert his party to stick to political principles has always been as much branding exercise as reality. His “Straight Talk Express”—the slogan of his campaign bus in 2000—and willingness to appeal to the better angels of our political nature sit alongside his choice of Sarah Palin as his running mate in 2008 and his endorsement in 2016 of the man who questioned his war service on the campaign trail.
In the Trump era, McCain has been drawn into a series of controversies not of his making, beginning with Trump’s 2015 statement that he liked “people who weren’t captured.” More recently, a morbid comment about McCain’s prognosis by communications aide Kelly Sadler sparked a fresh wave of outrage. Last summer, just after he was diagnosed with brain cancer, he became an unlikely Democratic hero in the Senate for voting against the Obamacare repeal.
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McCain’s health is preventing him from touring in support of his book, but the making of his legacy has already begun. He’ll be the subject of an HBO documentary, John McCain: For Whom the Bell Tolls, debuting on Memorial Day, and those writing on his career will have decades of freely given quote to choose from, and the difficult task of framing his contradictions.
Below, more on the coverage of a notable, complicated life.
- Telling his story: CNN’s Dana Bash speaks with McCain’s Restless wave co-author, his longtime aide Mark Salter. “He wanted it to be more personal, and to convey just how fortunate he believed he was for being able to serve this country for 60 years,” Salter says.
- In the moment: The New Yorker’s Amy Davidson Sorkin writes about McCain’s attempts to grapple, “publicly and poignantly, with what it means to come up against the limits of time in the Trump era.”
- Takeaways from the book: ABC News’s Mariam Khan highlights key passages in The Restless Wave, including McCain’s regret that he chose Palin to be his running mate over Joe Lieberman, the Democrat-turned-Independent Connecticut Senator.
- McCain’s values: After the dramatic Obamacare vote last summer, The Atlantic’s David A. Graham analyzed what drives McCain. “His principles are unusual,” Graham wrote. “He values process, decorum, and Senate traditions to a degree that many observers find strange—and anyone who expects him to be a hero for their own ideological cause is likely to be disappointed.”
Other notable stories
- Interview magazine, founded by Andy Warhol in 1969, has folded, reports the New York Post’s Alexandra Steigrad. The glossy arts and culture publication owned by billionaire Peter Brant will file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy.
- CJR’s Sam Thielman writes about the CIA’s unprecedented PR push to make Gina Haspel its director. From tweetstorms on the agency’s official account to a wave of cable news appearances by former agents and contractors, the aggressive selling of Haspel was out of character for a normally reticent organization.
- The Obamas are coming to Netflix. The streaming service announced Monday that it has signed the former president and first lady to a multi-year agreement to produce “a diverse mix of content, including the potential for scripted series, unscripted series, docu-series, documentaries and features.”
- The Boston Globe’s Annie Linskey reports that White House aides who draft proposed tweets for the president “intentionally employ suspect grammar and staccato syntax in order to mimic the president’s style.”
- Talkers magazine is out with its list of the “100 most important radio talk show hosts in America.” For the first time, Sean Hannity grabbed the top spot, beating Rush Limbaugh.
- Allure Editor in Chief Michelle Lee talks with CJR’s Karen K. Ho about the magazine’s June cover, which features three Asian women on its cover. Lee found that in its history, Allure has only had two Asian cover models, and she speaks about her efforts to increase representation in the fashion industry.
- At its annual Freedom of the the Press Awards tonight in New York, The Reporters’ Committee for the Freedom of the Press will honor New York Times Executive Editor Dean Baquet, documentary filmmaker Lynn Novick, former All Things Considered host Robert Siegel, and BuzzFeed VP of legal and associate general counsel Nabiha Syed.
ICYMI: The inevitable cycle of school shooting coveragePete Vernon is a former CJR staff writer. Follow him on Twitter @ByPeteVernon.