Sunday, August 17, 2008

"Cross in the Dirt": Salter's jog to McCain's memory??

Following McCain's latest embellishment of his "cross in the dirt" story at the Saddleback Forum, Daily Kos bloggers (anticipated, it now turns out, by FreeRepublic bloggers in 2005) have noted that this by-now-well-worn story is absent from McCain's first long account of his captivity in 1973; bears a close resemblance to a story recounted by Solzhenitsyn in The Gulag Archepelago; and seems to have made its first appearance in McCain's Faith of My Fathers, published in 1999 as McCain prepared for his first Presidential run. In a Lexis search, the first news-source reference I could find to the story was indeed in a September 1999 review of the book.

In the story McCain recalls one of his Vietnamese captors first secretly loosening his bonds when he was tied in a stress position, and months later, on Christmas, furtively scratching a "cross in the dirt" in a moment of silent communion.

A footnote: Faith of My Fathers was the first of several books co-authored Mark Salter, McCain's speechwriter and close aide. Whatever McCain's alleged reticence about his POW experiences, co-author Salter has never been shy about mining their political value. A May '08 WSJ profile of Salter by Monica Langley recounts:
When ad maker Mark McKinnon wanted to use newly discovered footage taken when Sen. McCain was captured during the Vietnam War, the candidate refused, saying it was exploitative, and that his visible injuries made him look vulnerable. Mr. Salter "was my ace in the hole," Mr. McKinnon says. "He persuaded John -- and he's the only one who could have."
That's not to say that Salter, who according to McCain "writes the way I think," could not have elicited new memories from McCain, or convinced him to recall publicly stories he may have previously kept private. Make of it what you may, the story's public life appears to date from the beginning of McCain's career as a presidential candidate.


  1. Two points.

    Mccain and Salter co-authored a book about famous people they admired and there was a whole chapter on Solzhenitsyn, whom they both say they admire.

    And it has been rumoured for years that Salter ghostwrote FLAG OF MY FATHERS.

  2. Oh and McCain himself, according to Lexis-Nexis, used the story for the first time six months after the book was published (during the campaign 00 in NH). There is no recordation of him ever telling that story himself before that.