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The Game Is Over--The Media and Rick Warren Can't Protect McCain Anymore


When it comes to Barack Obama, the news media does its job with a vengeance. When Obama goes to Germany and draws a crowd of 200,000 they ask if he's being too presumptuous. When he is the target of non-stop attack ads a few weeks later, they ask if he's not being presidential enough.

Every real and imaginary friend or connection Obama has had over the last twenty years has been examined in great detail. That's what the media is supposed to do. Ask the hard questions and make sure the American people know the full story so they can make more informed decisions.

Unfortunately for all of us, the tough questions and real accountability have only been applied to one of the candidates. John McCain has gotten a total pass to this point. He has billed himself as the foreign policy and security expert who's ready to be commander in chief on day one. But the media had to cover for him and bury the stories when McCain showed four times that he didn't know Sunni from Shi'a or when he twice referred to Czechoslovakia (a country that hasn't existed for 15 years) or when he expressed concerns about the Iraq-Afghanistan border (which also doesn't exist).

The most outrageous media cover-up came when McCain claimed in a CBS News interview that The Surge had cleared the way for the Sunnis in Anbar Province to turn on Al Qaeda. That Sunni initiative began months before The Surge and virtually none of the additional U.S.troops were deployed in that region. Rather than air McCain's embarrassing inaccurate answer, CBS edited the tape to use a McCain answer to a previous question in the place of his real answer--a deliberate distortion of reality.

Pastor Rick Warren joined the crowd of McCain protectors during his conversation with the candidates at the Saddleback Church last week. Warren was interested in their views on "moral" issues such as when life begins and the nature of (same sex)marriage. But Warren seemed to have no interest in discussing their views on adultery. This had to be a great relief to McCain.

By his own admission, McCain was a serial adulterer when he returned from Vietnam and eventually divorced his first wife Carol after having an affair with his current wife Cindy--a gorgeous heiress whose father bankrolled McCain's entry into politics.

McCain actually opened the door for Warren when McCain said his greatest moral lapse was "the failure of my first marriage." But what does that mean? Marriages don't just fail. The answer begged a follow-up--particularly given the fact that Warren knew full well that McCain's first marriage didn't just "fail." It was sabotaged by McCain's behavior.

It has been well-documented in recent articles in the Los Angeles Times and the Daily Mail that while McCain was in prison in Vietnam, his wife Carol was faithfully raising their three children back home. During that period, she suffered massive injuries in an automobile accident and after 23 surgeries still walked with a cane when McCain return to the U.S. in 1973.

Over the next six years, McCain has admitted having "girlfriends" while he served as commander at Cecil Field in Florida. A good friend of mine served under McCain there and told me that McCain's numerous affairs were well known throughout the base.

By 1979, McCain was 42 and it was clear that he was not going to follow his father and grandfather to an illustrious Navy career. He met 24-year old Cindy Hensley at a party in Hawaii and although he was still married to Carol he pursued Cindy relentlessly--"brazenly" according to CNN--until he divorced Carol and married Cindy less than a year later. McCain then used his new father-in-law's money to launch his political career.

McCain admits that his actions severely damaged his relationship with Ronald and Nancy Reagan.

Former presidential candidate Ross Perot said in a recent interview, "McCain is a classic opportunist. He is always reaching for attention and glory. After he came home, Carol walked with a limp. So he threw her over for a poster girl with big money from Arizona, and the rest is history."

I have a great deal of respect for John McCain. I voted for him as my Senator and supported his campaign. I would support him for the Senate and vote for him again. I am not trying to smear him or do an expose. My beef is not with McCain--it's with the news media and people like Rick Warren who claim to be impartial but have clearly been anything but that.

This information has all been published by two respected newspapers or aired briefly on CNN in recent weeks. None of these facts has been refuted by McCain or his campaign. During the same period, the infidelity of non-candidate John Edwards was given non-stop 24-7 coverage for more than a week.

So here's my question: How many American voters know any of this? No major news organizations followed up on the Los Angeles Times story. As with other negative news or gaffes regarding McCain and outright lies that his campaign has spread, there has been a protective silence. Can you imagine the coverage that this story would have gotten if Obama was the protagonist?

Some people would argue that this happened 30 years ago and shouldn't matter. Others, including myself, believe that a person's personal life is not always relevant to the kind of job he would do as an elected official. On the first point, McCain's amazing and heroic behavior as a prisoner of war--which is cited almost daily by his campaign--happened 35-40 years ago so you can't have it both ways. In addition, just a few years ago McCain lied about the situation in his book when he said that he and Carol had already split up when he and Cindy began their relationship. The Los Angeles Times reported that in his divorce filing, McCain said that he and his wife were together as a couple long after that date.

On the second point I repeat that my criticism is not of McCain and his behavior--it's over the double standard in media coverage.

In any event the honeymoon may now be over. McCain's admission this week that he didn't know how many houses he owns was so damaging and said so much about him that even the protective media can't insulate him from the blowback.

After all, the McCain campaign has spent a lot of time and money trying to portray Barack Obama as an elitist who is out of touch with the American people. Obama, of course, was the child of a mixed marriage who started with nothing and worked his way up through his intelligence, merit and hard work to become the head of the Harvard Law Review and a place in the U.S. Senate.

McCain, on the other hand, was the son of an admiral who was the son of an admiral. He launched his political career by marrying an heiress. He and his wife are now worth more than $100 million, have their own plane, and have more houses than McCain can count. And Obama is the elitist?

Until this week, the media has abandoned all responsibility to be fair and balanced in the way it has covered these two candidates. Hopefully we can count on a more level playing field going forward.