07/10/2008 05:12 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Reading The Pictures: McCain's War Cred Goes Belly Up


At least in this case, context means everything.

Up until Sunday, this well-known October 1967 image of McCain being pulled from a lake near Hanoi was used without qualification by the Straight Talk Express PR division to convey heroism and elicit admiration and empathy.

By raising McCain's actual command experience as a campaign issue, however, Wesley Clark's weekend comments reframe the photo for posterity, highlighting the exact moment and event that deprived McCain of the chance to go on and prove himself, in combat (like Pop and GrandPop did), as part of the brass. Echoing Clark's point that McCain's heroism was based on his service as a prisoner, the photo -- up to now, liberally touted by Mac's campaign -- suddenly loses the pomp and ambiguity.

Simply, what the picture reflects is how McCain's heroism and military record is largely based on his going belly up.

Gen. Wes Clark on Face the Nation June 29, 2008 (YouTube)
"Attacking" McCain's Military Record: What Wesley Clark really said; how the press missed it (CJR)

For more of the visual, visit

(image: unattributed. Truc Bac Lake, near Hanoi, North Vietnam. October 26, 1967. Library of Congress, via Associated Press.)