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Last night in the Republican debate Tim Russert asked John McCain about a statement he’d made:

"I know a lot less about economics than I do about military and foreign policy issues. I still need to be educated."

McCain pretended he’d never said any such thing:

"I don’t know where you got that quote from, I’m very well versed in economics."

Except that he had said it. Russert plucked the statement from this 2005 puff piece on McCain in the WSJ:

On a broader range of economic issues, though, Mr. McCain readily departs from Reaganomics. His philosophy is best described as a work in progress. He is refreshingly blunt when he tell me: "I'm going to be honest: I know a lot less about economics than I do about military and foreign policy issues. I still need to be educated." OK, so who does he turn to for advice? His answer is reassuring. His foremost economic guru is former Texas Sen. Phil Gramm (who would almost certainly be Treasury secretary in a McCain administration). He's also friendly with the godfather of supply-side economics, Arthur Laffer.

You’ll probably find that information about McCain’s economic advisors less reassuring than reporter Stephen Moore did. In any case, McCain has said similar things about his economic ignorance several times over several years...and as recently as last month. His admissions of ignorance are well known and sometimes quite spectacular.

So, just another case of McCain the liar.

How contentedly American journalists suck at the teat of that mother of all political myths: John McCain the straight-talker. Disgusting, sure, particularly if you have any direct experience of McCain the liar, as I do.

Take for example this slobbering interview by Michele Norris on NPR recently. She spits up all over herself trying to portray a simple opinion about economics as emblematic of McCain’s honesty and candor, assuming these things as if they were fact (rather than journalistic fictions):

Michele Norris: One of the things you’ve been spending a lot of time talking about is the faltering economy, particularly in Michigan. You were very honest, and you were very straight with the voters, you said many of the American jobs, the US jobs that we’ve lost, are simply not coming back. Mitt Romney seemed to look at that and see a big fat pitch over the plate. He started saying that, yes, those jobs can come back, in fact he has a plan to bring them back. And he painted a much more optimistic picture of the future economy. Does that suggest that voters aren’t always ready for straight talk? Is that one way to read those results?

John McCain: No, I think that voters want straight talk. That’s why we won in New Hampshire, that’s why we’ll win here. I’m not pessimistic, I’m optimistic about the future of our economy...

Michele Norris: That’s a courageous stance to take, though, to stand up to voters and say you know we have to face up to the fact that some of those jobs might not be coming back.

John McCain: Look, voters are smart, they’re not uninformed...

Damned you Senator, admit it already, you’re politically courageous. Why don’t you stop being so evasive and fess up to being a straight-talker?

Standing up to voters?! Truly a pathetic performance, but characteristic of so much of the reporting on McCain by American journalists. For example, in this report from last June we learned that McCain’s exposure as a corrupt hack during the Savings and Loan crisis of the late ’80s led – no, not to jail time, get a hold of yourself. His exposure as a crook led to the straight-talking politician we know today. Heh.

The image of John McCain has long been something of a straight-talking maverick.

Some of those qualities were forged following an early chapter of McCain's political life, when he was one of the so-called Keating Five...

"What had been one of the most happy-go-lucky senatorial offices suddenly seemed to have an aura of political death about it, because it was John McCain himself — it hit him so hard, the idea that his honor was being questioned," (biographer Robert) Timberg said.

To McCain, honor was everything.

Sure it was, and the shame of being exposed as a politician on the make turned McCain into the truthiest of truth-tellers.

After McCain's election to the House in 1982, he and his family made at least nine trips at Keating's expense, three of which were to Keating's Bahamas retreat. McCain did not disclose the trips (as he was required to under House rules) until the scandal broke in 1989. At that point, he paid Keating $13,433 for the flights.

A miraculous transformation practically overnight, from cheap crook to straight-shooter. Never mind that McCain continues to lie about his role in the Savings and Loan scandal and avoids taking responsibility for the financial wreckage he helped to create, nor that he continues to exploit his influence to benefit campaign contributors. No, your role as a patriotic American reporter is to convince the public to overlook all the evidence of McCain’s long, tawdry record of deception and disingenuousness.

I’ll never buy what they’re selling, though, since I’ve seen McCain in action. He’s a liar’s liar.

In 1993, when I was teaching at the US Naval Academy, it was being rocked by a series of scandals related to a failure in leadership at the Academy. This included the biggest cheating scandal in the Academy’s history. Very unusually, members of the Board of Visitors were invited to meet with Faculty in early June of '93 to discuss the crisis. McCain went along to this closed meeting and repeatedly expressed grave concern about what he was being told of the circumstances behind the scandals. After then going to talk to the Academy Superintendent, McCain emerged to discuss the faculty meeting with reporters (who’d been excluded).

McCain told the reporters that all the complaints he’d heard were trivial – the opposite of what he’d just said to us. JoAnna Daemmrich, the Baltimore Sun reporter who asked me for a response to his comments, didn’t appear to fall for McCain’s fake candor.

And neither should you.

Originally posted to Daily Kos on Fri Jan 25, 2008 at 02:20 PM PST.

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