Johnny We Hardly Know Ye: Part II
John McCain’s political career in Arizona was launched and nurtured by a bogus former Air Force pilot.
Duke Tully was the publisher of the Arizona Republic in the early 1980s, a newspaper that then totally dominated the state. Tully helped McCain in his first bid for Congress and groomed him for higher office.
Unfortunately, Tully was a bigger phony even than McCain. When he was a classified ad manager in Ohio, Duke had begun his fantasy military career as a second lieutenant. Selling a lot of classified ads and advancing through the ranks in the newspaper world, he promoted himself in his imaginary Air Force career as well. He reached the rank of colonel to complement his role of publisher.
Here is a story from the Republic that explains their early friendship:
Upon meeting McCain, Tully regaled him with stories of his own military service as an Air Force pilot in Korea and Vietnam. The two men quickly hit it off and soon were spending a lot of time together. Cindy McCain and Tully's second wife, Pat, also got along well. Both were far younger than their husbands.
Tully had logged many hours in Air Force simulators learning how to fly F-16s. He bragged about a simulated dogfight he had with McCain on the Goldwater gunnery range in southwest Arizona.
"Duke said he had gotten John in his sights and shot him down," recalls Bill Shover, a former Phoenix Newspapers Inc. executive. "John couldn't maneuver very well because of his (formerly) broken arm." ...
Shover characterized Tully as McCain's PR man, hosting dinners to introduce him to the Valley's movers and shakers. McCain wrote guest columns for The Republic. In one of them, McCain gave a sentimental account of Christmas in Hanoi. Tully became godfather to one of McCain's children.
Although it was clear McCain had the ability, ambition and wherewithal to reach Congress on his own, Tully helped open doors. In the pages of The Republic and The Phoenix Gazette, McCain was a star.
Tully positioned McCain to take Barry Goldwater’s seat in the U.S. Senate, driving out his potential Republican rivals and viciously persecuring the Democratic candidate through the columns of the Republic.
I had the privilege of interacting with the legandary Duke personally. At the height of his power, he was a character witness for one of my opponents in a litigation in Phoenix.
From the Republic:
In late 1985, the pressure of living the lie was building up inside Tully, causing him to drink and alienate his wife, Pat. After she filed for divorce, Tully, in his own words, "was beginning to crack up."
He began to drop not-so-subtle hints to people that he had never served in the military. Then, on Oct. 25, a concerned secretary summoned Shover to Tully's office.
The Republic account continues:
Shover found Tully stepping on his plaques and certificates and throwing them into a trash can.
Determined to protect his boss, Shover told him to quietly get rid of his uniforms and to stop telling his fake war stories.
Tully refused to be quiet about it.
"It's almost like he was trying to get caught," Shover said.
Eventually, word leaked to Tully's enemies, one of whom was Maricopa County Attorney Tom Collins, who had been smacked by The Republic for taking a trip with his family at taxpayer expense.
Collins, along with freelance aviation writer Dick Rose, began to investigate Tully's background. The day after Christmas, Tully told Shover that Collins would have a press conference to expose him.
McCain, a Navy pilot, should have known Tully was a fraud, but he was totally fooled, as the Republic account indicates:
One of the early press calls was to McCain.
"His response was kind of like, 'Yeah, I have heard of Duke Tully. I'm sorry about what happened to him. Any other questions?'" Shover said.
Shover called McCain a political opportunist who moved quickly to distance himself from Tully.
"In other words, he walked," Shover said. "He used Duke Tully to gain what he got in his life, and he left him just when Duke needed him most."
McCain has a different take.
Part of him resented Tully's deception, but mostly McCain says he felt bad for him. And he criticizes The Republic's own coverage of Tully's "downfall" as excessive and "a little gleeful."
"In one of its numerous takes on the subject, The Republic ran a story that puzzled over my inability to spot Duke's deception, given our close relationship," McCain wrote in his 2002 book. "'Tully's lies rang true to combat flier McCain' ran the headline. Well, they also rang true to the reporters and editors of The Republic, people whose job it is to distinguish truth from falsehood." ...
"I think of him often, and not just of his unfortunate last days in Arizona," McCain wrote. "He was good company, and I miss him."
Stripped of his fantasy military rank, Tully moved down through the ranks in the newspaper world. In California, serving as publisher at a small newspaper, he faced real combat for the first time, and a neighbor’s cat did not come out on top in the shootout. Tully slipped further, eventually helping another wife with a retirement community newsletter in Florida.
This true-life episode explains another fundamental part of McCain’s philosophy: There is no difference between the truth and a lie if you tell the lie well enough. Also, people are only valuable as long as they feed your own narcissism. Finally, McCain, a complete phony himself, has no ability to judge people. As president, he would have to fill the jobs such as Secretary of State, Attorney General, and Justices of the Supreme Court. (We have already seen his vice presidential pick.)
(This three-part biography of McCain begins after his well-known war service, which we thank him for. The first chapter dealt with the connection between his fortune and a famous unsolved murder in Arizona. It will conclude with McCain’s whoring for lobbyists, both during the Keating Five scandal and up to the present day.)