News & Politics

The 'Songbird McCain' Lie Resurfaces on Fox Business Network

It’s no secret that John McCain isn’t very popular on the right. It’s practically cliché to say he “sticks his finger in the conservative movement’s eye.” (And by the way, we really need to work on our clichés.)

Still, in the last few years, the McCain hate crossing over into vile criticism of his military service has become fairly common and mainstream. It should also be no secret that this is largely attributable to Trump, who did that very thing and whose base has carried that forward ever since.

So in a sense, it shouldn’t be a surprise to see that sentiment voiced on Fox Business News, which caters to that particular brand of conservative Republican for whom the slam or diss is as valuable as policy. Still, when Fox guest and Air Force veteran Thomas McInerney whipped it out today, it was shocking in its directness and casual venom. Watch:

“Well, [Gina Haspel] can’t use it [torture] anymore because we have determined in Congress that it’s not legal,” he said. “The fact is, is John McCain, it worked on John. That’s why they call him ‘Songbird John.'”

That is not only harsh, it’s untrue.

You may like heroes who weren’t shot down, but that doesn’t make them traitors or torture “songbirds.” In the case of John McCain, this particular myth is long-since debunked.

When McCain was running for president, a group opposed to him sent out a flyer with this exact charge. They called him a “Hanoi Hilton songbird.” Far from accurate, McCain was not only uncooperative, he endured great pain and hardship on behalf of his country and his fellow prisoners, resulting in injuries that have lasted a lifetime.

When the group sent out that flyer, PolitiFact checked it. Here’s an excellent excerpt.

Robert Timberg, author of John McCain: An American Odyssey , who has interviewed many POWs who served with McCain, said there’s no evidence that he ever collaborated with the North Vietnamese. “I’ve never known of any occasion in which Sen. McCain provided the North Vietnamese with anything of value,” Timberg said.

Even if you leave aside the witness from other POWs and the volumes of research on the subject, it’s still a ridiculous charge to make, especially as some sort of justification for “torture” techniques.

McInerney is making it a smear of McCain, who is opposed to the nomination of Gina Haspel for CIA director (wrongly opposed, in my view). McInerney is impugning McCain to say that torture works. That is conceding that what the United States did was torture, that it was comparable to the torture perpetrated by the North Vietnamese, and that he’s fine with that.

Hardly the party line on this. In fact, the point should either be that the enhanced interrogation was not torture, or that Haspel, along with our government, has determined after the fact that the methods were not in keeping with our high moral standards, and the program was therefore halted. Furthermore, he should note that Haspel said, in keeping with the law, that no such interrogation will take place in the future if she is confirmed.

“I can offer you my personal commitment clearly, and without reservation, that under my leadership, on my watch, CIA will not restart a detention and interrogation program. CIA has learned some tough lessons from that experience,” she said during the confirmation hearing.

What you do not do is argue that torture—the kind committed at the North Vietnamese torture camp—is not only fine and moral but effective and worthwhile, so, therefore, Go Haspel! It’s a preposterously stupid remark from any angle.

To his credit, the host of that Fox Business show, Charles Payne, issued a statement.

This morning on a show I was hosting, a guest made a very false and derogatory remark about Senator John McCain. At the time, I had the control room in my ear telling me to wrap the segment, and did not hear the comment. I regret I did not catch this remark, as it should have been challenged. As a proud military veteran and son of a Vietnam Vet these words neither reflect my or the network’s feelings about Senator McCain, or his remarkable service and sacrifice to this country.

To McInerney, I would say, “stop helping.” He isn’t making the case for Haspel. If anything, he’s helping those who oppose her. And with regard to John McCain, whether you hate him or not, you should have some basis to claim that a member of our military betrayed his fellow troops. At the very least find out if his fellow troops think he did. McCain’s comrades in arms have only ever thanked him.

You don’t have to slime someone in order to disagree with him. Not even dying old senators who served and suffered in war. You’re not just insulting a thorn in the GOP’s side, you’re insulting the very service itself.

You would think a retired Air Force lieutenant general would know that.

An earlier version of this article referred to Thomas McInerney as an analyst. Fox Business Network reached out to PJM, noting that McInerny “is not a paid contributor and will not be on the network in the future.”