CNN’s Anderson Cooper has an item about John McCain’s wife that doesn’t sound especially objective or neutral. The headline reads, “Can Cindy
March 6, 2008

CNN’s Anderson Cooper has an item about John McCain’s wife that doesn’t sound especially objective or neutral. The headline reads, “Can Cindy McCain really be that perfect?” Seriously, that's the headline.

She’s always dressed in a killer suit and never has a hair out of place. We went to Phoenix, where Cindy McCain grew up, to talk with those who know her best. Good friend Betsy Bayless, a former Arizona secretary of state, says Cindy is a “fun down to earth person with a great sense of humor.”

She had a privileged upbringing. Her father started one of the largest beer distributorships in the country and today Cindy is the Chairman of the Board. The company is reportedly worth hundreds of millions of dollars. Cindy graduated from the University of Southern California with a teaching degree and went on to become a teacher, but meeting John McCain changed all that. They met before he was in politics at a cocktail party in Hawaii. He is 18 years older than she is.

They apparently had instant chemistry. John was separated from his first wife at the time. About a month after his divorce, Cindy and John McCain got married.

Not to be picky, but this is incomplete. John McCain was, as a factual matter, still married and living with his wife in 1979 while, according to The New York Times, “aggressively courting a 25-year-old woman who was as beautiful as she was rich.” (McCain then divorced his wife, who had raised their three children while he was imprisoned in Vietnam, and launched his political career with his new wife’s family money.)

Now, one can certainly argue that McCain’s infidelity is irrelevant. One could also argue that McCain’s adulterous relationship with the woman who ultimately became his second wife is none of the voters’ business. But if CNN is going to do a report on this, while touting Ms. McCain’s “perfection,” the network should at least give the public the whole story.

The CNN report also briefly broached another awkward subject.

During that 2000 primary, she was painted as a drug addict. It wasn’t pretty.

Here’s the back-story: In 1989, Cindy had a bad car accident and started taking prescription pain killers for her back injury. Four years later, she was still addicted to pain killers. Friends say her mother confronted her and she admitted her addiction, then immediately stopped taking the pills.

To be sure, I really don’t much care about Cindy McCain’s difficulties with pain-killer addition. It’s a problem that many people go through, and I’m glad things turned out for the best for her and her family.

But, again, if CNN is going to do a report about Ms. McCain’s “perfection,” and highlight various chapters of her adult life, it shouldn’t just brush past relevant details that may cast her in a negative light. Here’s a report the LA Times ran during the 2000 campaign.

Much has been made of allegations of possible youthful use of illegal drugs by Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush. Meanwhile, his chief GOP opponent, Arizona Sen. John McCain, has admitted that his wife not only illegally used drugs but walked away from criminal charges. The McCains have worked to make Cindy McCain’s addiction into a political asset–despite the fact that she stole the drugs from a charity she directed and used them while mothering four young children.

In 1994, Mrs. McCain admitted that she had solicited prescriptions for painkillers from physicians who worked for an international charity that she founded, the American Voluntary Medical Team. She then filled the prescriptions in the names of her staff.

There are two ways to react to this behavior. According to the Betty Ford model, people can sympathetically respond to the oppressed and ignored wife of a busy politician who has bravely come forward to admit her overpowering addiction. Mrs. McCain took this posture when she first tearfully confessed her addiction. She and her husband repeated this performance in October on the NBC program “Dateline.”

The other possible public reaction is one of anger. Americans are prosecuted every day for such drug use. While most drug abusers purchase their drugs from street dealers, Mrs. McCain used her status as a charity director and senator’s wife to cajole the drugs she wanted.

In fact, Mrs. McCain was investigated by the Drug Enforcement Administration after the agency was approached by a former staff member of her charity. The investigation resulted in no charges or prison time for her, and she entered a diversion program.

The CNN report on Ms. McCain being “perfect” pretends that this part of her past simply doesn’t exist.

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