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John McCain's little brother, Joe McCain, fires off angry e-mail to McCain's handlers: Bring back the Straight Talk Express!

October 14, 2008 |  8:51 pm

John McCain's younger brother, Joe, a onetime newspaper reporter, let loose today with an e-mailed broadside against his brother's strategists who have clamped a lid on the "Straight Talk Express."

In the e-mail, which was obtained by the Baltimore Sun, Joe McCain uses a naval analogy to make his point. (He is, after all, the son and grandson of four-star Navy admirals. John McCain graduated from the Naval Academy too, but Joe "bilged out" after his first year and ended up a newspaper reporter in San Diego.)

"...as a sailor who sees his ship sailing into shoals while the rest of the officers and warrants are poring over plans and maps and high-minded thoughts, I make one last effort to ring the bell and put a light on these shallows I see as we steam toward destiny with but three weeks left in this long voyage.

He pleads with McCain's managers to let those who know McCain best talk to reporters about him:

And most especially, let those who know him talk to the people about him, through the press. This policy of trying to so tightly 'control the message' by cutting off those who know him from the cacophony of national and local voices -- the reporters and the editors -- is counter-intuitive, counter-experiential, and counter-productive.

It creates ligatures and tourniquets that are causing gangrene. It has gradually bled away all the good will that this great man had from the press, for he alone among politicians would talk to them openly, without finesse, without guile. And regardless of the their political lean - and whether we like it or not, reporters think and have opinions - they loved him nonetheless.

Let us talk to these reporters and tell them of the John McCain we know. Some....

...reporters will get it wrong, most will not get it perfectly, but almost all will appreciate the reopening of the gates of information and reward us for it.

For now they are angry and frustrated -- what happened to this John McCain and his legions who would always talk us? Well, they were muzzled by those without the understanding that you cannot control the media by keeping them from information, but you can lose all their good will.

They were misled by those who meant well, but who simply don't know the reality of this aspect of a political race. [I pretend no expertise in campaigning, (but) I do understand the press aspect of it, for I was a reporter for several years, and worked in Press in two California campaigns.]

          
We have to agree with Joe McCain. We were in the last group of reporters who rode with McCain on his "Straight Talk Express" bus on July 15. Since then, he has hosted no more of his freewheeling exchanges with reporters. They were an important part of the "Straight Talk" brand, which evolved during his 2000 presidential run when he spent so much time with reporters that he would often leave them exhausted and bereft of questions.

This summer, when we were reporting a profile of McCain that ran during the Republican National Convention, we were refused access to McCain and his family. Family members told us they were willing to speak to us, with the campaign's permission, but the campaign slammed the door. Likewise, old buddies of McCain were instructed not to talk to us, unless a campaign staffer was present to monitor the conversation. This is how campaigns often work, but McCain always held himself up as the exception to the rule.

Incidentally, Joe McCain was featured in the pages of the Los Angeles Times on Thanksgiving Day, 1970, when he was 28. In an effort to demand humane treatment for his brother and the estimated 1,600 other American prisoners of war in Southeast Asia, Joe McCain donned Vietnamese pajamas and sat in a bamboo cage where he was chained with leg shackles. With chopsticks, he ate hog fat, pumpkin mash and rice, an approximation of what his brother was given to eat. At that time, his brother had been incarcerated for three years, and would not enjoy a Thanksgiving at home until 1973.

--Robin Abcarian

John McCain's younger brother, Joe McCain, who is angry at how his brother is being handled by the campaign, protests the inhumane treatment of American POWs in Vietnam on Thanksgiving 1970 in Los Angeles by sitting in a bamboo cage and eating hog fat, rice and pumpkin mash

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