Friday, November 16, 2007


Maybe I'm hairsplitting, but I'm struck by the discrepancy between the way The New York Times has headlined a John McCain story in today's paper and the actual content of the story.

Online, the story's headline is "McCain Finds Sympathy on Torture Issue." In the print edition of the paper, it's "McCain's Stance on Torture Becomes Riveting Issue in Campaign."

But, in fact, there's no evidence in the story that McCain's stance on torture is winning much sympathy at all among GOP voters, or that voters riveted by his personal tales of torture in Vietnam are finding his declared opposition in any way compelling. In fact, it's just the opposite:

When Mr. McCain brings up the issue of torture, he is often met by a complex response. Many of the Republican voters he courts do not agree with his opposition to aggressive interrogation techniques that many have condemned as torture. But they are often captivated by his discussion of the issue, in some cases even moved to tears, as was the case in Boone [Iowa]....

Aware that many people might not even know what [waterboarding] involves, Mr. McCain often outlines its details.

"You incline someone's head and stuff a rag in their mouth and pour water and give one the total sensation of drowning," he told the breakfast diners in Boone. "It was invented in the Spanish inquisition and was used by Pol Pot. It is now being used on Burmese monks by this military junta in Burma."

"I know how evil this enemy is," Mr. McCain told the Boone audience. But the issue is about more than one technique, he said. "This is really fundamentally about what kind of nation the United States of America is."

But Milt Mattson, standing outside the cafe after Mr. McCain left, said he thought the United States needed to take any measure it deemed necessary.

"This is a war for our life," Mr. Mattson said. "These are people that chop heads off. I don't care what we have to do to stop them."

The story has the ring of truth. The headlines seem to be what the Times wants the story to be.

I'm sure if you took a poll of the mainstream press, McCain would be the preferred GOP candidate, by far. Hawkish voters moved to rethink the morality of torture by a heroic victim of torture? The Times wouldf like it to be true, so the headlines suggest that it is true.

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