WC Remembers John McCain
United States Senator John McCain, an American statesman, politician, and war hero, was a guest of Washington College’s Harwood Lecture Series in American Journalism in April 2002—six years before running for the presidency in the 2008 election.
Many Washington College alumni, faculty, and staff remember Senator John McCain’s campus visit, when he offered some prescient words about inclusion as well as the importance of a free press to our democratic system. We offer here the news coverage from the Summer 2002 issue of Washington College Magazine.
WC Hears Straight Talk from John McCain
From campus “Greens” concerned with the future of the environment to senior citizens worried about the future of their Social Security and Medicare coverage, the standing-room-only audience in Washington College’s Tawes Theatre came ready to hear some straight talk and answers from one of Washington’s most independent politicians, Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona.
He might be “an also-ran” for the presidency, but McCain’s voice has been heard loud and clear across the nation on issues ranging from campaign finance reform to limited big government and cutting taxes.
His visit in late April  was sponsored by the Harwood Lecture Series in American Journalism, established to honor the distinguished career of the late Washington Post columnist and ombudsman Richard Harwood, a Trustee and a lecturer in journalism at the College. His son, John Harwood, a Washington editor with the Wall Street Journal, opened with remarks about his father’s philosophy of journalism.
“In his career at the Washington Post, Richard Harwood wrote about big things—politics, government, war. But some of his most important work was about journalism itself, about how people in the press perceive the truth and how these perceptions might be at odds with the truth as understood by the rest of society. His abiding concern was the media’s integrity.”
McCain reflected the same concerns in his opening address, saying: “Without a free press, democracies don’t function.”
He was quick to identify what he thinks is one of the major problems in media coverage of politics today.
“What’s wrong with the media today?” he asked. “Too often, the media is focused on process more than the issues.
But he admits that our politicians and leaders, despite the ubiquity of the media, also avoid directness, honesty, and openness with the press on issues.
“There is less contact with the media, i.e., the American people,” McCain said. “I believe in the town hall meeting. It reveals the knowledge of the candidates and their true views.”
But McCain believes that the diversification of media in our nation might be the saving grace.
“We see a media concentration, but also a proliferation of information and news,” he said. “I think it is better for us to have a broad diversity of courses of information.”
Although he has been called “the Senator from media” by the Wall Street Journal’s Paul Gigot, McCain said he likes to maintain cordiality and openness with the press, but not coziness
“There is always going to be a certain adversarial relationship between politicians and the media, but I think that is a healthy thing.”
McCain, who was held as a prisoner-of-war by the North Vietnamese for five years, also emphasized his “Big Tent” politics of inclusion. He told the story of Mark Bingham, a gay man who worked on Wall Street whom McCain called his “personal hero” on September 11.
“I never knew Mark Bingham, but I wish I had,” McCain said. “Because when United Flight 93 was headed toward Washington, DC, Mark Bingham was on that airplane, and he called his mother on his cell phone and told her that they were going to try to take their airplane back over. I was working in the Capitol that morning and I believe there is every possibility that Mark Bingham saved my life.”
Heroism and willingness to sacrifice can come from any American of any background, McCain explained.
“Every time there is a crisis in America, a hero emerges.”