I saw the enlightening film Why We Fight when it came out a few years ago. In this article filmmaker Eugene Jarecki describes his unsettling experience with McCain. The whole article including video from the film is worth a look.
John McCain was featured prominently in my documentary film Why We Fight, which premiered at Sundance in 2005. In pre-screenings of the film across the country before its theatrical release, John McCain wowed audiences with his outspoken words onscreen. On the subject of misguided U.S. foreign policy, he said “Where the debate and controversy begins is how far does the United States go and when does it go from a force for good to a force of imperialism?” About defense industry corruption, he declared, “President Eisenhower’s concern about the military-industrial complex — his words have unfortunately come true.” In specific, McCain criticized not only the Bush Doctrine of preemptive war but even the contracting and billing practices of Halliburton.
Later when Jarecki talked to McCain’s advisor:
When next I heard from Salter, panic had grown to fury. He said the Senator’s critical comments
about the dangers of preemption and of American imperialism could give the mistaken impression McCain was opposed to the Iraq war and the Bush Administration broadly. But the moment in the film that was his greatest concern was when, responding to a question about the controversial awarding of no-bid contracts to Halliburton, McCain concedes, “It looks bad. It looks bad. And apparently, Halliburton more than once has overcharged the federal government. That’s wrong.” When pressed on how he would tackle this problem, McCain boldly declares, “I would have a public investigation of what they’ve done.”
At that moment in the film, a phone rings off-screen and Senator McCain is advised by a staffer
that Vice-President Cheney is calling. With a nervous laugh, the Senator excuses himself. “The
vice-president’s on the phone,” he stammers, rising and scrambling off-screen, leaving the
camera rolling on his empty chair. Different people see this scene differently. Some see McCain’s sudden departure as perfectly normal. He’s a high-ranking Senator, and the Vice-President is calling. Others see McCain’s departure as evidence of a too-close relationship with Cheney. They note a certain embarrassment in McCain’s body language. To yet a smaller, third group, McCain’s reaction underscores Dick Cheney’s omnipotence in Washington. Given the Administration’s penchant for wiretapping, one viewer laughingly told me he thought perhaps “Cheney had decided the interview had gone on long enough.”
Jokes aside, when McCain’s office voiced their concern about this moment, I expected, if
anything, they might fear the suggestion of uncomfortably close ties between McCain and Cheney. When Salter instead declared to me that I was “making it look like John McCain was critical of the Vice-President,” and that “Vice-President Cheney has nothing to do with Halliburton,” I realized that what he was objecting to was not that McCain might appeared too close to Cheney but rather not close enough. Mr. Salter demanded that I send him a transcript of the Senator’s interview, not just the parts that appear in the film. Since none of the film’s more than twenty other interviewees had been provided such a thing, and since I valued the film’s independence from political pressure, I told Mr. Salter I would seek advice from other journalists and get back to him.
Salter next resorted to threats, saying that, unless I complied, he would smear my name in the
media and exert pressure on the film’s principal funder never to work with me again. I said I
thought the BBC would be unlikely to welcome such pressure from an irate chief of staff to a
senator. Salter then changed gears, appealing to my sense of fairness. “When Senator McCain
sat down to talk to you,” he explained, “he thought he was talking to a television crew from the
BBC.” I said that that was true, but that the film had then gone on to win Sundance and secure a
theatrical release. But then something troubling about his remark dawned on me.
“If you don’t mind my asking,” I said, “are you suggesting there are things Senator McCain will
say to a British audience that he isn’t comfortable saying to the American people?”Needless to say, this didn’t help matters. But I wasn’t trying to be snide. My question was just the logical extension of what Salter had intimated. But it clearly touched a nerve. He became enraged and, after hanging up, sought to make good on his threat to tarnish my name and career.
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