As Vietnam War pilot, POW and Arizona Senator John McCain prepares to undergo sugery on what is believed to be a brain tumor, false rumors concerning his time spent as a Prisoner of War and supposed pardon are circulating social media.
One such claim, posted by self-described patriot Jerome Palkowski and originally created by extremist social media page “Infidel Nation,” claims McCain was pardoned by Nixon for acts of treason.
“McCain was convicted of treason and sentenced to death by firing squad until he was pardoned by Nixon,” Palkowski wrote with authority. “As a POW, McCain spilled his guts about everything and helped the NVA by telling them the flight patterns of U.S. Fighters which led to a 64% increase in fighters being shot down.”
However, there is only one little problem with Palkowski’s claim: None of it is true.
The myth of “Songbird McCain” -a moniker attributed to accusations of collusion with North Vietnam- is not a new issue, though it has taken hold in the senator’s absence.
Even PolitiFact -which is given a “Least Biased” rating on the Media Bias Fact Check website (and plugin) was made aware of the claims enough times that they tackled the issue back in 2008, when McCain was running for president.
Many of the outrageous claims echoed to this day originated with flyers handed out by the anti-McCain group, Vietnam Veterans Against John McCain, claiming the Senator and former A-4 Skyhawk pilot sang like a bird when pressured by the North Vietnamese.
However, very little -if any- evidence exists to back the accusations, with many documented accounts from other POWs painting a picture quite to the contrary.
Robert Timberg, who penned John McCain: An American Odyssey, interviewed many POWs who served with McCain and said there’s no evidence that he ever collaborated with the North Vietnamese. “I’ve never known of any occasion in which Sen. McCain provided the North Vietnamese with anything of value,” Timberg said.
In fact, the exact flyer is pictured in the comments section below Palkowski’s post, disseminated by a fellow anti-McCainite.
While McCain even said in his own memoirs that he did claim to be willing to give the North Vietnamese information, he did so to receive medical attention and did not keep his word. In fact, when he was asked to name the other members of his squadron, he rattled off the names of the Green Bay Packers’ offensive line.
Two fellow POWs -George “Bud” Day and Orson Swindle- told PolitiFact that POWs sometimes were forced to talk when they were tortured, but they tried to tell lies to mislead their captors.
“We were all tortured and we wrote confessions under the pressure of torture,” said Swindle, who was a cellmate with McCain. “John McCain never collaborated with the enemy. He, like every one of us, submitted to severe torture. John McCain did nothing dishonorable. He was heroic.”
Day, who was awarded the Medal of Honor, called the flyer “the most outrageous f—— lie I’ve ever heard.”
Still, where did the claims come from?
Well, it appears to be a fellow Vietnam veteran- Gerard Kiley, a New York resident who served in Vietnam for one year and opposed McCain, citing hard feelings toward the Vietnamese and conspiracy theories surrounding McCain.
Kiley has twice interrupted events featuring Vietnamese Prime Minister Phan Van Khai, once having been arrested by the Secret Service for throwing red wine at the Prime Minister.
Kiley based his accusations on one source- a retired Army Colonel whose son went missing in Vietnam.
Needless to say, the entire series of allegations were rated a “pants on fire”-poor grade of accuracy, citing lack of evidence, poor sources and accounts to the contrary.
Despite this, such things continue to be passed off as truth. Much like a mirage in the desert, the internet can be misleading- many of us see what we want to see and will happily keep walking to chase the mirage oasis that is our own echo chambers without a second glance. This kind of blind behavior without investigation can ultimately kill our very credibility.
Or, you know, make us look stupid.
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