Monday, August 11, 2008

Media Go Wild Over Edwards' Infidelities, But Continue to Ignore Those of McCain

While the '04 Democratic VP Nominee is Raked Over the Coals Over His Admission of an Extramarital Affair After Months of Heated Denials, the '08 GOP Presidential Nominee-Elect's Own Affairs Continue to be Ignored by the Mainstream Media -- But Now McCain's Ex-Wife Has Spoken Out, Breaking a Nearly 30-Year Silence

Carol McCain

Forgotten woman: Carol Shepp McCain, former wife of Republican presidential nominee-elect John McCain, emerges from her car near her home in Virginia Beach, Virginia, The Arizona senator's ex, now 70, stayed faithful to him throughout his ordeal as a prisoner of war in Vietnam. But after she was severely injured -- and disfigured -- in a 1969 car crash, the man who's now running for president carried on a series of extramarital affairs. His marriage to Carol eventually ended in divorce in 1980, but now the former Mrs. McCain has broken her nearly 30-year public silence. (Photo courtesy London Daily Mail)

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As the mainstream media have been engulfed in a feeding frenzy over former Senator John Edwards' admission on Friday that he had an affair with another woman, they have ignored another prominent politician's infidelities: Senator John McCain, the Republican presidential nominee-elect, carried on numerous affairs of his own while married to his first wife, Carol Shepp McCain. One of those affairs -- in 1979 with Cindy Hensley, a woman 18 years his junior -- led McCain to divorce Carol the following year. One month after the divorce became final, McCain married Hensley. Through it all, Carol McCain has kept silent -- until now. In an exclusive interview published in a British newspaper, Carol McCain, now 70, finally spoke out. That the mainstream media in this country chose to ignore that interview -- even as they now trumpet Edwards' peccadilloes -- prompted Yours Truly to cut short my vacation to present it to you in its entirety (edited from its original publication in June to bring it up to date), in the firm belief that you deserve to know what the former Mrs. McCain has to say.
-- Skeeter Sanders, Editor and Publisher, The 'Skeeter Bites Report

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By Sharon Churcher
London Daily Mail

LONDON -- It has been more than two months since Senator Hillary Clinton of New York formally withdrew from the hard-fought race for the Democratic Party's presidential nomination.

Since then, the eyes of America -- and the world -- have been focused on the two major parties' apparent nominees: Democratic Senator Barack Obama of Illinois and his Republican Party rival, Senator John McCain of Arizona, as they do battle to win the White House in November's general election.

While Obama will surely press his credentials as the embodiment of the American dream – a handsome, charismatic young black man who was raised on food stamps by a single mother and who represents his country’s future – McCain will present himself as a selfless, principled war hero whose campaign represents not so much a battle for the presidency of the United States, but a crusade to rescue the nation’s tarnished reputation.

McCain likes to illustrate his moral fiber by referring to his five years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam. And to demonstrate his commitment to family values, the former U.S. Navy pilot -- who will turn 72 on August 29 -- pays warm tribute to his beautiful blonde wife, Cindy, with whom he has four children.

But there is another Mrs. McCain who casts a ghostly shadow over the Senator’s presidential campaign. She is seldom seen and rarely written about, despite being the mother of McCain’s three eldest children and two sons from a previous marriage.

And yet, had events turned out differently, it would be she, rather than Cindy, who would be vying to become America's next first lady.

She is McCain’s first wife, Carol, who was a famous beauty and a successful swimwear model when they married in 1965. The former Carol Shepp was the woman McCain dreamed of during his long incarceration and torture in Vietnam’s infamous "Hanoi Hilton" prison and the woman who faithfully stayed at home looking after the children and waiting anxiously for news of her husband.

But when McCain returned to America in 1973 to a fanfare of publicity and a handshake from then-President Richard Nixon, he discovered his wife had been disfigured in a terrible car crash three years earlier.

Her car had skidded on an ice-glazed road and crashed into a telephone pole on Christmas Eve, 1969. Her pelvis and one arm were shattered by the impact and she suffered massive internal injuries. When Carol was discharged from hospital after six months of life-saving surgery, the prognosis was bleak.

In order to save her legs, surgeons had been forced to cut away huge sections of shattered bone, taking with it her tall, willowy figure. She was confined to a wheelchair and was forced to use a catheter. Through sheer hard work, Carol learned to walk again.

But when John McCain came home from Vietnam, she had gained a lot of weight and bore little resemblance to her old self.

Today, she stands at just five feet, four inches tall and still walks awkwardly, with a pronounced limp. Her body is held together by screws and metal plates and, at 70, her face is worn by wrinkles that speak of decades of silent suffering.

A Long History of Senator's Womanizing Is Exposed

For nearly 30 years, Carol McCain has maintained a dignified silence about the accident, John McCain and their divorce.

But in an exclusive interview in early June, at the bungalow where she now lives at Virginia Beach, a faded seaside resort 200 miles south of Washington, she told the Daily Mail's sister newspaper, The Mail on Sunday, how McCain divorced her in 1980 and married Cindy Hensley -- 18 years his junior and the heir to an Arizona brewing fortune -- just one month later.

Carol insists she remains on good terms with her ex-husband, who agreed as part of their divorce settlement to pay her medical costs for life. "I have no bitterness," she says. "My accident is well recorded. I had 23 operations. I'm five inches shorter than I used to be and I was in the hospital for six months. It was just awful, but it wasn’t the reason for my divorce.

"My marriage ended because John McCain didn’t want to be 40, he wanted to be 25," she continued. "You know that just does."

Some of McCain’s acquaintances are less forgiving, however. They portray the politician as a self-centered womanizer who effectively abandoned his crippled wife to "play the field." They accuse him of finally settling on Cindy, a former rodeo beauty queen, for financial reasons.

McCain was then earning little more than £25,000 ($50,000 U.S.) a year as a naval officer, while his new father-in-law, Jim Hensley, was a multimillionaire who had impeccable political connections. He first met Carol in the 1950s while he was a student midshipman at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland.

McCain was a privileged, but rebellious scion of one of America’s most distinguished military dynasties – his father and grandfather were both admirals.

But setting out to have a good time, the young McCain hung out with a group of young officers who called themselves the "Bad Bunch." His primary interest was women and his conquests ranged from a knife-wielding floozy nicknamed "Marie, the Flame of Florida" to a tobacco heiress.

John Was Carol's Second Husband

Carol told the Mail that she fell into his fast-living world by accident. She escaped a poor upbringing in Philadelphia to become a successful model, married an Annapolis classmate of McCain’s and had two children before renewing what one acquaintance calls "an old flirtation" with McCain.

It seems clear she was bowled over by McCain’s attention at a time when he was becoming bored with his playboy lifestyle. "He was 28 and ready to settle down and he loved Carol’s children," recalled another Annapolis graduate, Robert Timberg, author of The Nightingale’s Song, a best-selling biography of McCain and four other graduates of the academy.

The couple married and McCain adopted Carol’s sons, Douglas and Andrew. Their daughter, Sidney, was born a year later, but domesticity was clearly beginning to bore John McCain.

The couple were regarded as "fixtures on the party circuit" before John requested combat duty in Vietnam at the end of 1966. He was assigned as a bomber pilot on an aircraft carrier in the Gulf of Tonkin.

What follows is the stuff of the McCain legend: He was shot down over Hanoi in October 1967 on his 23rd mission over North Vietnam and was badly beaten by an angry mob when he was pulled, half-drowned from a lake. Over the next five-and-a-half years in the notorious Hoa Loa prison in Hanoi, he was regularly tortured and mistreated.

1969: A Tragic Christmas for Carol McCain

It was in 1969 that Carol decided to spend the Christmas holidays -- her third without John -- at her parents’ home. After dinner, she left to drop off some presents at a friend’s house. It wasn’t until some hours later that she was discovered, alone and in terrible pain, next to the wreckage of her car.

She had been hurled through the windshield.

After her first series of life-saving operations, Carol was told she may never walk again, but when doctors said they would try to get word to John about her injuries, she refused, insisting: "He’s got enough problems, I don’t want to tell him."

H. Ross Perot, a billionaire Texas businessman, future presidential candidate [1992] and an advocate for prisoners of war, paid for her medical care.

When the then-36-year-old McCain -- his hair turned prematurely white and his body reduced to little more than a skeleton -- was released in March 1973, he told reporters he was overjoyed to see Carol again. But friends say privately he was "appalled" by the change in her appearance.

At first, though, he was kind, assuring her: "I don’t look so good myself. It’s fine."

He bought her a bungalow near the sea in Florida and another former POW helped him to build a railing so she could pull herself over the dunes to the water. "I thought, of course, we would live happily ever after," Carol told the Mail.

But as a war hero, McCain was moving in ever-more elevated circles.

The Affair That Ended John McCain's First Marriage

Through Perot, he met Ronald Reagan, then governor of California. A sympathetic Nancy Reagan took Carol under her wing. But already the McCains’ marriage had begun to fray. "John started carousing and running around with women," said Timberg.

McCain himself has acknowledged that he had girlfriends during this time, but without going into details. Some friends blame John's dissatisfaction with Carol, but others give some credence to Carol's theory of a mid-life crisis.

He was also fiercely ambitious, but it soon became clear that he would never become an admiral like his illustrious father and grandfather -- and his thoughts were turning to politics.

In 1979 -- while still married to Carol -- he met Cindy Hensley at a cocktail party in Hawaii. Over the next six months he pursued her, flying around the country to see her. Then he began to push to end his marriage. Carol and her children were devastated.

"It was a complete surprise," said Nancy Reynolds, a former Reagan aide. "‘They never displayed any difficulties between themselves. I know the Reagans were quite shocked, because they loved and respected both Carol and John."

Another friend added: "Carol didn’t fight him. She felt her infirmity made her an impediment to him. She justified his actions because of all he had gone through. She used to say, 'He just wants to make up for lost time.”’

Indeed, to many in the McCains' social circle, the saddest part of the breakup was Carol’s decision to resign herself to losing a man she says she still adores. Friends confirm she has remained friends with the senator and backed him in all his campaigns. "He was very generous to her in the divorce but of course he could afford to be, since he was marrying Cindy," one observed.

McCain transferred the Florida beach house to Carol and gave her the right to live in their jointly-owned townhouse in the Washington suburb of Alexandria. He also agreed to pay her alimony and child support.

Carol subsequently sold both the Florida beach house and her title to the Washington townhouse and moved in 2003 to Virginia Beach. A former neighbor of Carol's in Florida told the Mail: "My impression was that she found the new place easier to manage as she still has some difficulties walking."

Meanwhile, John McCain moved to Arizona with his new bride immediately after their 1980 marriage. There, his new father-in-law gave him a job and introduced him to local businessmen and political power brokers who would smooth his passage to Washington via the House of Representatives and later the Senate.

Carol McCain Is Forviging of Her Ex, But Others Remain Bitter

And yet despite his popularity as a politician, there are those who won’t forget his treatment of his first wife.

Ted Sampley, who fought with U.S. Special Forces in Vietnam and is now a leading campaigner for veterans’ rights, told the Mail, "I've been following John McCain’s career for nearly 20 years. I know him personally. There is something wrong with this guy and let me tell you what it is – deceit.

"When he came home and saw that Carol was not the beauty he left behind, he started running around on her almost right away. Everybody around him knew it," Sampley continued. "Eventually he met Cindy and she was young and beautiful and very wealthy. At that point McCain just dumped Carol for something he thought was better.

"[And] This is a guy who makes such a big deal about his character. He has no character. He's a fake. If there was any character in that first marriage, it all belonged to Carol."

Another friend of the McCains, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told the Mail: "Carol always insists she is not bitter, but I think that’s a defense mechanism. She also feels deeply in his debt because in return for her agreement to a divorce, he promised to pay for her medical care for the rest of her life."

Carol remained resolutely loyal as McCain’s political star rose. She says she agreed to talk to the Mail only because she wanted to publicize her support for the man who abandoned her.

Indeed, the old Mercedes-Benz that she uses to run errands displays both a disabled badge and a sticker encouraging people to vote for her ex-husband. "He’s a good guy," she said. "We are still good friends. He is the best man for president."

Perot Blasts Senator McCain as 'Classic Opportunist'

But Ross Perot, who paid Carol's medical bills all those years ago, now believes that both she and the American people have been taken in by a man who is unusually slick and cruel -- even by the standards of modern American politics.

"McCain is the classic opportunist," the billionaire -- who ran for president as an independent in 1992 and as the nominee of his short-lived Reform Party in 1996 -- told the Mail. "He’s always reaching for attention and glory. After he came home [from Vietmam, he discovered that] Carol walked with a limp. So he threw her over for a poster girl with big money from Arizona.

"And the rest is history."

(Additional reporting by Paul Henderson in Virginia Beach and William Lowther in Washington.)

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Volume III, Number 44
Special Report Copyright 2008, Associated Newspapers. Ltd.
The 'Skeeter Bites Report Copyright 2008, Skeeter Sanders. All rights reserved.


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