The truth about Cindy McCain is that she's a liar
(an opinion column by Michael Lacey)
There was Cindy Lou McCain inside the Arizona State Capitol in Phoenix, draped over her husband’s casket. Her coifed head, a mother-of-pearl orb, rested, momentarily, upon the weeping box’s lid.
My heart is in the coffin there with Caesar.
The photo of her grief was a viral media image that left a permanent stain upon a nation’s soul.
As the executive editor of the weekly Phoenix New Times and the Village Voice Media chain, I oversaw a staff that chronicled the political and personal scandals of this all-too-American couple.
To no one’s surprise, both McCains, but particularly Cindy Lou, worked to close down Backpage, an adult-classified business that, like Village Voice Media, I owned with my business partner, Jim Larkin. We each spent more than a week in prison this past April and face the prospect of a trial in 2020 in no small part owing to the machinations of this towheaded couple.
After our arrest, Cindy Lou appeared front and center in the local daily, gloating. She told readers how she’d tried to talk to us but we just wouldn’t listen.
She never talked to us. We have never talked to her.
We certainly understood payback when we saw it.
If Cindy Lou’s crowing was a psoriatic irritation — how could it not be? — it was compounded because the truth about Cindy McCain is that she is a liar. Has been most of her adult life.
The senator’s death gave rise to a macabre pageant, an Edward Gorey elegy come to life in print, broadcast, and internet. There was no escape from this widow’s weeds.
I wondered if Senator John McCain planned the massively distributed snapshot of Cindy folded over his remains; it was widely reported that he’d spent months micromanaging every moment of his pending funeral, a cross-country pageant whose intricacy was rivaled only by the train that carried the remains of Abraham Lincoln.
Each McCain cortège bore symbols — color guards, armed sentries, uniforms, campaign ribbons — to remind witnesses of America’s greatest warmonger. Not that the McCains, or the media, framed it quite that way.
On August 30, Cindy was on the front page of the New York Times, arm in arm with her two military sons; daughter Meghan, a civilian, trailed to the rear of the armed-forces processional.
If I had no tears, neither could I take my eyes off of this allegory of craven empire and grandeur.
In the Times photo, a fourth person trails the McCains: Arizona Governor Doug Ducey, the man who decided that Cindy would not fill out John’s term in the U.S. Senate.
Cindy Lou McCain is a three-fer. She gives credibility to all clichés that tar: blondes, sorority rah-rah girls, and trust funders.
As a student, Cindy Lou was named best dressed and was a rodeo queen. She threw herself into Kappa Alpha Theta at USC. These young ladies are still famous for their charity Kat at Bat, a Wiffle ball tournament. The proceeds are donated to purchase previously worn prom dresses, which are gifted to poor teens.
These are the privileged daughters of America’s wealthiest families, attending what the website CollegeCalc identifies as one of the nation’s priciest universities. And their sense of charity — not to mention decency — only extends to donating secondhand prom dresses from Goodwill. Because…what? Poor girls don’t know the difference between new and used? Not to put too fine a point on it, but no one knows the difference between new and used more than those who’ve had to take handouts and hand-me-downs.
As a grownup, Cindy Lou served on the board of the Halo Trust, a Scotland-based charity dedicated to the worldwide eradication of landmines.
Which is charming. In 2013, Mother Jones outlined every country John McCain wanted to “bomb, invade, or destabilize.” There were thirteen.
So he personally dropped ordnance on Vietnam, then authorized or urged carnage in more than a dozen additional nations. And she sat on the board of an organization that picked up the IEDs and shrapnel.
Did she ever say over pot roast, “John, have you heard of my work with the Halo Trust?”
Aspirations to Royalty
Lost in the canonization of her husband is the desperate yearning of Cindy Lou McCain.
On a 2008 trip to England during her husband’s second unsuccessful bid for the U.S. presidency, she said she was inspired by Princess Diana.
Jim Larkin and I have long history with both McCains. Phoenix New Times labeled the senator the worst of the Keating Five. He not only went to bat with regulators on behalf of Charles Keating, he and Cindy Lou also vacationed, on Keating’s nickel, at the savings-and-loan swindler’s Caribbean retreat.
When the McCains insisted, implausibly, that they’d paid their way to hang out with the felonious Keating, poor Cindy Lou, heiress to a fortune, couldn’t find the receipts.
No credit-card records. No canceled checks. No travel-agent statements.
For Further Reading:
“The Stains of John McCain: A Front Page Confidential Special Report”
Not that Cindy Lou McCain couldn’t have afforded to pay for the trips with Keating. Her dad, Jim Hensley, owned one of America’s richest Anheuser-Busch distributorships. Her inheritance had already financed her husband’s political career.
According to Cindy Lou, her pop was a regular Horatio Alger.
If Horatio was a convicted felon.
Cindy Lou told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos that her dad, Jim Hensley, was a self-made man.
“Listen, my father built — he had nothing — he and my mother sold everything they had to raise $10,000 [to buy a distributorship],” she said. “That was a lot of money then. Now, for what my father built, it’s not so much. My father is the great American dream.”
The “raised-in-a-log-cabin-and-workin’-in-a-coal-mine” myth ignores the record as recorded in federal documents and reported by New Times writers: Tom Fitzpatrick, John Dougherty, Amy Silverman, and Stephen Lemons.
Kemper Marley — who would later be suspected but never charged in the infamous killing of Arizona Republic reporter Don Bolles — had a “ controlling financial role” in distributorships that were owned by the Hensley brothers, Jim and Gene.
Both brothers were arrested and convicted under bootlegging statutes.
By 1955 Jim Hensley sold his interest, which he’d purchased with a bookie named Clarence E. “Teak” Baldwin, in Ruidoso Downs, a horse-racing track in New Mexico.
Baldwin, like Hensley, was reportedly tied in with Kemper Marley, who’d branched out into a wire service associated with Al Capone.
Despite his felony conviction, despite his association with Kemper Marley — or perhaps because of it — Jim Hensley did all right for himself and all right for his daughter Cindy Lou.
To be clear: I have nothing bad to say about Jim Hensley’s bootlegging. It’s just that Cindy Lou could have been a Kappa Alpha Theta without lying about her dad.
And its not just origin legends that she fudges. She is a fabulist about the mundane. She even passed off her recipes as original, when, in fact, she’d pilfered them from The Food Network.
Cindy Lou the Liar
Cindy Lou’s tangential relationship with the truth even extends to her good works.
In 1991 she adopted a baby from Bangladesh.
Let’s pause for an admission. I hope God will forgive me, but I don’t trust women — and it’s always women — like Mia Farrow, Angelina Jolie, and Cindy Lou McCain who must rescue innocents from sanded or sweltering wastelands. These are children we are talking about. You think kids don’t look around the dinner table and wonder when Mom was let loose in the Third World with a butterfly net?
There aren’t poor, abandoned children in Arizona? Our state doesn’t produce enough victims of foster care?
But let’s put aside my churlish reflexive antipathy.
Here’s how Cindy Lou McCain found a way to lie about baby adoption.
She claimed that Mother Teresa — yes, that Mother Teresa, begged her to take this child.
Total horse droppings.
When you drag Mother Teresa into a self-aggrandizing lie, that is Budweiser Clydesdale horse droppings.
In 2008, McCain’s presidential campaign bio material stated that “Mother Teresa convinced Cindy to take two babies in need of medical attention to the United States. One of those babies is now their adopted daughter, 15 year old Bridget McCain.”
This lie ran in the Wall Street Journal and on ABC’s Good Morning America.
This was not some intern’s inadvertent error.
This is what Cindy Lou herself told voters:
“I was working one day, one day a long, long time ago, in Bangladesh. I stumbled upon a little girl in Mother Teresa’s orphanage, and she had a really bad cleft palate and she was sick and tiny and she was only ten weeks old. And I got to know her a little bit, and I was with her for quite a while. Mother Teresa — as only she could do at that time — prevailed upon me and said, ‘You know, you can get help for her. You could, you can get her out…,’ and, being a tenacious woman, I thought, Yeah! I can. Sure.”
Before long, we learned that Mother Teresa had “implored” Cindy to take Bridget.
A tear-in-the-eye story.
Were it true.
But it’s a lie. At the time of the adoption, Mother Teresa was in Mexico dealing with medical issues and nowhere near Bangladesh or Cindy Lou McCain.
Cindy Lou and Mother Teresa never met.
And that’s not all.
She never discussed this baby rescue with her husband, the man who would be the child’s father. She just showed up with child: Look who I found!