On Thursday morning, during an episode of Fox Business Network's Varney and Co., former Air Force Lt. Gen. Thomas McInerney offered a defense of the use of torture, all while attacking a Republican senator and military veteran. Namely, McInerney called John McCain "songbird John" on air, suggesting that torture "works" because it led McCain, who was a prisoner of war in Vietnam in the 1970s, to give up information to his captors.
McCain, 81, was captured while serving in the Vietnam War, and spent more than five years imprisoned in North Vietnam, where he was repeatedly tortured. The injuries he suffered as a result of the routine beatings left permanent, lifelong physical problems, including his inability to raise his arms over his head.
"The fact is, is John McCain ― it worked on John. That's why they call him songbird John," McInerney told Fox Business host Charles Payne while defending the use of torture. "The fact is, those methods can work, and they are effective as former Vice President Cheney said."
McCain has acknowledged writing and signing an anti-American confession statement while imprisoned, an act that he's expressed regret for in writing. As Politifact notes, however, there is no evidence he ever yielded any valuable information to the North Vietnamese while imprisoned, although he did claim in his 1999 book Faith of My Fathers that he listed the names of the offensive line of the Green Bay Packers football team, claiming they were his squadmates.
Needless to say, regardless of the exact details, McInerney's commentary was callous and inflammatory in the extreme, and it's already prompted an apology from Payne on Twitter.
"This morning on a show I was hosting, a guest made a very false and derogatory remark about Senator John McCain," Payne wrote. "At the time, I had the control room in my ear telling me to wrap the segment, and did not hear the comment.
"I regret I did not catch this remark, as it should have been challenged," Payne continued. "As a proud military veteran and son of a Vietnam Vet these words neither reflect my or the network’s feelings about Senator McCain, or his remarkable service and sacrifice to this country."
Payne also claimed in a further tweet that he'll be offering an on-air apology over McInerney's remarks. This is far from the first time the retired Air Force officer has made wildly objectionable and offensive remarks on-air. McInerney has also been a proponent of birtherism, the debunked and racist conspiracy theory that claims former President Barack Obama was not born in the United States, and was therefore an illegitimate president.
McCain has been getting a lot of coverage in the press in recent weeks, although not for fortunate reasons. The longtime Arizona senator is currently suffering from glioblastoma, a rare and aggressive form of brain cancer, which he was diagnosed with last summer. It's the same type of cancer that killed former Massachusetts Senator Ted Kennedy, one of the Democratic Party's legislative icons, back in 2009.
The cancer has a very poor prognosis, something McCain himself acknowledged following his diagnosis. As such, although McCain has had access to top-flight health care as both a U.S. senator and a very wealthy man, his friends and family have reportedly already begun preparations for his funeral services.
The impending reality of the senator's death has also sparked multiple stories and op-eds examining his legacy, both as a senator and a member of Congress, with the mainstream consensus for years being that he's a war hero. As such, McInerney's comments on Thursday morning have sparked widespread criticism and revulsion.