In this Oct. 20, 2015 photo Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., talks to reporters near the subway on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C.
Photo by Carolyn Kaster/AP

McCain tries to blame the media for Trump’s PTSD mistake

When it comes to Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) has expressed some concerns. The senator, who’s up for re-election this year, has repeatedly vowed to support Trump out of party loyalty, but McCain’s also taken steps to distance himself from the controversial presidential candidate.

When Trump went after prisoners of war, including McCain, the Arizona Republican defended his fellow veterans and urged Trump to apologize. (He refused.) When Trump targeted Capt. Humayun Khan’s parents, McCain issued a public rebuke.

Trump’s comments on Monday about veterans with PTSD generated headlines, but in this case, McCain felt compelled to defend the Republican presidential hopeful during an interview with the Arizona Daily Star.
“This is kind of the classic example of the media feeding frenzy that is going on. The bias that is in the media,” McCain said during a meeting with the Arizona Daily Star’s editorial board.

“What he is saying is that some people, for whatever reason, and we really don’t understand why, suffer from PTSD, and others don’t.”
I’ve seen quite a bit of this kind of pushback. A variety of Republicans – and even some neutral observers – have said this week that Trump’s PTSD comments, though controversial, were misconstrued. “Sure, this guy says offensive stuff all the time,” the argument goes, “but on this one he’s getting a raw deal.”

He’s not. The problem is, we’re not accustomed to this kind of Trump misstep and it’s causing some confusion.

Ordinarily, when Trump says something offensive, it’s deliberate. He’ll go on the attack – against a federal judge, against a beauty-pageant contestant, against a Gold Star family, et al – and as part of his argument, the Republican candidate will make comments that most of the American mainstream will find insulting and abusive.

This week, Trump wasn’t attacking veterans with PTSD, per se, but he nevertheless suggested that “strong” servicemen and women can “handle” combat – thereby perpetuating a stigma that the military and health professionals have tried so hard to discredit.

The pitch from McCain and other Trump defenders, in effect, is that Trump was ignorant, not malicious. That’s probably true, but it’s not a credible defense. The fact that the GOP nominee was trying to be sympathetic doesn’t make his comments any less problematic.

Or put another way, Trump’s intentions matter, but not as much as the unintended damage he did by suggesting veterans with PTSD aren’t “strong” enough.

As Rachel explained on Monday’s show:
“[T]hat equation of strong people not needing help, strong people being able to handle it – and people who are presumably not strong, not being able to handle it – that is a construction around mental health, that is a stigmatizing framework for talking about mental health and post-traumatic stress and suicide prevention that veterans and every responsible person anywhere near that field has been trying desperately to undo for years now.

“That’s like the one thing you don’t say if you know anything about this issue, if you have ever talked to anybody involved in it, if you have ever taken it seriously. That’s the framework that they have been trying to undo any way they can.”
McCain may find it easier to blame “the bias that is in the media,” but it’s not news organizations’ fault that Trump got this very wrong.

Donald Trump and John McCain

McCain tries to blame the media for Trump's PTSD mistake