The NYTimes has a story about Cindy McCain in today’s paper.

Most of the report is gossip of old news, printed to gladden the hearts of envious gossipers everywhere with it’s nitpicking thoroughness.

Yet even the “good deeds” of Cindy McCain’s life have been spun in a way that stresses the negative.

I don’t know much about Cindy McCain, but two of the stories in the expose are in my area of expertise, and in these I’d like to provide some background that the “newspaper of record” seemed to overlook.

The first story that is missing the point is about Cindy McCain in Rwanda. As the NYTimes is happy to point out, she never was in Rwanda.

From the Times:

As with her other charity trips, participants praised her eagerness to help victims of tragedy. But news accounts and interviews indicate, and a campaign spokesman confirmed, that Mrs. McCain traveled after the genocide had ended, spending time with refugees in neighboring Zaire, now Congo. Asked if she was ever in Rwanda, as Mrs. McCain has stated many times, a campaign spokesman, Jill Hazelbaker, said “she was driven to the Zaire/Rwanda border in order to assess the conditions of the refugees entering the country.”

In other words, we can ignore the facts of what she actually has done in favor of a “gotcha” moment.

Reality check, please. I was a doctor in two different African countries that developed civil conflicts during my time working, so I have some expertise in this matter.

To read the NYTimes, one would think that the massacres in Rwanda were an isolated event, and after they stopped, everything was sweetness and light.

Wrong, buster. The aftermath in some ways was worse than the killing time.

The Rwanda massacres were part of an ongoing “low level” conflict that has had periodic massacres, that involved neighboring countries and various tribes, and that has continued to this day.

As for the massacres: in 1994, the government organized boy gang members into militias to kill civilians, going into villages and separating the Tutsis and forcing their Hutu neighbors to kill them. The UN was there, but did little or nothing to stop the gangs, which is unfortunate since these thugs probably couldn’t have done much against disciplined troops. But what ultimately stopped the genocide is that the Tutsi guerrillas went back into the country fighting and overthrew the government.

After the Tutsi troops entered, there was widespread chaos, and two million refugees fled.

The Tutsi rebels defeated the Hutu regime and ended the genocide in July 1994, but approximately two million Hutu refugees – some who participated in the genocide and feared Tutsi retribution – fled to neighboring Burundi, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zaire. Thousands died in epidemics of cholera and dysentery that swept the refugee camps. The international community responded with one of the largest humanitarian relief efforts ever mounted.

This was the situation that Cindy McCain entered: a massive humanitarian disaster that happened after the killings.

Michael Geerson’s report has more details on what she encountered.

Arriving across the border in Goma, which is now in Congo, McCain found cholera victims stacked beside the road “like highway barriers.” “I remember having to step over the decomposing body of an infant, covered with white powder, lime I guess, to get into one building.” The field hospital covered four acres. McCain’s team provided primary care for the sick and frightened refugees, many of them suffering dehydration. For nearly a month, McCain organized food and water for the operation, collecting supplies at the Goma airport.

At least when I was in Africa, I had a house and worked in a regular hospital.

The volunteers for this type of mission face a harder challenge.  They leave behind ordinary comforts like toilets, airconditioners, decent food, soft beds, and ordinary comforts. In countries with such “civil disturbances”, there are no police. You may never be “shot at”, but you know that a rogue soldier might come into the camp and shoot you, or you might be killed simply walking to the latrine at night by someone trying to rape you or rob you of your earrings. Delivering supplies mean facing ambushes by those wanting to rob or kidnap, and in some areas, the danger includes landmines on the roads. But it’s not only the anarchy that is the problem. Your life and health are  also in danger from malaria, cholera, diarrhea of all sorts, hepatitis, polio, and rabies.

So the New York Times says Nyah nyah nyah, she never was in Rwanda, she’s a liar, discounting the actual work she did, in a very uncomfortable area.

But not only in Rwanda. As Geerson’s story notes:

Over the years, McCain has brought medical services to a Sandinista stronghold following Nicaragua’s civil war; set up a mobile hospital near Kuwait City while the oil wells still burned from the first Gulf War; helped in Bangladesh following a cyclone. And while in that country in 1991, she found her daughter Bridget in an orphanage…

As for this, the New York Times mocks:

Those close to Mrs. McCain say she aspires to be like another blonde, glamorous figure married to an older man: Diana, the Princess of Wales.

But of course, the remark, which was meant to be a criticism, is both true and not true: Princess Di went in, stayed a few days, got a photo op, and left. God bless her. She got a lot of publicity for those who are usually ignored in the papers. Maybe if we had more Princess Di imitators, people might be aware of the 3 million dead due to the chaos in Central Africa, or the 100 000 people in the Goma area who are again in dire help of basic food, water, shelter and medicine after fleeing the latest round of fighting.

But there is a difference: unlike Princess Di, Cindy McCain actually arranged for teams to do the work (and believe me, logistics and administration are a big part of this type of work), and she did it without a publicity agent.

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I also would like to criticize the part of the story where the NYTimes criticizes the story of her daughter Bridget’s adoption.

When Mrs. McCain visited Bangladesh after a cyclone, she stopped at an orphanage founded by Mother Teresa, who was not, as the campaign has said, present for the visit. Mrs. McCain returned with two baby girls; Mr. Gullet later adopted one, and Mrs. McCaininformed her husband on landing that they would adopt the other.

Again a criticism: that Cindy McCain lied when she claimed the child was given to her by Mother Teresa herself, not by a lowly and nameless Sister at one of the many orphanages run by Mother Teresa’s sisters. (The more dramatic version, however, was undoubtably a misquote by the reporter that grew with the telling rather than the way it was told, sort of a short hand way of saying the type of place the child was found was not exactly Club Med.)
What they miss is the real story: caring for a special needs child 24/7, and adopting her as one of your own.

Forget the happy stories of adoption you have read about. This type of adoption takes a lot of hard work, a lot of courage, and a lot of love.

Again, I have expertise in third world adoptions of hard to place children (although my sons were hard to place because of their age, not due to health problems).

Adopting children with special medical needs means you have to care for a sick child, both at home and during hospital stays.  This includes coping with acting out behavior caused by the many caretakers and numerous hospitalizations, and the scars of neglect by caretakers before the child was given to a family (and even in the best orphanage, there are never enough caretakers to give a child love).

As a child gets older, it might mean working with the school district to try to find the right classes, and when you adopt cross culturally, it means both coping with prejudice in America, and the problems of trying to keep the child aware of their birth heritage.

None of this is discussed in the story, of course.

But by ignoring these details, the Times has shown either incompetence or bias in this report.

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Nancy Reyes is a retired physician who lives in rural Luzon. In the past, she has worked as a physician in two African countries that had extensive civil unrest. She writes about human rights in Africa at Makaipa Blog

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