Sen. John McCain Dies at 81

Sen. John McCain, 81, Vietnam war hero and longtime Arizona senator died of brain cancer Aug. 25.

McCain had recently stopped treatment for his cancer.

McCain was familiar to communications execs as former chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, which oversees communications. He has long been active on media issues, earlier this year co-sponsoring a municipal broadband bill.

McCain, along with Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), had also been the leading voice for successfully eliminating the FCC's Sports Blackout Rules, getting the Sports Fans Coalition MVP award for that support. He also introduced the Furthering Access and Networks for Sports (FANS) Act, which would remove the antitrust exemption for any sports league that does not prohibit or limit sports blackouts in their video contracts, including during retransmission consent impasses.

McCain long championed requiring programmers to make their content available to cable systems on an a la carte basis, including backing legislation that would require that and would not allow the bundling of co-owned cable channels and TV stations in carriage negotiations.

McCain had fought for campaign finance reform and had recently come to the defense of media outlets under fire from President Trump.

In an interview on NBC's Meet the Press last February, McCain said: “If you want to preserve democracy as we know it, you have to have a free and, many times, adversarial press. And without it, I am afraid that we would lose so much of our individual liberties over time. That's how dictators get started. "[W]hen you look at history, the first thing that dictators do is shut down the press,” he said. “And I'm not saying that President Trump is trying to be a dictator. I'm just saying we need to learn the lessons of history.”

The lesson McCain's history taught was courage and strength in the face of hardship, and that came long before he got his cancer diagnosis.

McCain was a naval aviator when he was forced to eject Oct. 26, 1967, while on a bombing run over North Vietnam, breaking both his arms and his leg. He was taken prisoner in the famed "Hanoi Hilton" where he was imprisoned for over five years, tortured and often kept in solitary confinement.

He ran for President against Barack Obama in 2008.

“Sen. McCain was a force of nature, whether defending his country in war or fighting for democratic values at home and abroad," said Gordon Smith, president of the National Association of Broadcasters. "I count myself lucky to have served in the U.S. Senate with this war hero, political icon, and American patriot. The history books will be kind to John McCain because our country is so much better for his straight talk, common sense, maverick ways and passionate service. Rest well, my friend.”

"Noble war hero, fearless patriot, courageous public servant, Sen. John McCain gave his everything to the United States of America," said American Cable Association president Matt Polka. "We honor the memory and the service of Sen. McCain, and we also send our deepest condolences and prayers to his family."

"For John McCain, his country was his life. He was tireless in its service. Courage, determination, and relentless drive made him a great leader," said attorney general Jeff Sessions.

“John McCain’s sacrifices to his country are immeasurable," said Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), hiself a former Republican presidential candidate. "With his passing today, America has lost more than a leader and more than a senator. We have lost a true American hero. As a colleague in the Senate and a friend, I drew personal inspiration from his leadership, intellect and moral courage. He set the standard for what we should expect from our soldiers and from our public servants of all levels. In this time of grief, I hope John’s family finds comfort in knowing that this extraordinary man touched countless lives, and his memory will continue to set the standard of leadership and moral resolve for future generations.”

“Today, the nation lost not only an American hero but a political force and icon," said Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.). "Senator McCain made extraordinary sacrifices for our country and served all of us with honor, dignity, and respect. His love of country and selfless sacrifice on behalf of our nation is one of the greatest examples of public service. He will forever be remembered as a true patriot who never surrendered his sense of decency for political expediency."

“We lost a hero at a time when we need them. We lost a statesman when there are so few around. His was a life of service and a life well lived. May his memory be a blessing," said Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii).

"Sen. McCain's character and courage shone through every facet of his life, in big ways and small, including when he was one of only two U.S. senators to stick up for sports fans, challenge the NFL, the other professional sports leagues, and the broadcast industry to support ending the Sports Blackout Rule, which we accomplished by a unanimous FCC vote in 2014," said Sports Fans Coalition founder David Goodfriend. "We will miss our champion."

“America’s Public Television Stations join our millions of viewers in mourning the passing of Senator John McCain — a statesman, a patriot, a true American hero," America's Public Television Stations president Patrick Butler. “I first met Commander McCain in 1977 when he was serving as the Navy liaison to the Senate and I was an aide to Senate Republican Leader Howard Baker. His personality was pure magic, and every Senator wanted to travel with this effervescent man who had endured so much yet enjoyed life so fully. “Ten years later, when Congressman McCain became Senator McCain, he set a standard of political independence and straight talk that served him and his country well for the next three decades."

"Common Cause joins the nation in wishing peace and comfort to the family, friends, and colleagues of Senator John McCain," said Common Cause president Karen Hobert Flynn. "As a U.S. Senator, McCain worked with Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI) and Common Cause to pass significant campaign finance reform – the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (McCain-Feingold), which banned soft money and curbed corporate and labor union spending to influence elections. During that fight, McCain showed tenacity in bucking his party and its leadership to eventually pass the reform in 2002. Senator McCain’s courage, grit, and confidence inspired millions of Americans who will miss his voice in the U.S. Senate."

McCain is survived by his wife, Cindy, seven children and five grandchildren. He will be buried at the U.S. Naval Academy Cemetery in Annapolis.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.