But he may have once told the story to a group of Christian leaders. Which goes to show, I guess, that just because an author hasn’t recorded something in writing before mentioning it doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.
[I]t turns out that this episode probably never happened to Solzhenitsyn at all, and according to a Solzhenitsyn biographer it appears nowhere in his published writing. Columbia University professor Michael Scammell, the author of Solzhenitsyn: A Biography, says the episode “never happened,” and didn’t appear in Solzhenitsyn’s book, Gulag Archipelago, either.
This only solves a piece of the mystery, but it’s a key piece. It doesn’t necessarily rule out the possibility that McCain or his biographer, Mark Salter, picked up the tale that this happened to Solzhenitsyn elsewhere and embellished it for their own purposes.
But it takes one well-trafficked theory off the table: That McCain, a fan of Solzhenitsyn, picked it up straight from his works. More broadly, it also skewers once and for all the cherished right-wing falsehood that this happened to Solzhenitsyn at all.
So, new theory: McCain’s still a liar and a plagiarist (of course), but instead of plagiarizing Solzhenitsyn’s book he’s plagiarizing an apocryphal anecdote about Solzhenitsyn invented by Billy Graham to Christianize the fight against communism. Sounds like a plan, and I really like the consolation prize/moral victory spin of having debunked a treasured wingnut myth that most of us have never actually heard of. If someone pokes a hole in this version, it’ll shift to McCain being a liar and a plagiarist who stole the story from whichever POW it actually happened to (Orson Swindle, maybe?) or having pulled it out of a history of World War II, etc etc. Doesn’t matter how the variables change so long as the constant of McCain being a liar and a plagiarist holds. And now that I’ve done my part to aid the left’s noble cause of focusing media attention on Maverick’s POW experience and Christian belief, I direct you to Tom Maguire, who’s devoted two posts today — replete with neologism — to torturing the most stalwart true believer of ’em all. And no, I’m not being cute there. This is bona fide torture, at least to the same extent that fake blood is. For shame, Maguire.