John McCain was a source when I was covering the FCC in the late 1990s and he was chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee. I showed up one day for a 2:45 interview. His assistant asked if I didn’t mind waiting, as he was in a meeting. Not at all, I said. Then, about two minutes later, she came back to me and said, “John would like you in this meeting.”
She ushered me into his office. McCain introduced me to Jim Barksdale, the founder of the then-dominant Internet browser, Netscape. Barksdale was sitting in a hard-backed chair facing McCain in another such chair out in front of the senator’s desk. Two or three Netscape lobbyists were sitting on a sofa behind them. You could almost hear their buttholes pucker when McCain told them a Wall Street Journal reporter would now be taking notes on their lobbying meeting.
McCain and Barksdale resumed their argument over some proposed encryption legislation. It was clear that they were not going to agree. At one point one of the lobbyists piped up with a point he obviously thought was clever. McCain about ripped his head off. It was all I could do not to laugh.
After they left, I asked McCain why he had invited me in. He told me Barksdale had been trying to see him for quite some time, and McCain had put him off because he knew they weren’t going to agree so any meeting would be a waste of time. “Then,” McCain told me, “they just showed up today and put me on the spot.” He grinned. “Then you showed up, and I thought, ‘We’ll see who puts who on the spot.'” I probably didn’t talk with him more than ten times, but he was a fun guy to cover, I’ll say that. RIP.