As Cliff noted, John McCain’s carefully staged media event this morning releasing a handful of his medical records really told us next to nothing — even though the press seemed eager to convince us it gave him a clean bill of health. Nothing to see here, move along.
But that assessment is bogus. And if you want an example of why it matters that the rest of us know what McCain’s doctors know about the full range his health, consider, if you will, a previously-unreported incident regarding the medical records of our last senior-citizen president: Ronald Reagan.
I’ll explain in a bit. First, let’s look at what happened at McCain’s media shindig today. The invitees? A few media outlets and reporters, and the Senators’ physicians at the Mayo Medical Center in Scottsdale. The result? We voters still don’t know enough to answer important questions about McCain’s impaired memory; repeated workplace violence; and an explosive temper so severe that many of his military peers believe he is too impaired to be President. We still don’t have the pathology reports that would tell us whether his recurrent melanoma is — or is not — likely to have spread elsewhere in his body. We still don’t have his mental health records or current neurocognitive testing.
So what do we have? Not much at all. But we do know the media rushed to convince us he has a clean bill of health. (See the video from the Fox report on the story for an example.)
Senator McCain’s primary doctors — his spin doctors — went to Scottsdale and got what they wanted. All we got was a set of suspect assurances.
We did learn one thing: McCain’s been having "dizziness" upon arising. For which, we are told, he underwent "intense testing". But, of course, we don’t have access to those records either.
Wait a minute? Didn’t McCain release his medical records today?
Sorry, Charlie. The McCain team kept the selected records they place before the press carefully away from the public — and severely restricted even press access:
Sen. John McCain will give select members of the media a three-hour glimpse at his medical records Friday.
McCain last revealed his medical records in 1999, making 1,500 pages of records available to reporters when he was competing with George W. Bush for the Republican nomination. The records spanned his time in the Navy to his failed bid for the White House.
The newer batch of records has strict security guidelines attached. Only certain news networks and newspapers will be permitted to enter the room, and they will have only three hours to examine the papers.
Anyone who leaves the room for any reason except the bathroom will not be allowed back.
So McCain’s team allowed the press (a select few) to view the records under controlled conditions.
The records were "released" about as much as the Monterey Bay Aquarium lets visitors take home the Great White Shark they had on view there. Which, fortunately for us and the shark, was not at all.
But everything’s OK, right? The candidate’s personal physicians say so, right? And so do the carefully selected media outlets the campaign invited to review the records — but didn’t allow to make any phone calls during the review, much less make any copies.
As part of their media reach-around, McCain’s spin doctors upstaged their own Friday AM invite-only party with a private session for
johns reporters from the AP on Thursday afternoon. The predictable climax on Thursday? The medical experts – oops – reporters from the AP looked at whatever the campaign chose to put before them, and rushed to tell us all what great shape McCain is in.
Apparently, the WaPo liked the fluffing and left-overs so much that at least WaPo fluffer reciprocated and put on his own knee pads for McCain’s team. Chris Cilliza proclaimed:
The records, which were reviewed by the Associated Press before the 11 a.m. scheduled release, show that McCain is cancer-free and in good health despite the obvious medical problems posed by injuries inflicted during his time as a prisoner of war in Vietnam and, more recently, his battle with melanoma.
Following in the footsteps of document dumps throughout political history, McCain’s campaign released 1,173 pages of documents detailing his medical history between 2000 and 2008. (You can review them all here.)
So, clicking on the "here" link takes us to 1,173 pages of McCain’s medical records, right? Uhhh … sorry, no. The link actually takes us to the statement released today by McCain’s private docs.
Gee, why am I so cynical about my colleagues? Didn’t they save McCain’s life?
Well, we won’t know if they saved Senator McCain’s life (or merely delayed his death from melanoma metatases) until they and Walter Reed and all the other places that treated McCain (especially in his "absence" from Scottsdale’s care before he returned for intensive treatment of melanoma in 2000) release his original pathology reports and the tissue sections.
Should the public have his pathology "sections"? No, silly — the public deserves all of his medical records deposited for public Internet access in the Library of Congress. His physical pathology samples (or a subset thereof) can go to the College of American Pathologists and their colleagues in the UK and Canada for independent review…with images of the path sections made available for public view to ensure transparancy (well, as transparent as stains will allow).
OK. So why don’t I just place my blind trust that this elderly man with a history of multiple head injuries, chronic and severe alcohol abuse (including numerous "black-outs"), severe physical and emotional trauma, five hours of genral anesthesia, recurrent traumatic ideation, recurrent traumatic responses, reccurrent acts of violence, lack of emotional control, cognitive problems, and dizzy spells — why don’t I just place my blind trust in my colleagues at the Mayo’s Arizona wing that’s he’s in dandy health to be Prez?
And why can’t we just all get along and trust McCain’s press team? They tell us there’s nothing of significance in McCain’s psych history, after all:
The records being released today contain "no psychological material because McCain has not been treated for anything related to that in the time frame of records we are releasing," [campaign spokeswoman Jill Hazelbaker] said.
Well, because repeatedly and systematically, we physicians have withheld information about Prez candidates’ and Presidents’ severe medical conditions.
From US Grant’s oral cancer right up through and after JFK’s Addison’s disease and chronic pain, we docs hid the facts from the public.
And unless the patient allows us to reveal the facts, we have to. Ancient medical ethics and modern federal law command us to.
So I’m not slamming my colleagues when I observe there’s no way we voters can tell if McCain allowed them to release all the info until we review all the info — all of it. WIth no press or Mayo intermediaries.
Why am I so adamant?
When I was living in Santa Monica, ex-President Reagan had a tragic equestrian accident on July 4, 1989 while in Mexico. He was brought to an excellent Westside hospital — one of the West LA hospitals that serves billionaires and stars. And, appropriately, the hospital took pictures of Reagan’s brain.
As many of you may remember, the images showed Reagan had a new bleed — a subdural hematoma from the riding accident.
In all likelihood none of you know the images also showed hospital staff that the ex-President had an old brain injury. I know because folks who saw the images let me know. I can only reveal it now because I had no role in that patient’s care and was a never part of the hospital (or hospital system) that cared for him: I’ve no professional or contractual obligations to keep the secret any longer.
But McCain’s docs will always be obliged to keep his secrets.
Which is why we need to see the records for ourselves.
All of them. And until we see them, it’s not unfair to conclude that McCain has something to hide.