The Plank

How Much Will We Learn About Mccain's Health?

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By the time you read this, a select group of reporters--apparently numbering about a dozen--may be inside a conference room at a Phoenix resort hotel, going over some 400 pages of Senator John McCain's medical records.

McCain has been promising to release those records for more than a year. And, given McCain's age and history of cancer, the issue of his health is more serious than it would be for most candidates.

But rather than make all the records public, the campaign has chosen to make them available to the pool reporters for a three-hour window. According to this account in the New York Times, the reporters can take notes but not make photocopies. The campaign is also making McCain's doctors, from the Mayo Clinic, available for interviews.

This is similar to the way McCain's advisors released his medical records in 1999, when he first ran for president, although this 400-page selection is smaller than the 1,500 pages they released last time. That original bundle amounted to the full McCain medical history, including psychiatric records the Navy collected as part of a project to assess the mental health of former prisoners of war. Via Time's Swampland, here's the campaign's explanation:

In 1999, the campaign also pooled the review of the physical documents--with a much smaller group. At the time, the review was hailed as both serious and thorough. Recognizing that this is a transparency issue, the campaign made the decision to put extensive and detailed summaries on our website, as well as host a ninety minute conference call with the physicians who have treated McCain over the past eight years. In 1999, reporters did not have direct access to his doctors, nor were summaries of his health made public. While we cannot satisfy all people all the time, we believe we are making Senator McCain's medical history public in a thoughtful and substantive manner.

I understand the desire to keep some control in this situation; for the sake of privacy, they don't want his original medical records bouncing all over the World Wide Web. Still, McCain is running for president and his health is an important, and legitimate, issue.

I'm out of the country, so I won't be on the conference call to follow the release. But here's one interesting question to keep in mind: The last time McCain released his medical records, one of the reporters who viewed them was the Times' Lawrence Altman. Not only is Altman the dean of science reporters, but he's also an M.D.--i.e., somebody who, even in the short span of three hours, would be able to assess the significance and full meaning of the records. And in an article earlier this year, Altman started raising questions about McCain's present health--and his campaign's curious delay in making the records public.

It sounds like the Times isn't in the pool this time around, which means no Altman. Will any other organizations have physicians as their representatives? ABC and CNN are on the list, so maybe Tim Johnson and/or Sanjay Gupta, both of whom are physicians?

Edit: I see Romenesko noticed the same thing. 

--Jonathan Cohn 

 

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