Let's not and say we did: John McCain's medical records
After a long delay, John McCain finally allowed a hand-picked group of journalists very limited access to a small portion of his medical records. The campaign is spinning the event as a release, but it's no such thing. McCain hosting a game of telephone and congratulating himself for transparency.
The LA Times got the real story behind the so-called release: all the strings attached. Campaign staffers told the paper that the chosen reporters would be given only three hours to view about 400 pages of documents from 2000 to 2008. They wouldn't even allowed to make photocopies for their own reference, or to show to experts.
Curiously, this year's crop of journalists were not given access to the records that McCain released to an equally select group during his last presidential bid. The last batch of records covered McCain's lifetime medical history through 1999.
The favored news outlets are the Washington Post, the Arizona Republic, Bloomberg, Reuters, and the Associated Press. All other media will have to make due with a pool report generated by the elect, a 90-minute conference call with McCain's doctors and campaign-produced summaries to be posted online.
McCain let a group of hand picked lay-people view an incomplete set of medical records for a ridiculously short period of time. Their access was so limited as to render their opinions worthless.
This so-called release was a clever bit of media manipulation. The campaign made its hand-picked journos complicit in the records charade. Friendly media got a scoop. With that scoop came a vested interest in downplaying the ridiculous restrictions placed on them. If the public understood the conditions under which their were reporting, their coverage wouldn't seem impressive at all.
The campaign is forcing the press to base their coverage off whatever notes they managed to scribble during the three hour window. We wouldn't expect a medical doctor or an expert witness in a court case to form an opinion under these conditions. Why would we expect journalists to glean anything worthwhile from this silly eyes-only exercise?
This is not an environment conducive to quality reporting on complicated material. I wouldn't expect the press to be able to form an intelligent opinion about McCain's health under these conditions. Given the incredibly limited access, I wouldn't expect the press to pick up anything less obvious than "HAS CANCER, GOING TO DIE!!!" scrawled on the chart in Magic Marker.
If they expect to be taken seriously, the McCain camp should at least let its pet reporters show the actual documents to independent experts.
If McCain doesn't want to release his medical records, fine. If he values his personal privacy over his political viability, that's his choice to make--but he should be forthright about that decision.
McCain's game of records peekaboo is an insult to the intelligence of the press and the public. At the end of the day, we don't know anything more about McCain's health than we did before the dog and pony show.
McCain's a 71-year-old politician on the campaign trail who has survived four bouts of cancer. He says, "Trust me, I'm fine." So far, that's all we have to go on. That's not enough for most voters and the McCain camp knows it.
The only question is whether the press will continue to participate in the charade.