COMMENTS: Document Dump Greets Memorial Weekend

The start of the Memorial Day weekend was marked variously by the network newscasts and Presidential candidate John McCain. NBC sent anchor Brian Williams off to Indianapolis where he marked the beginning of summer from the Brickyard, previewing Sunday's 500 and making the holiday his lead. McCain adhered to the tradition of the Document Dump, choosing a pre-holiday Friday afternoon, the lightest news environment on the calendar, to release intrusive personal information--in this case his own medical records and his heiress wife's millionaire income. CBS led from the McCain campaign, which qualified as the Story of the Day. ABC too chose the campaign as its lead, selecting Hillary Rodham Clinton abject apology for an inartful reference to the assassination of Robert Kennedy in 1968.

CBS anchor Katie Couric asked her in-house physician Jon LaPook and CNN's medical correspondent Sanjay Gupta to compare notes on the highlights of McCain's 1,200 page medical history. "They gave us three hours, essentially to look over them," Gupta complained. "It is kind of like medical school and residency all wrapped into one." The notes came from eight separate physicians, all at the Mayo Clinic: "He is obviously very serious about getting his healthcare"--and expense is clearly no object for the McCain household. His wife has a $6m annual paycheck: "Cindy McCain is very, very wealthy," NBC's Kelly O'Donnell asserted. Dr LaPook imagined how he would advise McCain if he were one of those doctors and was asked whether running for President was good for his health. "I would say: 'Go for it. Go ahead.'"

McCain's most serious condition was melanoma, a malignant skin cancer that was removed in 2000. At the time, Dr Gupta pointed out, he was told he had a 66% chance of the cancer recurring by 2010, which would be the second year of his Presidency if elected. NBC's in-house physician Nancy Snyderman noted that so far there is "no evidence of recurrence. It is a positive sign but still requires constant surveillance." She suggested that McCain might undergo "scans of his brain, lungs and liver just to make sure the melanoma is under control prior to the election in November." Otherwise she ticked off his "high cholesterol, high blood pressure, arthritis, vertigo and allergies--all under control."

ABC did not assign a reporter to check on McCain's medical history, although anchor Charles Gibson pointed out that the candidate was once a "two pack a day smoker." CNN's Gupta was surprised "there was hardly any mention of his mental health," no mention of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in the Vietnam War veteran, no mention of substance abuse--apart from that nicotine.

ABC did have George Stephanopoulos comment on the campaign craft of the medical release: "He has unloaded a lot of heavy baggage this week," adding severed ties to lobbyists and televangelists to his health and his wife's finances. "In politics, this is called a Document Dump," NBC's O'Donnell spelled it out, "when fewer people are paying attention, they release this information."


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