It is not unprecedented, to my knowledge, for candidates to allow reporters to look at their records, because I have done that. Having done it this time, they certainly imposed limits, and those limits are not unprecedented, but they certainly don’t argue for the fact that they made a complete release of all the information. Both in 1999 and now, copies were not allowed to be made, and I can understand that, but to have a slew of reporters and give each individual reporter three hours to go through what was said to be approximately a thousand pages — that’s 333 pages per hour, and I don’t think speed readers can read that much that fast. I don’t know what was in the records and I don’t know how much there was to read on each page, but [the time limit] doesn’t allow anyone, in my mind, to make a thorough analysis and recording, which is what you’d want. And then not to allow news organization that weren’t allowed to participate in the pool in the first place to examine the records afterwards — they denied me that permission; and I don’t know, maybe they denied other news organizations. And then what was billed as a two-hour teleconference turned into an approximately a forty-five-minute one.
CB: So you weren’t in the pool?
LA: No, they chose to exclude us. They had made it clear that they did not want the Times as part of this. They did not like the editorial that ran in early May—which I had nothing to do with—pointing out that [McCain] had passed his April deadline for issuing his medical records; we’d been trying to get them for over a year. He also hadn’t released Mrs. McCain’s tax records. So they had an editorial about these records, and his campaign specifically cited that when we requested, yet again, to do an interview and were told we were “not at the top of the list.”
CB: The New Republic’s blog, The Plank, complained that you, specifically, were excluded, arguing that because you are an M.D. you would have been better suited to analyzing the records. Is it necessary to have a medical background for this type of reporting?
LA: I think it helps. Taking it away from McCain and answering your question generically, it would depend on the real medical problems of a particular candidate. For somebody who has been healthy and there’s not much to write about, then maybe a physician could look into what isn’t included and see if that’s significant. But it certainly would come into play in terms of a candidate or an officeholder who had a particular medical condition that posed chronic issues — because it may not be chronic in the sense that it’s present at the moment, but it raises questions for future care and what are the implications and so forth. It would be extremely helpful to know a lot about the medicine and the condition, which documents to look for.
CB: The Times’s editorial that you mentioned argued that, “No presidential candidate should get to the point that he has locked up his party’s nomination without public vetting of his health.” Given that some ailments can be concealed, do you agree, or should reporters only press a candidate when there’s an obvious issue, such as McCain’s melanoma?
LA: I think ideally the statement that was in the editorial should apply, that the voters should have this as early as possible. To do the in-depth, thorough ones on every single candidate like you’ve had in this last campaign would require a monumental amount of time for one individual.
CB: Your 1999 article about the release of the first round of McCain’s records had some very intimate details about his mental constitution. Should all candidates’ be expected to provide such details, or only those with exceptional medical histories?
LA: Well, I think in his case, as I remember the political climate at time, he had to respond to the charges of his temper, to the charges that he had psychological problems as a result of being a prisoner of war for five years, or whatever the time was, and how that would affect him. And that, I guess, he had to do politically, as a reality.