CBS: 'Substance Abuse'? People Think McCain's War Injuries 'Funny'?

The night after ABC's World News raised the possibility John McCain's POW ordeal caused “psychological damage,” on Friday's CBS Evening News Dr. Sanjay Gupta thought it noteworthy that the release of McCain's medical records ignored the Senator's “mental health,” any “mention of post-traumatic stress disorder” or of “substance abuse.” Oddly, Dr. Jon LaPook asserted that “people” notice McCain is “not able to raise his arm” and think “'doesn't that look funny?'” Who thinks McCain's limitation, caused by an attack on him after his plane crashed in North Vietnam and he was denied medical care, looks funny? In what circles does CBS's doctor travel? [audio available here]

From Fountain Hills, Arizona, CNN's Gupta, identified by Katie Couric as “a CBS News contributor” and on-screen as “contributing medical correspondent,“ marveled:

What I didn't see I thought was interesting, as well. There was hardly any mention of his mental health. There was no mention of depression. You know, this is man who had two admittedly weak suicide attempts when he was a prisoner of war. There was no mention of post-traumatic stress disorder or anything that may have been asked, or substance abuse, none of that was even mentioned.
LaPook, from the anchor desk, checked in: “And people think, well, he's not able to raise his arm and 'doesn't that look funny?' Well, you know something, we should all remember that one of the greatest Presidents ever was in a wheelchair.”

That set up Couric to raise a subject not touched by ABC or NBC, how little the public knew at the time about the afflictions of FDR and President Kennedy. Gupta marveled: “It's amazing to think about that now. John F. Kennedy, the youngest President ever elected, was probably one of the sickest yet nobody knew that at the time.”

LaPook diagnosed McCain as healthy enough to run for President:
Knowing what I know, if he came to me as a patient, from what his doctors have said and from what I've seen in the records, and said, "should I run for President?", I'd say go for it, go ahead, because at the end of the day, as we get older, things are going to happen. You're going to have cancer developing potentially, you're going to have high blood and high cholesterol weighing in and maybe increasing of a chance of a heart attack or stroke. But at the same time, as you get older other good things happen like wisdom and experience. And I think you're always balancing the two of those things.
My May 22 NewsBusters posting, “ABC: McCain Psychologically Damaged? Suffer Dementia? Die Soon?” recounted:
Not waiting until the actual Friday release of John McCain's medical records, on Thursday's World News anchor Charles Gibson (who's 65) and Dr. Tim Johnson (who at 72 is older than McCain) speculated about McCain's health. Gibson wondered about "psychological damage" from his POW captivity. Assured there's no evidence of that, Gibson jumped to wonder how much longer McCain has to live, a question which led Johnson to warn, that while McCain may live another 16 years, there's a decent chance he'll develop "dementia."

Gibson asked: "There's also an enormous amount of medical records involving the time that he was in captivity in North Vietnam to check to see what physical damage he suffered and maybe what psychological damage." Johnson replied that Navy psychiatrists monitored McCain "for many years after his release. They found no evidence of any serious problem. And he strongly denies any symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder." Gibson pounced with a new line of fear: "But he's 71 years old. What do the actuarial tables say about a man who's 71 years old?" Johnson explained they say he should live to 87, but: "Much more difficult, of course, to predict any change in mental acuity. At age 71, there's about a 30 percent chance of developing serious memory loss or even dementia."
From the Friday, May 23 CBS Evening News, picking up after Gupta provided a rundown of McCain's health issues, such as cholesterol and his skin cancer treatments:
KATIE COURIC: Anything strike you as remarkable in terms of what you read today?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA: Well, I think the fact that, you know, he has so many different doctors looking after him I thought was interesting, you know, eight different doctors all from the Mayo Clinic. He's obviously very serious about getting his health care. What I didn't see I thought was interesting, as well. There was hardly any mention of his mental health. There was no mention of depression. You know, this is man who had two admittedly weak suicide attempts when he was a prisoner of war. There was no mention of post-traumatic stress disorder or anything that may have been asked, or substance abuse, none of that was even mentioned.

COURIC: Let's bring in Dr. John Lapook because he's been taking a look at the health of past Presidents. How does John McCain compare?

DR. JON LaPOOK: I think he actually stacks up pretty well. People are focusing on his physical appearance and the fact that he's a little pale. Well, he stays out of the sun because of his melanoma. His swelling? Well, he had a lot of lymph node dissections and he bought with that the security, peace of mind of knowing that there were no cancer cells in those lymph nodes. And people think, well, he's not able to raise his arm and “doesn't that look funny?” Well, you know something, we should all remember that one of the greatest Presidents ever was in a wheelchair.

COURIC: That's right. In fact, Sanjay, what strikes me is that we know so much about Senator McCain, and yet knew so little about Presidents in the past, including Presidents like Woodrow Wilson who had a stroke, FDR who had polio and was in a wheelchair and had heart problems, and none of this, including John F. Kennedy's Addison's disease and back problems, none of this was disclosed to the public.

GUPTA: It's amazing to think about that now. John F. Kennedy, the youngest President ever elected, was probably one of the sickest yet nobody knew that at the time. You know, he had a briefcase his doctors actually carried around with him. The combination of that briefcase was actually his birthday. Open up that briefcase you had all kinds of medications. Should the public have had a right to know at that time, do we have a right to know now? These are interesting questions. But still, there's no law, there's no law that says we have to know.

LaPOOK: Knowing what I know, if he came to me as a patient, from what his doctors have said and from what I've seen in the records, and said, “should I run for President?”, I'd say go for it, go ahead, because at the end of the day, as we get older, things are going to happen. You're going to have cancer developing potentially, you're going to have high blood and high cholesterol weighing in and maybe increasing of a chance of a heart attack or stroke. But at the same time, as you get older other good things happen like wisdom and experience. And I think you're always balancing the two of those things.

COURIC: And it sounds as if he's very well taken care of and he monitors his health very, very carefully.
Brent Baker
Brent Baker
Brent Baker is the Steven P.J. Wood Senior Fellow and VP for Research and Publications at the Media Research Center