CBS Hypes 'Fallout' From 'Secretive' White House Not Alerting Media of First Lady's Cancer

December 20th, 2006 1:01 PM

As Brent Baker noted on Tuesday, the "CBS Evening News" framed the story of Laura Bush’s skin cancer around how the White House didn’t reveal it rather than the cancer itself, and Wednesday’s "Early Show" continued this theme. CBS News correspondent Joie Chen asserted that Tony Snow got his "Christmas goose cooked" by downplaying the story, and "Early Show" co-host Rene Syler opened the segment by noting the "fallout" from the fact that "the White House felt the need to keep it secret for so long."

This is not the first time the Bush White House has been accused by the media of being "secretive." However, what business is the health status of Laura Bush to the media or anyone else outside the Bush family? Yet, other than clips of White House press secretary Tony Snow insisting during a press briefing that First Lady Laura Bush has privacy rights, and is a private citizen, there was no mention by the reporters that Laura Bush is not a public official. Instead, Ms. Chen used this incident to imply the White House is hiding other health secrets. And later, Chen further asserted that the First Lady could have avoided this whole controversy, if only she had worn pants instead of a skirt:

"And he [Tony Snow] never even got to the other burning question, why didn't the First Lady just put on pants?"

No, this "controversy" could have been avoided if the media gave Mrs. Bush the proper privacy considerations she is entitled to. It is doubtful the media would have acted the same way if it were the Clinton White House remaining silent about a health condition of then First Lady Hillary Clinton, who was much more of a political figure than Mrs. Bush.

The transcript of the segment follows.

Rene Syler: "And more fallout over First Lady Laura Bush's recent skin cancer surgery. Some want to know why the White House felt the need to keep it a secret for so long. CBS News correspondent Joie Chen reports."

Joie Chen: "To hear the White House tell it, it was no more significant than a little holiday party chit-chat. That's where the story started, at the president's Hanukkah celebration. A sharp eyed reporter detected a band-aid on the first lady's leg. The response, yes, the first lady had a squamous cell carcinoma, a very common skin cancer, and had it removed. Those who make it their business to know pressed the president's spokesman.

Tony Snow, White House Press Secretary: "Just not a big deal."

Joie Chen: "But as a cable TV veteran himself, Snow knows full well downplaying anything around here is a sure way to get your Christmas goose cooked. The reporters wouldn't give. Why wouldn't you tell us, they asked."

Tony Snow: "She's got the same right to medical privacy that you do."

Joie Chen: "Why isn't she talking?"

Tony Snow: "She's a private citizen, and the fact is, she is entitled to her medical privacy."

Joie Chen: "What other health secrets is the White House hiding?"

Tony Snow: "She's also had colds; she's had the flu; she's had stomach aches."

Joie Chen: "Clearly Snow was sick of the whole thing."

Tony Snow: "You guys are really stretching it."

Joie Chen: "And he never even got to the other burning question, why didn't the first lady just put on pants? For 'The Early Show,' Joie Chen, CBS News, the White House."

Rene Syler: "And the first lady's press secretary says Mrs. Bush is doing just fine, and that no other procedures are expected at this point."