Reporters Ask Tony Snow Why Laura Bush’s Cancer Scare Was Kept Hidden

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By: E&P Staff

Reflecting either years of unhappiness with a tight-lipped White House — or merely a “”slow news day”” — reporters today pressed White House Press Secretary Tony Snow on why Laura Bush kept private for so the case of skin cancer that has just been disclosed after a delay of several weeks.

Snow, exasperated after many followups — including queries about whether any health setbacks involving the president of vice president would be promplty reported — finally said, “”It’s officially a really slow news day.”” But reporters kept at it. He finally advised one reporter, “”What I’d ask you to do is consult your common sense.””

Here is some of the dialogue.

Q Tony, can you tell us about Mrs. Bush’s skin cancer? How is she doing?And how was the decision reached not to disclose this publicly until questions were asked?

MR. SNOW: Yes, I talked to her a couple of minutes ago. She’s doing fine. And she said, “”It’s no big deal, and we knew it was no big deal at the time.”” Frankly I don’t think anybody thought it was the sort of thing that occasioned a need for a public disclosure. Furthermore, she’s got the same right to medical privacy that you do. She’s a private citizen; she’s not an elected official. So for that reason she didn’t disclose it. But she’s doing fine, and thank you for your concern.

Q She is often an advocate for women’s health in the area of breast cancer or heart disease, advocating screenings, preventative care. Is she likely to talk about skin cancer in that way?

MR. SNOW: I don’t know. Fortunately, squamous cell carcinoma, at least in this particular case, was not dangerous. But let me just say, without having cleared it with her, I’m sure that she would be more than supportive of anybody to go out, and if you think you’ve got a problem with a change in a mole or some skin problems, go get it checked out by a doctor.

Q And she didn’t feel any obligation as a person of public status to talk about this?

MR. SNOW: No, again, there are any number of — this is a room full of public people who tend not — and I know you say, wait a minute, I’m different than the First Lady.Well, no, she’s a private citizen. And the fact is, she is entitled to her medical privacy. And, again, it’s no big deal. In this case, it’s just not a big deal.

Q May I follow on that? The President is also a private citizen, as well as being the President. So —

MR. SNOW: Well, he’s an elected official. It’s different.

Q He’s an elected official and a private citizen. You can make the same claims of a number of people who have public lives. Mrs. Bush has made herself part of this party and this White House’s very public face. So my question is, if this were to be something that is a big deal, would the White House feel obliged to share that with the public?

MR. SNOW: I don’t know. She didn’t feel obliged, and she believes that she has the same medical privacy rights that you and I have.

Q Did the White House doctor treat her?

MR. SNOW: That I don’t know. I didn’t ask. There is the confidentiality — and guess what? Medical privacy also applies to her case in this particular incident.

Q This morning you said you’d make that inquiry.

MR. SNOW: Yes — you know what, I didn’t.

Q But you will?

MR. SNOW: No.It’s medical privacy, and I’m not going to get into this.

Q Was it done offsite or was she treated here at the White House? That’s a question to add to your list.

Q May we ask, just so that you don’t say, you never asked so that’s why we haven’t told you — is the Vice President well these days? Has there been any medical incident that would be of interest to the American public?

MR. SNOW: As you know, whenever there is a medical incident involving the Vice President — I’ve been an anchor when these things have happened — you are notified promptly and immediately; cameras are dispatched to the scene, where people stand and wait and wait and wait and wait, until they can see the Vice President getting back into a limo and returning to wherever he is.

So as you know, the President and Vice President, being the two chief elected officials in this country, if there are important health developments, you hear about it. And we think that that’s appropriate.

Q Tony, on this point, did the First Lady say she actually does not plan to come out in any way? You know, as someone who would advocate for people —

MR. SNOW: Let me repeat to you exactly what she said.She said, “”It’s no big deal, we knew it wasn’t a big deal at the time.”” Apparently, she’s wrong about this.

Q No, what I’m saying is, as far as encouraging people to be checked. What I’m saying is even though she may not be an elected official, she’s a very public official and very well loved. And as someone who has two adolescents who don’t like to listen to mother when she says, put on the sun screen, get out of the sun, she could potentially have a great influence on a lot of people’s lives, especially young women.

MR. SNOW: She’s also had colds, she’s had the flu, she’s had stomach aches —

Q When? (Laughter.)

Q But those tend not to be —

MR. SNOW: — she’s had a number —

Q Melanoma can kill, skin cancer can kill. It can be very serious.

MR. SNOW: This particular one could not.

Q But she could still — it could be a platform.

MR. SNOW: You guys are really stretching it. I mean, it is now officially a really slow news day.

Q Going back to Mrs. Bush, it seems that there are two things going on, in terms of not informing the public and the press. Which was it, was it that it was medical privacy that was the reason for not informing us, or was it that it was no big deal?

MR. SNOW: It was medical privacy, but also what we’re trying to do is to console you with the notion that, in addition, it was no big deal.

Q So there was a conscious decision that, okay, we’re not going to tell anybody because this is medical privacy, this is something for us, it’s not for —

MR. SNOW: Well, I don’t know, if you’ll be happy to share all your private medical information, maybe we can change it around. But I don’t think that’s appropriate, nor does the First Lady. She’s got the same privacy rights when it comes to her medical information that you and I do.

Q But was the decision made not to share it?

MR. SNOW: Yes, in the sense — let me put it this way: It never occurred to anybody that this would be a big deal. It never occurred — but suddenly everybody is —

Q First it was described as a sore, and now, a month-and-a-half later, it’s revealed that it’s cancer.So there was one story out there that’s been corrected.

MR. SNOW: Do you understand — if you’ve been — there are literally millions of Americans who have been through this, and you can ask them whether they thought this was a big deal or not. It was quickly diagnosed. They said, the sore is not going away, we’re going to take a look at it. They did.They did a biopsy, they found out it was a squamous cell cancer and they removed it. They did local anesthetic; they removed it.

Q But the White House might have had an interest in correcting the record when bad information was out there.

MR. SNOW: No, there wasn’t bad information. She had a sore. It wasn’t bad information — that’s what she knew at the time.


Q Is the administration’s policy when it comes to Medicare or Medicaid health care coverage, as well as health savings accounts (inaudible) — part of your policy is to encourage regular screening, health care screening, as well as the importance of early protection and treatment. And if you do that then it avoids becoming a big (inaudible). So I’m just trying to understand the message (inaudible).

MR. SNOW: The First Lady, at the first sign that she had not a nick on her shin but, instead, a squamous cell cancer had it dealt with immediately.

Q I know, but I don’t understand —

MR. SNOW: I’m not sure that — look, as somebody who has been through colon cancer, there’s screening for that. The people who have been through breast cancer, there’s screening for that. Perhaps I am ignorant, and I’m sure I am, of the situation when it comes to squamous cell cancer, but I’m not sure that there’s a regular screening process. However, it’s important that people take care of themselves. There is also an element of personal responsibility involved. I don’t think, and I think it’s a real stretch, Paula, to say that this is a mixed signal. What I’d ask you to do is consult your common sense.

Q I’m sorry, but there are — and I know, personally, of instances where there is a chance of recurrence of this type of cancer. So isn’t it important to stress skin cancer?

MR. SNOW: Okay, well, we consider it stressed. Absolutely, take care of yourselves. Get tested all the time — still do. In fact, I have my next test tomorrow — day after.

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