Presidents Don’t Get Privacy. My Father Understood That — Even When He Was ShotBreaking News
tags: Ronald Reagan
When you’re president, privacy is not an option — including, and maybe especially, privacy about your health. That’s a lesson my father’s administration understood, and that President Trump and his advisers still need to learn.
On March 30, 1981, when I was pulled out of an appointment by my Secret Service agents, and told that my father had been shot, I ended up relying on news coverage to inform me of what was happening. I tried to reach my mother through the Secret Service but was told she was at George Washington University Hospital and couldn’t come to the phone.
So for hours, while I waited for the Secret Service to arrange transport back to Washington from Los Angeles (they wouldn’t allow me to take a commercial flight), I was glued to the television. I listened as a daughter, but also as an American.
The country was in a state of shock, I was terrified that my father would die, the media was scrambling to put out accurate information. At one point, it was reported that White House press secretary James S. Brady was dead. Within minutes, that was corrected.
Lyn Nofziger, assistant to the president, briefed the media twice, giving them as much information as he had. My father was in surgery, he had been shot in the chest. Brady had been shot in the head. Two other men had been seriously wounded. The chaos of that day cannot be overstated. Within a matter of seconds, John Hinckley’s bullets shattered lives and ripped through the country. The White House was in shock, but it didn’t have the luxury of time.
The chaos of that day differentiates it from the current situation, when the president has contracted a virus the world has been battling for months. On that gray March day, people were panicked. My mother told me later that the hospital was a madhouse. The mistakes that were made must be looked at through that lens. But what is important is that White House officials acknowledged and honored the fact that the American people deserved to be informed about what was happening to their president.
The Reagan White House learned from its missteps. In 1985, when my father had colon cancer surgery, aides so thoroughly informed the country, even having a cancer specialist step forward, that a friend of mine said, “I’m so tired of hearing about your father’s intestines.”
Now the country is confronted with a president suffering from a potentially deadly virus. Instead of accurate and complete information, Americans are receiving only sketchy details and evasive answers. “It’s a common medical practice that you want to convey confidence,” White House communications director Alyssa Farah told Fox News on Sunday. This fundamentally misunderstands the challenge and the role of medical briefings: It is not to reassure either the patient or the American people, it is to provide them with clear and reliable information.
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