Laura Bush Skin Cancer Flap

The White House’s decision not to disclose until now that First Lady Laura Bush had skin cancer removed from her leg last month is causing a mini controversy among the press corps.

The White House on Tuesday defended Laura Bush’s decision not to disclose she had a skin cancer tumor removed from her right shin in early November. Unlike her husband, the first lady is not an elected official, presidential spokesman Tony Snow said. “Perhaps if there’s something more major, this would be discussed,” he said.

The cancer was a squamous cell carcinoma, the second most common form of skin cancer, said Susan Whitson, her press secretary. She said the troublesome patch was about the size of a nickel.

Mrs. Bush decided the cancer was a private matter and did not reveal it publicly. On Monday night, the White House acknowledged the first lady had the tumor removed after Mrs. Bush was noticed with a bandage below her right knee.


“I think you guys are trying to whip this up into something much larger than it is,” Snow told reporters who questioned why the procedure had not been revealed earlier. He said that while President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney make medical disclosures, “Other members of the family, not being elected, do not do so, and have not done so in prior administrations, and are not likely to do so.”

Monday’s revelation was the second case this year of a belated White House announcement. In February, the White House waited almost a day before disclosing that Vice President Dick Cheney had shot a fellow hunter during a quail-hunting trip.

I agree wholeheartedly that Mrs. Bush has the right to try keep such things private if she wishes. Yes, she’s a public figure but she has no policy role. Nor is this something that has any bearing on the commonweal.

The Cheney matter was a harder call, since it gave rise to questions about a cover-up. Still, the disclosure was reasonably prompt and it made sense to wait until information about his friend’s prognosis was known before thrusting him and his family into a firestorm at a time when they least needed it.

Bill Jempty, a 13-year skin cancer survivor, has substantial background on the condition.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Triumph says:

    Lets just hope that Laura comes out of it OK.

  2. anjin-san says:

    Mrs. Bush is entitled to her privacy. Let’s wish her a swift and complete recovery.

  3. just me says:

    I don’t think being a public figure, and an unelected one at that means you have to disclose your health status.

    Outside of serious health issues, I don’t really think politicians should be expected to do so either.

  4. McGehee says:

    Mrs. Bush is entitled to her privacy. Let’s wish her a swift and complete recovery.

    I agree. That’s ours for 2006, Anjin. 😉

  5. Anon says:

    I think our press corps is seriously out-of-whack. I dislike Bush, and have as many problems with the administration as anyone, but the First Lady’s health is none of our business. And I also think the hunting incident was blown out of proportion. And the “macaca” incident, and…

    This country needs to have a very serious discussion about what to do about Iraq and Islamic terrorism in general, but instead the press is focusing on this manufactured controversy?!

  6. Dr. Lycka says:

    Laura Bush’s cancer is a “big deal”. Here was a perfect opportunity to highlight the importance of early diagnosis and prevention. Instead, her “no big deal” comment continues to reinforce sunworshippers and tanning salon frequenters aren’t doing any harm. Do yourself a huge favor – get to know what to look for. Skin cancer is largely preventable and curable – if caught early
    Dr. Barry Lycka
    Canadian Skin Cancer Foundation