NY Times Dismisses Letters to the Editor Challenging Theory of Reagan Senility In Office

MRC NewsBusters

By Tim Graham | April 7, 2015 | 10:34 AM EDT

A favorite historical claim of Ronald Reagan-bashers is that he showed signs of senility in office. The New York Times is still fiddling around on this with the latest “scientific” proof in a March 31 article headlined “Parsing Ronald Reagan’s Words for Early Signs of Alzheimer’s.” The author, Dr. Lawrence K. Altman, was a Times medical correspondent for 40 years.

The new “scientific method” for exploring Reagan’s senility in office? Reading Reagan press-conference transcripts and assessing whether his use of words is repetitive. They then compared them to George H. W. Bush transcripts:

The researchers found no changes in the speaking patterns of Mr. Bush, who is not known to have developed Alzheimer’s. But in Mr. Reagan’s speech, two measures — use of repetitive words, and substituting nonspecific terms like “thing” for specific nouns — increased toward the end of Mr. Reagan’s presidency, compared with its start. A third measure, his use of unique words, declined.

Reagan-1988Craig Shirley, a longtime friend of the MRC, has written two historical books on Reagan and is finishing a third, titled Last Act: The Final Years and Enduring Legacy of Ronald Reagan. He wrote a letter to the editor strongly protesting this article and was refused. In fact, the Times stiffly wrote in return that not only would he not be published, but “We received a couple of personal accounts (a caregiver’s story) but did not choose to publish them.”

This is the letter Shirley sent in:

Dear Editor,

In reference to the article entitled, “Parsing Ronald Reagan’s Words for Early Signs of Alzheimer’s”  by Dr. Lawrence K. Altman (3-31-15) I have just finished an exhaustive three year examination of the post presidency of Ronald Reagan for a forthcoming book and found overwhelming evidence to the contrary. This article by Dr. Altman weakly charges that Reagan may have suffered from the early stages of Alzheimer’s while still president, but offering virtually no evidence.

Each year, Reagan went to the Mayo Clinic for a battery of tests, both physical and psychological and each year, he passed with flying colors. He also underwent regular physicals and these too, he passed with ease. Stories abound about his total recall of important and no so important facts.  Columnist Bob Novak wrote of how in interviewing Reagan for a story, he began quoting an obscure European economist. Novak thought he was being snowballed until he went back to his office and discovered Reagan was both right and accurate.

In the opening to this newest piece, Dr. Altman writes “His adversaries often suggested his penchant for contradictory statements, forgetting names and seeming absent-minded could be linked to dementia.” That was mild compared to what Reagan’s adversaries—including the institution of the New York Times—often said about Reagan. His adversaries also said he was a war monger and cold and manipulative and a thousand other things. Adversaries often make up things about the people they are attacking. That’s why they are adversaries.

Thousands of people saw Reagan during his presidency up close and personal and to date, not one person has stepped forward to even suggest that Reagan was anything but sharp and insightful from the day he entered the office to the day he left. It was only after being bucked by a horse and hitting his head hard on a rock that he began to show signs of Alzheimer’s—years after leaving the presidency. Nancy Reagan always felt there was a causal relationship and Neurology magazine recently published an article suggesting a stronger relationship between head trauma and Alzheimer’s than previously believed.

Meanwhile, this newest article by Dr. Altman uses words and phrases such as “might be” and “insufficient” when referencing the very shaky science used in this so called study. Even in this newest article, Altman can’t seem to make up his mind. In one paragraph he writes the signs of Alzheimer’s “were apparent” but in the next paragraph, he reverses course and says the results “do not prove that Mr. Reagan exhibited dementia.”

In 2004, Dr. Lawrence K. Altman—the very same— wrote in the New York Times that Reagan did not suffer from dementia in his presidency saying “his recall was sharp” and admitted that Reagan’s mental acuity was never an issue after observing him for hours and them interviewing staff and colleagues. It seems Dr. Altman has trouble making up his own mind, even as Ronald Reagan’s fellow countrymen have made up their minds about him.