Last October, Bernie Sanders had a heart attack. He promised reporters he would release his complete medical records. A few weeks after the event, the records had not been produced, but Sanders attributed the delay to his attempts to compile complete informations. “I want to make it comprehensive,” Sanders said. “The answer is I will, probably by the end of the year.” The “probably” was a slight hedge, but according to the Associated Press, “Campaign manager Faiz Shakir later said more definitively that Sanders does plan to release the records by the end of December.”
Flash-forward to the end of the year. On December 20, Sanders released letters from his cardiologists calling him fit, but he did not release the promised complete records. His campaign deflected questions about the earlier promise of full disclosure: “Asked if the Sanders campaign would make his doctors available for interviews or release more detailed records,” the Washington Post noted at the time, “campaign spokesman Mike Casca replied, ‘The letters are clear.’”
In early February, Sanders retracted the promise altogether. “You can start releasing medical records, it never ends,” he said. One of his campaign spokespersons compared the demand for the records Sanders had promised to produce to Birtherism. She also falsely asserted that Michael Bloomberg had suffered a heart attack, before retracting the claim.
Four days ago, NBC News had a clarifying report. Richard Kovacs, president of the American College of Cardiology, explained that there is a straightforward measure of Sanders’s heart that his campaign could release, but has not:
The indicator, called the left ventricular ejection fraction, is provided to any patient after a heart attack, Kovacs said. It’s a measure of how much blood volume the heart pushes out with an individual heartbeat, and it correlates with the risk for future cardiac events and mortality rate.
“Normally the heart will push out 60 percent,” Kovacs said. “If you go down to 40 or 50 percent, we regard that as mild impairment of the left ventricle. Thirty to 40 percent would be moderate. If you get to 30 percent, that would be severe.”
Yesterday, Bloomberg disclosed this number. Sanders still has not.
Two important conclusions can be drawn from these events. First, Sanders is probably hiding something about his heart. You don’t simply promise to divulge information, and then retract the promise and absorb the hit from negative coverage unless the damage you’d suffer from the information itself is worse.
Second, his campaign appears to have made the Trumpian calculation that it can simply stiff-arm straightforward media requests for disclosure. It doesn’t matter if the demand is perfectly reasonable. It doesn’t even matter if it’s so reasonable that the candidate himself used to agree that he would submit to it. The more pressing question is whether Sanders’s refusal to disclose his medical records will be a template for his handling of the media in general.