Whopper of the Week: JFK's doctor.

Gossip, speculation, and scuttlebutt about politics.
Nov. 22 2002 5:24 PM

Whopper of the Week: Dr. Janet Travell

JFK's doctor fibbed about his health during the 1960 campaign.

"John F. Kennedy has not, nor has he ever, had ... Addison's disease."

statement released by JFK's personal physician, Dr. Janet Travell, and others connected to Kennedy's 1960 presidential campaign after aides to Lyndon Johnson, Kennedy's rival for the nomination, told the press that Kennedy suffered from Addison's disease.

"It is now well established that Kennedy was treated with [deoxycorticosterone acetate, i.e.,] DOCA after his Addison's disease was diagnosed, in 1947. …

"According to the Travell records, the treatments for [Kennedy's] various ailments included ingested and implanted DOCA for the Addison's, and large doses of penicillin and other antibiotics to combat the prostatitis and the abscess. He also received injections of procaine at "trigger points" to relieve back pain; anti-spasmodics—principally Lomotil and trasentine—to control the colitis; testosterone to keep up his weight (which fell with each bout of colitis and diarrhea); and Nembutal to help him sleep. He had terribly elevated cholesterol, 410 in one testing, apparently aggravated by the testosterone, which may have added to his stomach and prostate troubles."

Robert Dallek,"The Medical Ordeals of JFK," in the Dec. 2002 Atlantic. The article reveals new details about JFK's poor medical health documented in newly released X-rays and prescription records from Dr. Travell's files.

Discussion. Some might argue that Dr. Travell was merely upholding the confidentiality of the doctor-patient relationship. But surely the best way to maintain that confidentiality is to keep your mouth shut. Kennedy himself lied repeatedly about having Addison's disease, of course, and almost certainly was the person who pressured Travell to lie on his behalf. Shouldn't the buck stop with JFK? Well, yes. But Chatterbox couldn't bring himself to call JFK a liar on the very day that marks the 39th anniversary of his assassination in Dallas.

Got a whopper? Send it to chatterbox@slate.com. To be considered, an entry must be an unambiguously false statement paired with an unambiguous refutation, and both must be derived from some appropriately reliable public source. Preference will be given to newspapers and other documents that Chatterbox can link to online.

Whopper Archive:
Nov. 16, 2002: Fox News
Nov. 15, 2002: Manhattan's 92nd Street Y
Nov. 8, 2002: William Webster
Nov. 1, 2002: Harvey Pitt
Oct. 25, 2002: George W. Bush
Oct. 18, 2002: North Korea
Oct. 11, 2002: Michael Bloomberg
Sept. 27, 2002: Rep. Tom Tancredo
Sept. 13, 2002: Al-Muhajiroun
Sept. 6, 2002: National Republican Congressional Committee
Aug. 29, 2002: Eddie Joe Lloyd
Aug. 22, 2002: Larry Klayman
Aug. 2, 2002: Al Gore
July 26, 2002: Princeton admissions dean Stephen LeMenager
July 19, 2002: James Traficant
July 12, 2002: Maryland Lt. Gov. candidate Michael S. Steele
July 5, 2002: Hesham Mohamed Hadayet
June 28, 2002: WorldCom
June 21, 2002: Terry Lynn Barton
June 14, 2002: Tom Ridge
June 7, 2002: Former FBI Deputy Director Weldon Kennedy
May 31, 2002: Ari Fleischer
May 23, 2002: Condoleezza Rice
May 17, 2002: Robert Mueller
May 9, 2002: Karl Rove
May 3, 2002: Gen. Richard Myers
April 25, 2002: Donald Rumsfeld
April 18, 2002: George W. Bush  
April 11, 2002: The Rev. Robert J. Banks, archdiocese of Boston
April 5, 2002: George W. Bush  
March 29, 2002: Major League Baseball
March 21, 2002: Billy Graham
March 14, 2002: INS commissioner James W. Ziglar
March 8, 2002: Robert Zoellick and the U.S. steel industry
Feb. 28, 2002: Al Sharpton
Feb. 22, 2002: Olympic skating judge Marie-Reine Le Gougne
Feb. 14, 2002: Kenneth Lay
Feb. 8, 2002: Enron spokeswoman Peggy Mahoney
Jan. 31, 2002: Monsanto
Jan. 24, 2002: Linda Chavez
Jan. 17, 2002: George W. Bush
Jan. 10, 2002: Simon & Schuster
Jan. 4, 2002: The Associated Press

(Click  here  to access the Whopper Archive for 2001.)

Timothy Noah is a former Slate staffer. His  book about income inequality is The Great Divergence.