A NEWSLETTER FROM DAVID CORN
Herschel Walker Should Release His Medical Records
By David Corn November 17, 2022
GOP Senate nominee Herschel Walker speaks at a campaign rally on November 10, 2022, in Canton, Georgia. John Bazemore/AP
He’s a serial liar, a moral hypocrite, and an ignorant political novice. Yet Herschel Walker, the onetime gridiron star, still has a shot at becoming a US senator. Collecting 48.5 percent of the vote in his contest in Georgia against Democratic incumbent Raphael Warnock and placing second, Walker landed in a run-off that will occur on December 6. This final campaign of the 2022 midterms will not determine partisan control of the Senate; the Democrats took the reins, bagging 50 seats, and can count on Vice President Kamala Harris to be the tie-breaker. But this race remains important because an outright majority would afford the Democrats more power and provide a buffer in case anything happens to a member of its caucus. (Even US Senators get ill and die.) And a win for the Democrats will help them with the arduous task of holding the Senate in 2024, when they will have to defend 23 of the 33 seats up for grabs. Moreover, if the Democrats have 51 seats in the upper chamber, they would be less vulnerable to Manchinization or Sinema-osis. Every Senate vote matters.
Consequently, money and attention are flowing to Georgia for this three-week-long campaign. And this overtime face-off provides an opportunity to address an important matter that was previously only a peripheral issue in the contest: Walker should release his medical records.
It is common for presidential nominees to disclose public information about their health in some manner. There is no rule or law that compels this. But it has become a tradition—which, of course, Donald Trump, with an assist from Dr. Mehmet Oz, made a mockery of in 2016. (Remember the ludicrous letter claiming Trump “would be the healthiest individual ever elected to the presidency” written by Dr. Harold Bornstein, a gastroenterologist?) When John McCain, a survivor of cancer and torture, sought the presidency in 2008, he shared his medical records with a select group of reporters. During the 2020 campaign, Joe Biden released a summary of his medical history, including the results of a recent physical exam.
Yet candidates for lower federal office have not disclosed such information. That makes sense. A member of Congress is one of many; a president holds a singular position with the responsibility of defending the nation and the power to annihilate the world. The public’s need to have a healthy and mentally fit president outweighs any privacy concerns of one person. (Mental health experts did raise questions about Trump’s psychological fitness. He claimed he was a “very stable genius.”)
Though congressional candidates are free of this informal obligation, their health can become an issue. During the Pennsylvania Senate race this year, Oz, a Republican, called on Democrat John Fetterman to release his full medical records after Fetterman suffered a stroke. Fetterman declined. This controversy was reminiscent of when Sen. Mark Kirk, an Illinois Republican, was struck by a more severe stroke in 2012. Kirk returned to Senate, somewhat impaired, and did not make public his medical records when he ran (unsuccessfully) for reelection in 2016. Fetterman, however, convinced voters his moderate stroke was not a significant problem and smoked Oz by 4.5 points.
Walker’s case is different. He has acknowledged his personal history of violent and dangerous behavior. He played Russian roulette with a loaded gun and fantasized about shooting a delivery man who was late. “It would be no different from sighting at the targets I’d fired at for years—except for the visceral enjoyment I’d get from seeing the small entry wound and the spray of brain tissue and blood—like a Fourth of July firework—exploding behind him,” Walker wrote in his 2008 book, Breaking Free: My Life With Dissociative Identity Disorder. That’s disturbing. And his ex-wife reports that he once held a gun to her head—an episode Walker says he doesn’t remember. Walker claims these actions were all the result of DID, the mental disease he wrote about, which creates independently functioning identities within a single person.
Once known as Multiple Identity Disorder—and popularized in popular culture by such movies as Sybil and The Three Faces of Eve—the very existence of this disorder is controversial, with many health experts questioning whether it is a legitimate diagnosis. Walker, though, has cited it as an explanation (or excuse) for previous alarming behavior. That wasn’t me; my alters did it. But he asserts there’s now no reason to worry; he has been cured of DID.
These statements have escaped much scrutiny during Walker’s Senate run. As my colleague Abby Vesoulis noted in a superb piece on Walker and DID,
Despite the fact that Walker’s Senate race is one of the closest and most consequential in the nation, his DID diagnosis seldom gets more than a brief mention in media reports. Experts have largely avoided commenting publicly on Walker’s mental health, or on whether it would impact his ability to carry out the high-stress, high-profile job of serving as a United States senator. In interviews with Mother Jones, several psychiatric professionals were hesitant to comment on Walker’s condition. Some were even reluctant to discuss DID more generally.
Whether Walker had DID and whether it was responsible for his violent past, his claim of being cured warrants examination. He has proclaimed that he is “better now than 99 percent of the people in America,” and has compared his DID experience to a broken bone: “Just like I broke my leg; I put the cast on. It healed.”
Not so fast. As Vesoulis reported, Dr. David Spiegel, the associate chair of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Stanford, who is not one of the DID skeptics, told her that DID generally doesn’t just disappear without serious, long-term treatment. “There are no quick fixes,” he said. “It doesn’t just evaporate.” Yet Walker has shared few details about his treatment. In his book, he credited Jerry Mungadze, who has a Ph.D. in counselor education (not a medical degree) from the University of North Texas, for his recovery. But, as Vesoulis wrote,
Mungadze’s approach is unlike that of many mental health professionals. In 2000, he provided practitioners at a presentation with a checklist of questions they should ask patients. According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, one question read: “Have they willingly, under any circumstances, vowed to follow Satan?” He also supports the use of exorcism as a therapy option, though he acknowledges it shouldn’t be the “initial step” in DID treatment. “Exorcism has a role in the treatment of some DID clients, whose clinical picture shows the need for it,” Mungadze wrote in the book, Critical Issues in the Dissociative Disorders Field: Six Perspectives from Religiously Sensitive Practitioners.
Regarding Walker’s treatment, the Journal-Constitution noted,
[E]xperts say that DID is complicated, often requiring years of therapy. Sometimes even after patients have learned to manage the condition they must still seek out help at various points in their lives. Walker’s campaign refused to answer questions about his current treatment or whether he still has symptoms.
There is no way for a voter to tell if Walker’s extreme conduct was truly caused by DID, nor if he has actually been cured. How extensive was his treatment? Aside from Mungadaze, did any credentialed mental health expert diagnose and treat Walker for DID? Does he still experience symptoms? If elected senator, might one of his supposed alters take control of him during a Senate vote or at some other important moment? Discussing someone’s mental condition can be a sensitive matter, and the stigma surrounding mental illness has been a longstanding problem. But Walker has raised this issue, which begs the question: Could he be using a purported but baseless DID diagnosis as a convenient excuse for conduct that should disqualify him from high office?
There is one simple way for Walker to answer such questions. He could release his health records. If he doesn’t want to do a full-scale dump of private material, he could follow the McCain example and make his records available to reporters. Otherwise, how can voters be assured that he’s not hiding behind a controversial medical diagnosis, and that he has been successfully treated for his violent or erratic behavior so that it would not reocur should he become a senator?
I don’t expect Walker to adopt this honorable approach. His has been a scoundrel’s campaign. He has repeatedly lied. He has questioned the Christian faith of Warnock, a pastor at Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church (where Martin Luther King Jr. served as pastor). He seems to respect no boundaries of decency. After it was recently reported that Warnock used $61,000 in campaign funds to cover childcare expenses—which is allowed under campaign finance law—Walker slammed him, asking, “Why don't he keep his own kids? Don't have nobody keep your kids. ... I keep my own.” This remark from Walker, an anti-abortion Christian fundamentalist who has fathered several children out of wedlock and who has been credibly accused of pressing his impregnated girlfriends to obtain abortions and accused by his own son of abandoning his family, set some kind of world record for hypocrisy.
In the Georgia Senate race, Democrats have tiptoed around this issue of Walker’s mental health. But it is a matter of public interest. Neither of two critical questions—was this a sound diagnosis and has he been effectively treated?—has been resolved. Should Georgia voters elect a man who allegedly threatened to kill his wife and who has admitted there were times in his life when he was under the control of various personalities and engaged in dangerous behavior? What is the basis for believing that he is now free of DID and that he won’t be plagued by his alters and driven toward violence during a stint in the Senate?
Dr. Allen Frances, chairman emeritus of the Duke University School of Medicine’s Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences and a DID doubter who tried to strike it from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, believes these questions are crucial for assessing Walker’s fitness for office. He told Vesoulis, “If Herschel Walker does indeed suffer from multiple personality disorder, that should by itself disqualify him from any high office. If Herschel Walker just used multiple personality disorder as an excuse for his horrendous behavior, that should disqualify him for any high office.”
Given Walker’s uneasy relationship with the truth, his assertions about DID—he had it; it’s gone—cannot be accepted without evidence. Before this crucial election, he owes it to the voters to provide proof.
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Giving Thanks Early…and a Scheduling Note
There’s always a lot to give thanks for, such as loved ones, friends, apple pie, Patti Smith, and streaming. Also, the denial of victory to election deniers in statewide races. (We’re not as fortunate on the congressional-district level.) And I remain thankful for Twitter. Despite the destructive and often nonsensical moves of Mad King Elon Musk, the social media site remains a place where I interact with smart people, find tips for stories, meet and make friends, disseminate my work far beyond its normal distribution, and watch videos of monkeys juggling frogs. What could be better? I’m hoping the site survives being Elongated.
Of course, I am grateful for Our Land subscribers. Thank you for being part of this ride—especially those premium subscribers who finance this endeavor. (To the rest of you: Please consider upgrading.) And I owe thanks to the folks who help produce this newsletter: Melissa Law, Rob Pjetri, Dylan DiSalvio, Daniel King, Robert Wise, Emily White, Amber Hewins, Dan Schulman, and Marianne Szegedy-Maszak. You’re all invited over to my house for oyster stuffing! Uh, just kidding. But you all get next week off. Our Land is taking a breather. After the past few months, don’t all of us deserve one? I’ll see you all after we recover from our turkey or tofurky.
The Watch, Read, and Listen List
The Last Movie Stars. I met Paul Newman a few times. He was charming, self-effacing, and intelligent. On one memorable (for me) occasion, back when Newman was an investor in the Nation magazine, he sat in on an editorial meeting for the magazine and listened intently, absorbing and assessing without intimidating. And, oh, those eyes. It was easy to regard him in accordance with the widely accepted superficial synopsis: He was the kind-hearted, decent, civic-minded, philanthropic superstar actor who had maintained a storybook, decades-long marriage to fellow thespian Joanne Woodward. He was an artist who had escaped the corruptions and turmoil of celebrity. He was normal.
Well, it turns out, that wasn’t entirely true. Newman may have been an even better actor than we knew. The Last Movie Stars, a six-part documentary created by actor Ethan Hawke, presents a fascinating account of the conflict-ridden Newman-Woodward relationship. These were two artists who were each full of desires and wrestling with their own demons. But their love of—and lust for—each other held their marriage together through years of profound challenges. He drank too much and feared his success was based more on luck (those baby blues!) than talent. Arguably the better actor, she resented his top-billing and bridled at having to raise the kids. He cheated. She threatened to bolt when his drinking became excessive. Yet this is a long, grown-up, love story in which affection, attraction, and a deep-abiding respect for and appreciation of the other overcame obstacles that would easily destroy the relationships of mere mortals.
In the mid-1980s, Newman got the notion to write his memoir, and he asked his friend Stewart Stern, a screenwriter (Rebel Without a Cause), to record audio interviews with himself and Woodward, as well as with friends, colleagues, and relatives, to produce research for the project. The interviewees included Robert Redford, Gore Vidal, George Roy Hill, Sidney Lumet, Elia Kazan, and other Hollywood luminaries, and they often were rather frank, even painfully so.
But Newman had a change of heart. In 1998, he burned the tapes. All that history lost. But…not really. Years later, transcripts of the interviews conducted by Stern were found. The Newman family handed this booty to Hawke, who lined up his actor buddies—Zoe Kazan, Sam Rockwell, Billy Crudup, Oscar Isaac, Mark Ruffalo, Karen Allen, Steve Zahn, and others—to read the transcripts for this documentary. He cast George Clooney as Newman, and Laura Linney as Woodward. Merging this narration with video interviews of the Newman-Woodward children, archival footage of Newman and Woodward, Zoom conversations with the actors playing the interviewees, and gads of marvelous clips from the films the couple made together and separately, Hawke fashioned an epic tale of one marriage, two artists, and Hollywood. (The edited transcripts also become the basis for a new book, Paul Newman: The Extraordinary Life of an Ordinary Man.)
This documentary is a massive achievement. The real-life story of these two people is as gripping as any of their silver-screen performances. There is heartbreak (Scott Newman, the son from Newman’s first marriage, died of an overdose). There is rivalry. There is suspense (will they or won’t they make it?). And there is plenty of character arc. (Newman goes from so-so actor to accomplished movie star to political activist to race car driver to successful businessman and world-class philanthropist.) For much of his life, Newman, it seems, was at war with himself, and Woodward never was satisfied with the acclaim she won. Hawke explores what drives an artist (in this case, two) and explores the essence of relationships—between wife and husband, and parents and children. If you have ever pondered the nature of love, the demands of marriage, the craft of acting, the role of creativity in human existence, and/or the meaning of celebrity, this series, available on HBO Max, will give you plenty of delicious food for thought. (Newman’s own!) Years after his death in 2008 and her retreat from public life following a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease in 2007, this pair of complicated and wonderful actors and activists, with the help of Hawke, have given us a gift.
“Did the Pilgrims have dogs?”
“Well, Moxie, the history is sketchy and apparently there were two dogs on the Mayflower, a mastiff and a spaniel.”
“What were their names?”
“We don’t know.”
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Got suggestions, comments, complaints, tips related to any of the above, or anything else? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.