Personal privacy for public officials not possible

Published 12:41 pm Friday, January 26, 2024

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Fear of the loss of privacy, more than anything else, keeps good people out of public office. Just ask Lloyd Austin.

The U.S. Secretary of Defense got both himself and his boss in hot water because he didn’t tell anyone, including his boss, that he was going into the hospital. Big mistake, even though it was for an undisclosed medical treatment related to his prostate.

That right there would be enough to keep me from saying yes if the president called to ask me to take over the biggest military job in the world.

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I’m sure Austin never imagined any of this would happen to him.

I have empathy because I, too, am a very private person. When a college friend’s detailed description of her husband’s medical maladies began showing up in her Facebook posts, I cringed. In posting after posting, she described everything that was going wrong with his body. First, this failed. Then that stopped working. Regular reports on radiation therapy and his body’s reaction to that, various falls, brain bleeds, bowel issues and EMT calls. On and on she went.

Whatever happened to TMI (too much information)?

An aide to Secretary Austin, reporters later learned, called in the emergency and requested that the EMTs not activate lights and sirens in his neighborhood.

Now that’s me. Don’t call any attention to my medical emergency, please, should I ever have one. Keep those flashing red lights off. Ease into my barnyard like you were trying to steal my horse. If I’m screaming in pain with a broken limb, put some duct tape on my mouth and tell me to suck it up. Just don’t turn on those flashing red lights or that wailing siren.

I imagine Austin felt the same way. He didn’t want news of his ailment, much less the details of work being done on his private area, all over the internet alongside postings by somebody trying to sell their junk.

A few officeholders relish news stories about their private lives because they ascribe to the theory that there is no such thing as bad publicity, but most don’t.

Although they would prefer that news reporters not exist, they do and their job is to tell us what public officials are saying and doing. Everyone should be grateful for that.

Privacy is the great sacrifice public officials make, and make it they must. Enough gets hidden in politics as it is.

Larry McDermott is a local retired farmer/journalist. Reach him at