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Some People

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"Some people" are saying that Katie Couric went too far on 60 Minutes. I don't actually know who those people are, because I haven't done any reporting on it. Why bother? "Some people" must be saying it. "Some people" will say anything. And there's no real need to mention their names, because I can just say that "some people" are saying it and get away with it.

Last night on 60 Minutes, Katie Couric kept referring to "Some people." She said that "some" were saying the Edwardses were courageous, and "others" were saying they were callous and ambitious. She said that some people were wondering how someone could be president if he was "distracted" by his wife's health. (This question, in a year when there are two presidential candidates who are themselves cancer survivors, seemed particularly disingenuous.) (And never mind that it was being asked by someone who managed to keep working while dealing with her own husband's terminal illness.)

I kept waiting for John or Elizabeth Edwards to ask her who "some people" were exactly, but they didn't. They cheerfully answered her questions. Elizabeth Edwards said, "We're all going to die." And: "I pretty much know what I'm going to die of now." She said that on hearing that her cancer had recurred, she realized she had a choice -- to go on living her life, or begin dying. She said she had chosen to go on living her life. Katie Couric looked at her as if someone had set off a stinkbomb in the room and then asked another "some people" question, this one about whether the Edwardses were "in denial."

I don't know what some people think, but I myself think it's weird to question the Edwardses as if there's some right way to deal with cancer. There's no real way to know how one is going to deal with such things until they happen, and even then, there's no way to apply the way one person chooses to deal with mortal illness to another. And I disagree with Elizabeth Edwards when she says that there are only two choices -- to go on living, or begin dying. What I believe instead is that at a certain point in life, whether or not you've been diagnosed with illness, you enter into a conscious, ongoing, unending, eternal, puzzling, confusing negotiation between the two. Some days one of them wins, and some days the other. This negotiation often includes decisions as trivial as whether to eat a second piece of pie, and as important as whether to have medical treatment that may or may not prolong your life.

I also believe that nothing anyone says in such circumstances means anything except at that very moment -- and even then, perhaps not. These decisions are private in the most serious sense of the word, which is not to say that they are nobody's business -- if you run for president everything you do is somebody's business -- but that they reside in an area where things change, where people are not bound to whatever course of action they committed to the day before yesterday. It's a zone of privacy that's like no other and is therefore (or should be) virtually immune to judgment.

Last night on 60 Minutes, Katie Couric quoted John Edwards' remark earlier in the week -- that he was in the race "for the duration," and asked him, "How can you say that, Senator Edwards, with such certainty? If, God forbid, Elizabeth doesn't respond to whatever treatment is recommended, if her health deteriorates, would you really say that?" Thank you, Katie. Thank you for asking that question. The world could not have survived had you not asked it. Of course, "Some people" were undoubtedly thinking it. And it would have been a tragedy not to have given voice to that thought, wouldn't it? Or would it?

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