White House: Obama 'Never in Any Danger' from Swine Flu
By Michael D. Shear
In the midst of dealing with a potential emerging swine flu pandemic, the White House struggled repeatedly Monday to convince the world -- and more importantly, the press corps -- that the president was healthy.
Speculation had exploded online and off after foreign newspapers reported that the president's tour guide at a Mexico City museum on April 16 had died from flu-like symptoms the next day. (He did not die of the swine flu, it later turned out, or on April 17.)
In his daily briefing to reporters, press secretary Robert Gibbs became exasperated after saying over and over again that Obama was not infected, not even sick.
"I just, again -- boy, I'm glad I'm not a public health spokesman," Gibbs said. "Let me just do this one more time. The doctors have informed me, based on my personal curiosity, knowing of yours, that the president's health was never in any danger; that he has not exhibited any symptoms; neither has anybody traveling with him; neither has any of the press that traveled with him, that I'm aware of, exhibited any symptoms that would cause some reason for concern."
That came after saying moments before that "I'm going to try not to take it personally that giving an answer on the seventh time has yet to break through. So let me try an eighth."
Hours later, the White House felt compelled to distribute a statement from the Mexican Embassy backing up its story.
"Mr. Felipe Solís, Director of Mexico's National Anthropology Museum died on April 23rd, a week after he welcomed Presidents Obama and Calderón at the Museum. He died of complications of a preexisting condition and not of swine flu," it said.
And later came an official White House fact sheet stating it again, in Q & A form: "Was Felipe Solis the President's tour guide in Mexico city, and did he die of swine flu?
"No. The Mexican embassy has issued a statement clarifying that Mr. Solis's death was not caused by swine flu."
At the briefing, Gibbs also continued to deflect another, related question, from reporters: whether the U.S. government believed its Mexican counterparts had been forthcoming about the emergence of the flu before Obama arrived on his visit.
In the fact sheet, the White House played down any concerns.
"We have no reason to believe they withheld any information they had at the time. White House Medical Unit staff on the ground asked Mexican health officials and U.S. embassy medical staff about any concerns regarding infectious disease, and were informed that there were none," it said.
Posted at 7:30 PM ET on Apr 27, 2009
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