The New York Times has kept itself busy since it endorsed John McCain in the run-up to the February 5th Super Tuesday primaries. Over the last four weeks, they have painted McCain as a skirt-chasing, lobbyist-influenced hothead, all based on absolutely no evidence at all. Now we can add cancerous to that list of unsupported adjectives after yesterday’s analysis by a physician who has never treated McCain. Dr. Lawrence K. Altman provides a scary, er, scarry lead to a non-story:

Along with his signature bright white hair, the most striking aspects of Senator John McCain’s physical appearance are his puffy left cheek and the scar that runs down the back of his neck.

The marks are cosmetic reminders of the melanoma surgery he underwent in August 2000. Mr. McCain, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, sometimes tells audiences that he has “more scars than Frankenstein.”

The operation was performed mainly to determine whether the melanoma, a potentially fatal form of skin cancer, had spread from his left temple to a key lymph node in his neck; a preliminary pathology test at the time showed that it had not.

But because such a test cannot be definitive, the surgeons, with Mr. McCain’s advance permission, removed the surrounding lymph nodes and part of the parotid gland, which produces saliva, in the same operation, which lasted five and a half hours.

The final pathology analysis showed no evidence of spread of the melanoma, his staff said at the time. Mr. McCain, of Arizona, has said he did not need chemotherapy or radiation.

Altman then launches into an indirect criticism of McCain for not releasing his medical records yet in this campaign. He released those records early in his previous campaign, but as Altman notes, that was because they were part of a public study on the health of former POWs. Altman fails to mention that no other candidate in this race has released medical records. Heck, Hillary won’t even release her tax records yet, and her husband — who better fits the bill of a skirt-chasing, lobbyist-influenced hothead — never did release his medical records during his administration.

Ah, but McCain has cancer. Or, rather, he had cancer, and they got it all. And as even Altman points out, that usually means a good prognosis:

For patients with a melanoma like Mr. McCain’s who remained free of the disease for the first five years after diagnosis, the probability of recurrence during the next five years was 14 percent and death 9 percent, a study published in 1992 found.

No spread has been detected in the three or four dermatologic checkups Mr. McCain has undergone each year since 2000, stress tests show no evidence of heart disease, and “his doctors consider him in very good health,” his campaign staff said in a recent statement.

So, in fact, McCain has talked about the treatment, follow-up, and results of his post-surgical period. He has had a check every three to four months since the surgeries, and no more surgery has been done. Otherwise, that certainly would have made the news, as facial surgery is very hard to hide, and McCain keeps a higher media profile than most of his Senate colleagues.

Or does Altman and the New York Times argue that McCain would have just let melanomas grow so that he could fool people into thinking he was healthy in case he wanted to run for President in 2008? That’s the logic of the argument here. Either McCain hasn’t had any more surgeries because he hasn’t had to have them — in other words, he’s healthy — or he’s deliberately letting cancer ravage his body just to fool people into thinking he’s healthy.

Does any of the editors at the Times actually read their material before publishing it?

Readers start the article with talk of the scars on McCain’s face. They finish it by realizing that the article is yet another self-inflicted scar on the credibility of the Times.