Primary challenger to Pat Roberts found to have some curious Facebook postings; Update: Wolf statement added

In the GOP Senate primary in Kansas, Pat Roberts has drawn a challenge from Dr. Milton Wolf, a physician and distant cousin of President Obama. The race has drawn more attention than it otherwise might ever since it was alleged that Senator Roberts wasn’t actually keeping a home in the state he serves. All of this politico action has given a boost to Dr. Wolf, but has also drawn the predictable scrutiny and oppo research that any viable candidate faces.

This weekend the digging turned up some rather curious images on Wolf’s previous Facebook page – now replaced with a Senate candidacy site – and they are raising questions of ethics, or at least a rather questionable sense of humor.

U.S. Senate candidate Milton Wolf posted a collection of gruesome X-ray images of gunshot fatalities and medical injuries to his Facebook page and participated in online commentary layered with macabre jokes and descriptions of carnage.

Wolf, a Johnson County radiologist anchoring a campaign for the Republican nomination with calls for federal heath care reform, said in an interview the medical images were legally uploaded to public social media sites and other online venues for educational purposes. They also served, he said, to demonstrate evil lurking in the world.

A doctor publishing medical material for educational purposes shouldn’t raise any eyebrows, but it appears that the real questions arose concerning some of his entries in the comments section.

Wolf and others viewing these Facebook postings relentlessly poked fun at the dead or wounded. The gunshot victim, Wolf joked online, wasn’t going to complain about the awkward positioning of his head for an X-ray. In a separate Facebook comment, Wolf wrote that an X-ray of a man decapitated by gunfire resembled a wounded alien in a “Terminator” film and that the image offered evidence people “find beauty in different things.”

It doesn’t sound like anything actionable, but it paints the candidate in a pretty poor light. Further, circling back to the question of publishing such material, even if the identity of the victims was removed, you have to wonder how many people showed up with those types of wounds in the same period. It probably wasn’t too difficult to figure out who they were, so even if it’s not a technical violation of HIPAA restrictions it certainly looks like poor judgement.

Yet another lesson for those looking to launch a career in politics and those who support them. Vetting is critical, and doing a thorough check of the aspiring candidate’s social media sites should be a no-brainer. Roberts has seen his disapproval numbers climbing over the past year, though he still holds a comfortable lead over both Wolf in the August primary and his Democrat challenger in the general election. But even if Roberts turns out to be seriously vulnerable, any further discoveries such as this may wind up showing that Dr. Wolf simply wasn’t ready for prime time.

Update (Ed): Dr. Wolf has updated his website with this statement:

My training as a diagnostic radiologist included the critical component of studying medical images published both in textbooks and online. I have myself authored and published educational material that teaches medical imaging to medical students and doctors. Of the thousands of medical images I have published I have taken care to maintain patient privacy.

Several years ago I made some comments about these images that were insensitive to the seriousness of what the images revealed. Soon thereafter, I removed those images and comments, again several years ago. For them to be published in a much more public context now, by a political adversary who would rather declare war on doctors than answer serious questions that Kansans have, is truly sad. However, my mistakes are my own and I take full responsibility for them.

I have said throughout this campaign and long before it began that I bear the scars of taking the Oath to my patients. When I was 15 years old, I stood at my father’s bedside, himself a rural doctor, and watched him take his last breath. It was at that moment that I knew I would take his torch and dedicate my life to serving patients in need. I’m reminded just how extraordinarily difficult the burden is when I have failed to live up to his example.

It is an incredible honor and an enormous burden to work shoulder-to-shoulder with dedicated people who every day run towards the screaming instead of away. The cumulative effect of day after day, year after year, witnessing so much human suffering, so much tragedy, takes its toll. I’ve seen the burdens of practicing medicine tear apart families and drive good people to vice and as great as the honor is to serve, I would still not wish the burdens of it upon anyone. To those I have offended, I am truly sorry and I ask for your forgiveness.

And now, years later, because I have declared that I am willing to stand up for my country, Senator Pat Roberts wants to attack me as a doctor rather than giving Kansans a reason to vote for him. It’s sad. Pat Roberts has not been able to identify a single issue on which he thinks I am wrong and so he’s doing things the Washington way: character assassination. Kansans should know that I will not be intimidated by their bullying. I did not back down when Barack Obama’s IRS audited me and I will not back down from the desperate attacks of a 47-year Washington insider either.

Update (Ed): Glenn Reynolds’ point is worth noting:

Okay, by NRSC, I really mean the NRSC’s Brad Dayspring. I follow him, and I like his tweets. But he’s been hammering this all day and it’s a dreadful, dreadful mistake. I accept his claim that he’s just interested in making sure the seat goes GOP. But when the NRSC gets out and attacks a Tea Party challenger — and that, make no mistake, is what’s going on — it poisons the well. There’s basically no trust for the GOP establishment among the base. If they stay home in 2014 like they did in 2012 because they feel betrayed by the establishment, what should be a wave election won’t be.

I get that, too, especially on stuff like this. The issue of TARP and Bevin’s position in Kentucky is a real issue of trustworthiness; this Wolf thing isn’t even really germane to policy or politics, and it’s apparently pretty old on top of it. The NRSC should give this kind of thing a wide berth.