Dear George:

I believe that a professional writer should take criticism, or revel in praise, privately. Abuse is another matter. You saw fit to publish an article, well in advance of the publication of my biography "Dutch: A Memoir of Ronald Reagan," calling it "dishonorable" [op-ed, Sept. 29]. While ignoring the tone of your attack, I will reply only to the questions of honesty and scholarship you raise.

Pages 537-538, drawn to your attention by Nancy Reagan, describe the colonoscopy that was conducted on the president in July 1985, climaxing in the shock discovery of a malignant tumor. The imagery of this passage derives directly from the eyewitness testimony of Dr. John Hutton, who later became the White House physician, and who has for 14 years been my most generous source of medical information about Ronald Reagan. Verbally, on occasions without number, he has told me about the "white, necrotic ridge" that loomed up ahead of the scope, beyond an undulating, plain-like foreground. A similar phrase also appears in Hutton's diary, which he allowed me to read during many days of research in his office at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda.

You accuse me of fabricating a conversation with Hutton in which, gesturing and grimacing in his green surgical tunic, he referred to this white ridge and dramatically compared it to his first view of the Rockies on a flight across the Great Plains many years ago. I did not fabricate a word of this transcribed conversation, which is documented on Page 818, along with references to other, almost identical interviews, and the notes that you yourself mention. Every movement of the doctor's hands, as he described the advancing scope, is imprinted in my memory, as are his facial expressions.

You say that Hutton "never wore" a green surgical tunic when he talked to me. He most certainly did. Our conversation took place just after he had been participating in a lecture-demonstration, in the university operating theater, of the impact of bullets on animal flesh (a subject in which Hutton is an expert), and his tunic was not only green but also spattered with blood. Medical universities are robust institutions, not subject to civilian restraints, and I thought it best not to inquire further.

As you point out, Margaret Cleaver Gordon (Ronald Reagan's former fiancee), lives in Richmond and not in Mongolia. I confirm her Virginia domicile on Page 121, and nowhere in "Dutch" make any reference to the Mongolian People's Republic. You're right that tracking Mrs. Gordon down was hardly heroic. But I was the first of Reagan's biographers to interview her about her relationship with Dutch. And having noticed a flicker of blue anger in the president's eyes when I told him about seeing her (along with his dismissive reaction, "You found out about her, huh"), I thought that at least some readers might be interested to know of "his resentment at being surprised, and his disinclination to hear another word about the preacher's daughter he once wanted to marry."

Elsewhere in your article you cite, as apparently contradictory, the statements in "Dutch" that Reagan, in 1943, told off-color jokes in front of women, yet blushed, as president, at the thought that women might hear him indulging similar humor. The earlier anecdote comes with a double attribution. And if you think a man's social behavior must necessarily be the same at 32 and 70 years of age, you have a rigid view of human nature.



P.S. You do not challenge my description of the emergency blood transfusions given Mr. Reagan in the aftermath of the assassination attempt of March 30, 1981. But other commentators have, saying that I exaggerate the effect of those transfusions (which included quantities of long-stored blood not yet brought to optimum temperature). Permit me to reprint here the text of my footnote to Page 434: "Hospital blood is unavoidably loaded with broken-down cells, and because it has been stored in freezers, often lowers the (already low) temperature of patients in emergency situations. According to Dr. Benjamin Aaron [chief operating surgeon during the 1981 emergency], the president's massive transfusion had been 'at the virtual top of insults to the body--number 10 magnitude, worse than a prolonged beating.' In 1989 his blood count was still not normal. Benjamin Aaron interview, Jan. 11, 1989."