BOSTON -- The public admission by Massachusetts first lady Kitty Dukakis of a 26-year drug dependency reflects a new set of disclosure standards for presidential candidates since the demise of Gary Hart's campaign.
The revelation also raised questions about the false cover story given the media in 1982 when Massachusetts Gov. Michael S. Dukakis, now a Democratic presidential hopeful, sought to shield his wife and run for office at the same time.
Kitty Dukakis stunned Massachusetts last week when she admitted a dependency on prescribed diet pills that began as a teenager and continued until 1982.
Her husband has a carefully cultivated squeaky-clean reputation, while her father, Boston Pops associate conductor Harry Ellis Dickson, is a familiar and respected community figure.
The disclosure brought back to the surface the nagging question first posed by Hart's relationship with Miami model Donna Rice: What is fair game for the media in the pursuit of presidential candidates?
But it also raised other questions about the public's right to know, after Dukakis acknowledged last week that his 1982 gubernatorial campaign concocted a fictional cover story to shield his wife's drug recovery from the public.
During a 30-day period in 1982 when Mrs. Dukakis was supposedly recovering from hepatitis at a friend's home in Minnesota, she was actually a patient at a drug-treatment clinic in that state.
Dukakis and his wife insist the Hart controversy played no role in her decision to go public with the long-held secret.
'I have for a while been thinking about wanting to talk about this publicly, for several reasons,' Mrs. Dukakis said during an interview in the living room of the family's comfortable but modest home in Brookline, Mass., just outside Boston.
'One of them was that I felt strong enough after five years of being chemically free to tell my story. Secondly, and more importantly, is that one of the tenets in recovery is helping other people.'
Dukakis echoed the explanation in a lengthy news conference on Wednesday, just a few hours after the disclosure by his wife of 24 years.
'This was her decision and she made it at a time which was right and good for her,' he said. 'If I were not a candidate, she would have done the same thing.'
But each is firm in the belief that there was no need for the public to know the real nature ofthe problem in 1982.
'He was most concerned about my recovery, and my recovery wouldn't have been served by being public,' Mrs. Dukakis says. 'I'd advise anybody else to do the same thing, in a public sense.
'There was nothing about Michael helping me in that way that reflected, in any way, on his governing later on. I wasn't elected to anything.'
Dukakis said his wife 'expressed a very strong desire that if she was to solve this problem, and if she was to cope with this dependency, she had to do it in private.'
'I'm very concerned about my family, about their privacy, about their personal lives,' he says. 'I think any husband and father would do the same.
'While I have said many times a candidate's life is an open book, I'm not sure the same should necessarily be true of one's family. I don't see any reason why they and their past history should be subjected to the kind of scrutiny which quite properly is applied to a candidate.'
Dukakis offers no apologies to suggestions his gubernatorial campaign told a 'white lie' in claiming she was fighting hepatitis.
Asked if he would do the same thing again, Dukakis said, 'Yes, if that was her desire.'
'The importance of this being a private and personal matter was something that was paramount, and in my judgment had nothing to do with my fitness to serve as a candidate.'
At last week's news conference, Dukakis was asked if he had any dependencies. 'No, and I think that's an appropriate question,' he replied.
But Dukakis does not believe all subjects are fair game in a presidential race.
'I personally think there is a line that candidates can and should appropriately draw between their own lives and their own conditions and those of their loved ones,' he said.
'But when people ask questions, particularly at times like this, the best policy is to be as straightforward as possible. My principal concern has always been that making sure that Kitty was able to deal with this problem and come to terms with it on her own terms.'