Mainstream Media Echo Conservatives’ Claim That Clinton’s Pneumonia Legitimizes Their Conspiracy Theories

››› ››› JULIE ALDERMAN

Media across the spectrum are claiming that Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s diagnosis of pneumonia “vindicated” conservative conspiracy theorists who have long made baseless assertions about Clinton’s health. These claims have recently been mainstreamed by non-partisan outlets despite having been debunked time and time again.

Clinton Leaves 9/11 Memorial Service Early After Feeling Overheated Due To Pneumonia

Reuters: Clinton “Canceled A Trip” After Being Diagnosed With Pneumonia And Becoming Overheated At A 9/11 Memorial. Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton “is suffering from pneumonia,” according to Reuters, which reported that her doctor confirmed the diagnosis “after she fell ill at a Sept. 11 memorial.” In light of the diagnosis, Reuters reported, “Clinton canceled a trip she was scheduled to take to California on Monday for fundraising and other campaign events.” From the September 12 Reuters report:

Hillary Clinton is suffering from pneumonia, the Democratic presidential candidate's personal doctor said on Sunday after she fell ill at a Sept. 11 memorial, an episode that renewed focus on her health less than two months before the election.

Clinton canceled a trip she was scheduled to take to California on Monday for fundraising and other campaign events, an aide said, declining to provide further details about her schedule for the week.

Clinton, 68, was diagnosed on Friday but her condition only came to light several hours after a video on social media appeared to show her swaying and her knees buckling before being helped into a motorcade as she left the memorial early Sunday.

Clinton had a medical examination when she got back to her home in Chappaqua, New York, according to a campaign aide. Her doctor, Lisa Bardack, said in a statement that she has been experiencing a cough related to allergies and that an examination on Friday showed it was pneumonia.

"She was put on antibiotics and advised to rest and modify her schedule. While at this morning's event, she became overheated and dehydrated. I have just examined her and she is now re-hydrated and recovering nicely," Bardack said. [Reuters, 9/12/16]

Conservative Media Claim That Past Conspiracy Theories About Clinton’s Health Are “Vindicated” Because She Has Pneumonia

Daily Caller: Clinton’s “Fainting Episode” “Vindicated” Matt Drudge’s Months Of Clinton Health Claims. In an article titled “Matt Drudge Vindicated By Hillary Fainting Episode,” Daily Caller associate editor Peter Hasson pointed out that Clinton’s “episode” “was preceded by months of Matt Drudge … claiming that Hillary’s health is worse than she lets on to the public.” From the September 11 article:

Hillary Clinton’s fainting episode at a 9/11 memorial Sunday morning was preceded by months of Matt Drudge, the proprietor of the Drudge Report, claiming that Hillary’s health is worse than she lets on to the public.

[...]

Drudge again called attention to Clinton’s health last week after she had a severe coughing fit last Monday that lasted almost two minutes.

On Tuesday, Drudge tweeted out a picture of the Clinton press pool that had been photoshopped to portray the reporters wearing surgical masks. [The Daily Caller, 9/11/16]

Drudge Report Claims To Have Been “Vindicated.” On September 12, the Drudge Report linked to the Daily Caller piece claiming “DRUDGE Vindicated."

 

[Drudge Report, 9/12/16]

WND’s Joseph Farah: “The Attitude About Hillary Clinton’s Health ... Went From Dismissing” Stories About It “As Nutty ‘Conspiracy Theories’” To Treating The Issue With “Genuine Concern, If Not Panic.” WorldNetDaily’s Joseph Farah asserted that after Clinton left the 9/11 memorial event early, “the attitude about Hillary Clinton’s health among the nation’s ‘mainstream’ media went from dismissing them as nutty ‘conspiracy theories’ to genuine concern, if not panic.” From the September 11 post:

In the blink of an eye Sunday, the attitude about Hillary Clinton’s health among the nation’s “mainstream” media went from dismissing them as nutty “conspiracy theories” to genuine concern, if not panic.

A series of uncontrollable coughing fits during public speeches didn’t do it.

Compelling video of apparent, inexplicable seizures didn’t do it.

The opinion of nationally recognized medical authorities didn’t do it.

Virtually none of that was even reported by what we euphemistically call the “mainstream” media.

But when Mrs. Clinton prematurely left a memorial service marking the 15th anniversary of 9/11 in New York City, walking gingerly and collapsing as aides tried to get her into a van, the dam of silence collapsed. [WorldNetDaily, 9/11/16]

Wash. Times: Clinton “Elevated Concerns” She “Is Hiding Something About Her Health.” The Washington Times claimed, “The incident at the 9/11 ceremony in New York … only elevated concerns that Mrs. Clinton is hiding something about her health.” From the September 11 Washington Times article:

She has laughed off questions about her health, dismissing them as “conspiracy theories.” Her personal physician has vouched for her overall good health, and independent medical experts have disputed some of the speculation about her presenting symptoms of a progressive, debilitating illness.

The incident at the 9/11 ceremony in New York, however, whether a fainting spell or a case of being “overheated and dehydrated” as her physician stated, only elevated concerns that Mrs. Clinton is hiding something about her health.

The suspicion also underscores the widespread distrust of Mrs. Clinton and the belief that she is deceptive. [The Washington Times, 9/11/16]

Mainstream Media Carry Water For Conservative Media And Claim Clinton’s Pneumonia “Reinforces” Right-Wing Conspiracy Theories

Wash. Post’s Chris Cillizza: Clinton’s Health Is “No Longer Just The Stuff Of Conspiracy Theorists.” In a blog post titled “Hillary Clinton’s health just became a real issue in the presidential campaign,” Chris Cillizza asserted that while coughing and feeling overheated are “simply not evidence enough of any sort of major illness that Clinton is assumed to be hiding,” “those two things happening within six days of each other to a candidate who is 68 years old makes talk of Clinton's health no longer just the stuff of conspiracy theorists.” From the September 11 post:

Hillary Clinton falling ill Sunday morning at a memorial service on the 15th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks will catapult questions about her health from the ranks of conservative conspiracy theory to perhaps the central debate in the presidential race over the coming days.

[...]

That talk was largely confined to Republicans convinced that Clinton has long been hiding some sort of serious illness. I wrote dismissively of that conspiracy theory in this space last week, noting that Clinton had been given an entirely clean bill of health by her doctors after an episode in which she fainted, suffered a concussion and then was found to have a blood clot in late 2012 and early 2013.

Coughing, I wrote, is simply not evidence enough of any sort of major illness that Clinton is assumed to be hiding. Neither, of course, is feeling "overheated." But those two things happening within six days of each other to a candidate who is 68 years old makes talk of Clinton's health no longer just the stuff of conspiracy theorists. [The Washington Post, 9/11/16]

Politico: Clinton’s Health Has Been “The Obsession Of Conspiracy Theorists,” But Is Now “A Legitimate Campaign Issue.” Politico reported that Clinton’s pneumonia diagnosis “emerged Sunday as a legitimate campaign issue,” though her health has been “long the obsession of conspiracy theorists.” From a September 11 article:

Hillary Clinton’s health – long the obsession of conspiracy theorists — emerged Sunday as a legitimate campaign issue after Clinton nearly swooned and stumbled at a Sept. 11 commemoration, underscoring the sense that that summer’s sure-thing candidate is flagging at a pivotal moment.

The scare was captured on cellphone video showing the wobbly Democratic candidate — who was diagnosed with pneumonia on Friday, according to a report by her doctor and later forwarded to reporters — being lifted into the vehicle by her aides after leaving a memorial service at the site of the 2001 World Trade Center attack. [Politico, 9/11/16]

ABC’s Cecilia Vega: Clinton’s Health Was “The Subject Of Right-Wing Blogs And Conspiracy Theories, But Now, It Is A Central Issue In This Campaign.” ABC senior national correspondent Cecilia Vega argued that while “Clinton's health had been the subject of right-wing blogs and conspiracy theories,” it is now “a central issue in this campaign.” From the September 12 edition of ABC’s Good Morning America:

CECILIA VEGA: Serious questions about her health, and now serious questions about why her campaign did not disclose this pneumonia diagnosis sooner. Hillary Clinton's health had been the subject of right-wing blogs and conspiracy theories, but now, it is a central issue in this campaign. [ABC, Good Morning America, 9/12/16]

CNN’s Jeff Zeleny: Clinton’s “Health Concerns Have Gone From Conspiracy Theories To A Genuine Campaign Issue.” CNN senior Washington correspondent Jeff Zeleny claimed that Clinton’s “health concerns have gone from conspiracy theories to a genuine campaign issue” due to her pneumonia. From the September 12 edition of CNN’s New Day:

JEFF ZELENY: Hillary Clinton was set to leave on a three-day West Coast swing today, with stops in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Las Vegas, but she is at home in Chappaqua this morning on doctor's orders. Her health concerns have gone from conspiracy theories to a genuine campaign issue. [CNN, New Day, 9/12/16]

Reporters And Medical Experts Explain Clinton’s Symptoms Show “A Near-Textbook Case” Of Walking Pneumonia

NBC’s Maggie Fox: Clinton’s “Incident … Is A Near-Textbook Case Of What Can Happen With ‘Walking Pneumonia.’” NBC News senior health writer Maggie Fox called Clinton’s “wobbly incident” “a near-textbook case of what can happen with ‘walking pneumonia’” explaining that “patients don't feel great, but they're not sick enough to stay home in bed or to be hospitalized.” Fox pointed out that Clinton, like many pneumonia patients, might feel “tired and dehydrated.” From the September 12 article:

Hillary Clinton's wobbly incident Sunday is a near-textbook case of what can happen with "walking pneumonia" — patients don't feel great, but they're not sick enough to stay home in bed or to be hospitalized.

[...]

Pneumonia can be caused by viruses or bacteria, and it refers to an infection that gets into the lungs. Bacterial pneumonia is common, usually not serious and easily treated with antibiotics.

These mild bacterial infections can cause a cough and sometimes a mild fever.

[...]

But the infection can take a toll, making patients prone to getting tired and dehydrated. [NBCNews.com, 9/12/16]

CBS’ Dr. Tara Narula: Dehydration “Is Not Uncommon In Pneumonia.” CBS This Morning medical contributor and cardiologist Dr. Tara Narula explained that dehydration “is not uncommon in pneumonia” and can cause patients to “feel unwell or look unwell.” From the September 12 edition of CBS This Morning:

CHARLIE ROSE (CO-HOST): What’s interesting to me is the stumbling before she got into the car, her vehicle at the motorcade as she was leaving. Is that an impact of having this kind of pneumonia? And what causes that, losing your sense of balance?

DR. TARA NARULA: Right, without being her doctor, I can't comment on her particular medical condition. But I can tell you that with pneumonia, you can get shortness of breath, fatigue, fever, increased heart rate. You can have a cough. And then when you combine that with dehydration, which is not uncommon in pneumonia, you can certainly feel unwell or appear unwell. The dehydration itself can be caused in changes in thirst or appetite from the infection. It can be caused by that increased respiratory rate or sweating in the setting of fever or even, potentially, some of the antibiotics or medicines that she might be taking like antihistamines can cause a drying effect. [CBS, CBS This Morning, 9/12/16]

Conservatives Have Long Scandalized Clinton’s Health

Right-Wing Media Have Pushed Clinton Health Conspiracy Theories For Years. Right-wing media and outlets have spent years promoting various conspiracy theories that Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton is in poor mental and physical health. Fox News’ Karl Rove “helped plant the seeds in 2014” by “suggesting Clinton had suffered brain damage in 2014,” leading to extensive conspiracy-mongering throughout the conservative media. In recent weeks those attacks have gained strength. Fox’s Sean Hannity devoted at least four segments of his show in a week to hype the claim that Clinton has serious health problems, speculating that Clinton had “a mini-stroke” and a “traumatic brain injury.” Fox host Steve Doocy claimed Clinton’s glasses were a sign of “sign of brain damage and other things.” Breitbart News in an article claimed Clinton’s “well-documented brain injuries make it harder for her to transport herself through daily life activities.” [Media Matters, 8/22/16; CNN.com, 8/23/16]

Trump Campaign And Surrogates Have Also Pushed Health Conspiracy Theories. Several surrogates for Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump have claimed Clinton is suffering from ailments such as brain damage and dysphasia. Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani said Clinton displays “several signs of illness” and if you “go online and put down ‘Hillary Clinton illness,’” you can “take a look at the videos for yourself.” Women Vote Trump co-chair Amy Kremer claimed Clinton “had a blood clot in her head” and compared Clinton to NFL players suffering from multiple concussions. Trump campaign spokesperson Katrina Pierson also diagnosed Clinton with “dysphasia.” [Media Matters, 8/22/16]

Trump: Clinton “Lacks The Mental And Physical Stamina.” Embracing the health conspiracy theory line of attack against Clinton, Trump said she “lacks the mental and physical stamina” to fight terrorism. [The New York Times, 8/22/16]

Lately These Theories Have Made It Into The Mainstream ...

NBC News Mainstreamed Conspiracy Theories About Clinton’s Health By Devoting Entire Article To A “Coughing Fit.” NBC News mainstreamed conspiracy theories about Clinton’s health from conservative media by devoting an entire article to a “coughing fit” she had. Broadcast morning shows and right-wing media had been reporting on the “coughing fit,” but journalists derided NBC’s report. [Media Matters, 9/6/16]

CNN’s Alisyn Camerota Asks If Clinton Has “Been Transparent Enough About Her Health.” CNN anchor Alisyn Camerota asked CNN political analyst Kirsten Powers if Clinton has “been transparent enough about her health” and, noting that Clinton “had that fall,” said the people raising the concerns about Clinton’s health “feel that there’s a germ of … maybe her concussion caused some sort of brain thing.” Powers noted, “There's nothing to suggest that she has any kind of problems with her stamina, with her health, with her mental health” and added that “honestly, I think there’s an element of sexism to this.” From the August 23 edition of CNN’s New Day:

ALISYN CAMEROTA (CO-HOST): OK let's start with Hillary Clinton's health. She seems to have mental acuity, as she always has. She can rattle off figures and stats like nobody. But has she been transparent enough about her health?

KIRSTEN POWERS: Well, I mean, I guess I have to ask why is there any concern about her health? And the only reason there's any concern about her health is because Donald Trump has sort of started his trutherism on Hillary Clinton's health. There's nothing to suggest she doesn't have stamina. I mean, honestly I don't even know if I could do the schedule that she keeps. There's nothing to suggest that she has any kind of problems with her stamina, with her health, with her mental health.

CAMEROTA: Well she had that fall. I mean this is the thing. She had a fall years ago and then she wore those big sort of coke bottle glasses. And so they feel that there's a germ of maybe she had a mental -- maybe her concussion caused some sort of brain something?

POWERS: Yeah, but what is that based on? There's nothing to suggest that she's having any problems healthwise. And so even this picture that's been circulating where somebody is helping her up the stairs. OK, so what if she fell down? Or there's another email from Sidney Blumenthal where he refers to her getting rest because she's not feeling well and at the end of it he says "get well." Well nobody says "get well" to somebody who's seriously ill. That's not what you say. So the things that they're pointing to I don't think support it and, honestly, I think there's an element of sexism to this. [CNN, New Day, 8/23/16]

CBS’s Norah O’Donnell Asks If Clinton Needs To “Say More” About Her Health In Response To “Questions” Raised About Her Health. After noting that “Donald Trump is raising questions about Hillary Clinton’s stamina,” CBS anchor Norah O’Donnell asked, “When do the two candidates need to say more about” their health and “release health records?” When CBS contributor Mark Leibovich noted that Clinton’s physician “released a letter that seemed pretty authoritative” about her health, O’Donnell said, “It was two pages.” From the August 23 edition of CBS This Morning:

NORAH O'DONNELL (CO-HOST): Donald Trump is raising questions about Hillary Clinton's stamina. Her health, he says. We have never before in history had two candidates, nominees, as old as Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. Seventy years old, Donald Trump; 68 years old, Hillary Clinton. She went on late night TV last night, addressed those charges, in part by opening a can of pickles to prove her strength. When do the two candidates need to say more about their -- and release health records?

MARK LEIBOVICH: You mean the pickle test doesn't just put away all these questions to rest immediately?

O'DONNELL: However, I must say -- I must say, I have trouble opening up a can of pickles. I have a lot of trouble.

LEIBOVICH: I think we all do. I think it's an issue we can all relate to. No, I mean look, they've been very -- I think Hillary Clinton in fairness has been more transparent. Her personal physician has released a letter that seemed pretty authoritative, if somewhat brief.

O'DONNELL: It was two pages. I mean John McCain --

ANTHONY MASON (CO-HOST): Trump's letter is even shorter.

LEIBOVICH: She -- I mean I think she can say, rightly, that look, he's released virtually nothing. I mean if you count the two-paragraph letter that his doctor released. I think people would like to see more. What I'm curious about in the larger sense is why do you make this an issue now if you're Donald Trump? I mean, the health, the stamina of your opponent. I mean maybe he thinks he's sowing some kind of doubt, but there are other bigger, more legitimate issues to focus on, beginning with this email stuff. [CBS, CBS This Morning, 8/23/16]

Even Though They Have Been Debunked Several Times

CBS’s Nancy Cordes: Clinton Health Conspiracies Are “Unfounded.” CBS congressional correspondent Nancy Cordes said the health conspiracy theories Trump has pushed were “unfounded statements about Clinton's well-being.” Cordes added that “far-right websites” were “spreading a fake letter from” Clinton’s doctor “claiming that she has dementia.” From the August 17 edition of CBS This Morning:

NANCY CORDES: The 70-year-old Trump has made a series of unfounded statements about Clinton's well-being.

[BEGIN VIDEO]

DONALD TRUMP: She's got -- she’s low energy. She actually is low energy.

[END VIDEO]

CORDES: Clinton aides point out she has done hundreds of campaign events.

[BEGIN VIDEO]

HILLARY CLINTON: We have to be committed.

[END VIDEO]

CORDES: And sailed through an 11-hour Benghazi hearing.

[BEGIN VIDEO]

CLINTON: But those are the facts, Mr. Chairman.

[END VIDEO]

CORDES: But that hasn’t stopped Trump.

[BEGIN VIDEO]

TRUMP: She’ll take a nap for four or five hours and she’ll come back. No naps for Trump.

[END VIDEO]

CORDES: The 68-year-old Clinton got a clean bill of health from her doctor last year. But that hasn't stopped some far-right websites from spreading a fake letter from that doctor claiming that she has dementia and is prone to blacking out. [CBS, CBS This Morning, 8/17/16]

CNN’s Gregory Krieg: Health Conspiracy Theories Are A “Lie” Supported By “Junk Science.” CNN reporter Gregory Krieg wrote that the health conspiracies about Clinton are based on “junk science” and that there “is absolutely no credible evidence to backstop any of these claims.” Krieg added that the “lie” is based on those believing “the press is in cahoots with Clinton, protecting her political prospects by working overtime to hide her imagined ailment,” and he noted that “the facts … tell a very different story.” From the August 24 article:

Much in the way "birthers" (Trump was among the most prominent) sought similar ends by questioning President Barack Obama's citizenship, the "healthers" are using junk science and conspiracy theories to argue that Clinton is suffering from a series of debilitating brain injuries.

In an interview on "Fox News Sunday" this weekend, former New York City mayor and Trump surrogate Rudy Giuliani first accused the mainstream media of hiding evidence, then encouraged doubters to "go online and put down 'Hillary Clinton illness.'"

There is absolutely no credible evidence to backstop any of these claims, including on the "videos" Giuliani cited. Clinton's physician -- the only person to speak on the record who has actually examined her -- has repeatedly affirmed the former secretary of state's health and fitness for the highest office in the land.

[...]

But for those who want to believe, the structure of the lie borders on impenetrable -- baked into its "medical" assertions is the tightly held belief that the press is in cahoots with Clinton, protecting her political prospects by working overtime to hide her imagined ailment.

The facts, though, tell a very different story. [CNN.com, 8/24/16]

CNN’s Brian Stelter: “There Is No Doubt” That Clinton’s Doctors Say She Is “Physically Fit To Be President.” CNN host Brian Stelter castigated Sean Hannity for pushing conspiracy theories about Clinton’s health, noting that her “doctors say she is now physically fit to be president” and that there “is no doubt about that.” Stelter added that “conspiracy theories are so much more interesting than the truth.” From the August 14 edition of CNN’s Reliable Sources:

BRIAN STELTER (HOST): Let me be clear. That was reckless speculation by Sean Hannity. All of it. This whole "Clinton is secretly sick" thing has been promoted by conservative news sites for years. There's a grain of truth to the idea about her health because she did have a health scare in 2012. It was well-reported at the time. But her doctors say she is now physically fit to be president. There is no doubt about that. But Hannity is not interested in the truth about Clinton's health. If he was, he could have interviewed people who were actually there during the episodes that he's exploiting. Let's take the one at the very end. Hannity said Clinton was violently uncontrollably jerking her head. He said the reporter got scared. Sean, why not go ask the reporter? Go ask the reporter. The AP's Lisa Lerer wrote about this. She says Fox never contacted her and said she was never scared. Here's what she says really happened that day. Reporters were asking Clinton about a meeting with Elizabeth Warren. Lots of questions, lots of questions to ask. So Lerer writes, "Perhaps eager to avoid answering or maybe just taken aback by our volume, Clinton responded with an exaggerated motion, shaking her head vigorously for a few seconds." Look, conspiracy theories are so much more interesting than the truth. But the last time I checked, Fox still has the word "News" in its name. [CNN, Reliable Sources, 8/14/16]

NPR’s Tamara Keith: “There’s Nothing That I’ve Seen” To Confirm Conspiracy Theories About Clinton’s Health. NPR White House and campaign correspondent Tamara Keith told CNN’s Brian Stelter that as a member of Clinton’s traveling press corps, “There’s nothing that I’ve seen” to give credence to conspiracy theories about Clinton’s health, adding that she has “been pretty close to the candidate.” From the August 21 edition of CNN’s Reliable Sources:

BRIAN STELTER (HOST): From the Clinton beat reporter perspective, have you tried to ask about her health and have you perceived any issues at all with her health?

TAMARA KEITH: I have not tried to ask about her health. I have not had the opportunity to do that. They have put out a statement from her doctor, obviously, and I have been there following Hillary Clinton around. I honestly don't quite know how she does it, because my health is suffering following her. It's grueling. It is a grueling schedule.

STELTER: Your health is suffering following her? You mean because it's so many hours of so many days in a row?

KEITH: I don't go to the gym anymore, I don't get enough sleep. I mean, this is my dream job, absolutely, but she's up there giving speeches. All I'm doing is writing stories.

[...]

STELTER: So, what I’m hearing you saying is we don't have any concrete evidence of some sort of secret illness, as has been claimed by these conspiracy theorists?

KEITH: There’s nothing that I've seen, and I've been pretty close to the candidate. I have seen stools, but you know Tim Kaine sits on them, too.

STELTER: I'm sitting a stool right now, and if cameras followed me around every day they'd find some embarrassing stuff that could be taken out of context on the internet. That's my problem with these theories. [CNN, Reliable Sources, 8/21/16]

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