Yes, it’s valid to question Hillary’s health, but let’s cool it on conspiracies

Danielle Ryan
Danielle Ryan is an Irish freelance writer, journalist and media analyst. She has lived and traveled extensively in the US, Germany, Russia and Hungary. Her byline has appeared at RT, The Nation, Rethinking Russia, The BRICS Post, New Eastern Outlook, Global Independent Analytics and many others. She also works on copywriting and editing projects. Follow her on Twitter or Facebook or at her website
U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton leaves her daughter Chelsea's home in New York, New York, United States September 11, 2016, after Clinton left ceremonies commemorating the 15th anniversary of the September 11 attacks feeling "overheated." © Brian Snyder
The internet has gone wild with speculation over the state of Hillary Clinton’s health. Footage of the presidential nominee fainting and unable to walk to a waiting vehicle was undoubtedly cause for concern — but has it been blown out of proportion?

According to her doctor, Clinton is suffering from pneumonia. Ever since a separate fainting incident in 2012 that left her with a concussion and later a blood clot, there’s been speculation over medical complications she could have suffered as a result — and the recent footage hasn’t helped to quell the rumors.

The latest incident at a 9/11 memorial event in New York has taken weeks of speculation over the cause of a prolonged cough and accusations of “strange behavior” from guesswork on blogs to mainstream debate. Some media outlets are wildly hypothesizing on a whole slew of potential ailments, while others are playing down concern and arguing that her health is a total non-issue.

Conspiracy theories abound

To run through the most common bits of speculation: Some claim Clinton is suffering some sort of brain damage. Others suspect Parkinson’s disease, a brain tumor or dementia. One TV doctor publicly worried about the “1950s-level care” he believes she is receiving. Video compilations of her so-called strange behavior have appeared online and have been circulated by anti-Clinton websites. One incident in particular during which Clinton appears to become startled by a reporter and bounce her head around repeatedly has been used to suggest she is suffering from seizures. Blog posts claim that the blue-tinted sunglasses she wore on Sunday help to prevent further episodes.

On Monday, the day after her public fainting incident, #HillaryBodyDouble began trending on Twitter with hundreds claiming the woman who left Chelsea Clinton’s apartment in Manhattan and waved to the cameras was not in fact Clinton herself, but an impersonator. My personal favorite, however, is the frankly insane conspiracy theory generated by pro-Clinton sources (and reported on by the Washington Post) that she was perhaps poisoned by Vladimir Putin.

So, depending on who you ask, Clinton is either a bit run down, one step from the grave, or the target of an assassination plot.

Communications failure

If it is simply a case of pneumonia — and I’m inclined to agree it probably is — Clinton should maybe consider hiring a new communications director. Clinton was diagnosed on Friday, but we didn’t hear about it until Sunday when she fainted on the street in full view of anyone with a smartphone and internet connection. If Clinton had managed to make it through the event without fainting, would they have mentioned it at all?

It would have made far more sense to release the statement on Friday when she was diagnosed and to keep her off the campaign trail for a few days than to risk the media storm caused by unnecessary secrecy. Instead, the campaign first brushed off questions about her prolonged cough by saying she was simply suffering from “allergies” — and even after she fainted, they initially blamed it on her becoming “overheated”. Clinton may have wanted to power through without letting the public get wind of her illness, but in the end the optics were ten times worse. Added to her reluctance to be entirely upfront about a slew of other issues, including the use of her private email server and exactly how her charitable foundation interacted with the State Department during her tenure, any more secrecy can hardly do her campaign any good.

Still, despite the rumors of rapidly deteriorating health, Clinton has in recent years shown quite impressive levels of stamina, particularly for someone of her age. As Secretary of State, she clocked 956,733 miles of air travel visiting 112 countries. That’s not to suggest that she can’t have something more serious wrong with her now — just to say that it wouldn’t be especially unusual if she occasionally came down with the flu or a sore throat, particularly given the amount of non-stop talking a candidate for president is required to do. Presidential campaigns are incredibly grueling. Many in their thirties would hardly be fit enough to survive it unscathed, let alone someone in their late sixties.

A long tradition

Is it possible that there is more we don’t know about Clinton’s health? Of course. The recent footage made the concern at least slightly more grounded in reality than it had been before — and it’s valid to ask questions. Clinton’s husband former President Bill Clinton has even commented in the past that it’s the public’s “right to know” the condition of the president’s health. But to give the Hillary rumors some context, all through US presidential history, right or wrong, it has not be unusual for presidents to suffer serious illnesses, and oftentimes, not to fully disclose them.

Dwight D. Eisenhower had a heart attack, was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease and a coronary aneurysm which could have burst at any moment — and he was still re-elected. Lyndon B. Johnson had gall bladder surgery. Franklin D. Roosevelt was so unwell that one of his doctors wrote in a memo that he doubted the president could survive a second term. John F. Kennedy suffered serious back, stomach and colon problems, as well as abscesses and high cholesterol. Ronald Reagan had a cancerous growth removed from his intestine. Less serious, but more publicly embarrassing, George H.W. Bush vomited on the Japanese prime minister in 1992. His son, Bush junior, choked on a pretzel and fainted on a sofa while watching TV. Given that history, even if Clinton is suffering with something more serious, she’d be following a long tradition.

Incidentally, there’s also another polarizing figure on the world stage who is no stranger to health conspiracies: Putin. According to various unreliable sources, Putin has had cancer, strokes, suffers from Asperger’s syndrome, and is regularly accused of having passed away whenever he takes a few days off.

Clinton’s opponent Donald Trump has promised to release the results of a “detailed medical exam” in the coming days. Clinton’s campaign also promised to release “additional health records” soon and a spokesperson said there was "no undisclosed condition” and “pneumonia is the extent of it”. No doubt both candidates will be eager to confirm their physical fitness at the first one-on-one debate to be held on September 26, but it’s unlikely that a clean bill of health from Trump’s doctor will do much to boost his campaign or hurt Clinton’s unless she starts to make a habit of fainting in public.

It’s not helpful to blow concerns over Clinton’s health out of proportion. Neither is it helpful to downplay the concerns to the point of total non-issue. We know she’s been diagnosed with pneumonia. After that, it’s all conjecture.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.