Opinion

Here's the real lesson of Hillary's health scare

Why did the media fail to take Hillary's health seriously?

Here's what we know: Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton speedily left a Sept. 11 memorial service early on Sunday. Video showed her stumbling, her legs apparently buckling. She required the support of multiple people to get into her vehicle. Later, her campaign said she had been diagnosed with pneumonia on Friday, and would take a break from the campaign trail for a couple days.

As with everything concerning the Clintons, there are two entangled issues here: the actual issue of Clinton's health, and the cloud of lies and misdirection that the Clinton machine has sprayed into the air around the actual issue.

As my colleague Damon Linker points out, "the most charitable reading" of the timeline given by the campaign — Clinton was diagnosed with pneumonia on Friday, two days before they made it public — is that they "fully intended [...] to lie." And this, although "doing so would require her to keep up a public schedule that might well make her condition worse and require ever-more elaborate forms of concealment." In this telling, the Clinton campaign knew full well that Clinton had pneumonia and yet did everything to conceal it.

If that scary video of Clinton being carried into her SUV hadn't been made public, you can be certain the Clinton camp would have kept on lying about the incident. Indeed, they were lying about it in the hours between her leaving the 9/11 memorial and the video being released — a smiling Clinton was sent outside to declare that she felt great, and, for gratuitous effect, hug a small child (even though she and her team knew she had a grave, communicable disease). Only when the video became public did the campaign offer the pneumonia explanation.

Clinton is hardly alone in her disregard for honesty. Both major parties have nominated pathological liars to the presidency. And let's be clear: Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are not garden-variety politicians who engage in the everyday sort of quasi-lying that politics demands. Clinton and Trump lie consistently and reflexively. For Trump, it's often because he has such a flimsy and careless grasp of the truth. For Clinton, lying is defensive and arrogant.

But here's the thing: The media constantly points out Trump's lies. They do this far less frequently with Clinton, and have been particularly dismissive of conservatives asking questions about Clinton's health.

Take the canonical example of Chris Cillizza, of The Washington Post's politics blog "The Fix," who is perhaps the very model of a Modern Washington Political Journalist. Just five days before Hillary's collapse, Cillizza wrote an indignant post titled "Can we just stop talking about Hillary Clinton's health now?"

He pointed out that there was no hard evidence of Clinton being ill (true), and that there was a lot of fever swamp conspiracy theorizing around Hillary, mentioning, as must be required by law somewhere, the Vince Foster conspiracy theory. Okay, fair enough. Except for the monumentally important facts that Hillary Clinton is 68 years old and has a troubled history with the truth. Just because she says she's fine doesn't mean she's fine.

There were questions around Ronald Reagan's health because of his age. There were questions around John McCain's health when he ran, made doubly icky-feeling due to the fact that the health questions were also raised by the consequences of his torture in Vietnam. But the public really did have a right to know about McCain's health. Journalists were right to ask questions. There's a reason that it's become de rigueur for presidential nominees to release their health records. The public has a right to know.

But all of a sudden, it's "absurd" to ask questions about Hillary's health. After her collapse and diagnosis, Cillizza did dutifully concede that "Hillary Clinton’s health just became a real issue in the presidential campaign." But her health should have been a real issue before, too.

Hillary Clinton is old. She has a decades-long track record of hiding things from the public. It is not illegitimate to ask questions about her health. In fact, it's the press' job.

So why did so many journalists scoff at questions over Hillary's health, likening them to Area 51-style conspiracy theories? In many cases, because many liberal members of the liberal media want Hillary to win. She's a member of the progressive left. Sadly, it seems, many members of the media just can't muster the kind of distance, emotional and professional, that is a necessary precondition to doing their job well.

It's time we did better.

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