Health

A Timeline of the Conspiracies, Rumors, and Controversies Over Hillary Clinton's Health

Conspiracy theorists have been accusing Hillary Clinton of concealing illnesses from the public, and she responded by... concealing an illness from the public.
September 12, 2016, 5:09pm
Hillary Clinton gets into a car near her daughter's apartment after nearly collapsing at a 9/11 memorial event. (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)

1841: William Henry Harrison, America's 34th coolest president, dies of pneumonia just a month after taking office.

1919: President Woodrow Wilson suffers a stroke while promoting his League of Nations idea. In the aftermath, his wife, Edith, keeps his incapacitation as secret as she can, screening his correspondence and even signing his name in some cases.

1996: Bill Clinton, then running for a second presidential term, gives an interview about his health to the New York Times. His Republican opponent, Bob Dole, had been making Clinton's well-being a campaign issue, even though the president hadn't had any serious illnesses. The Times story is exhaustive: Clinton confirms he's never had an STD; sleeps with a wedge that raises the head of his bed and "no question, it helps"; and says he's allergic to cat dander and smoke, which is why he gave up cigars (this turned out to maybe be a little fib?). During the interview, Clinton promises to tell the public about any serious illness he contracts while in office. Concerns about the health of a nation's ruler were relatively widespread even before the days of modern democracy, so all this is pretty routine.

2008: John McCain—then 71 years old and with a history of skin-cancer scares—lets the press look through his medical records. The Republican nominee probably took this odd step because he was looking ahead to the race against Barack Obama, 25 years his junior and in obvious good health.

December 2012: Hillary Clinton, then the secretary of state, faints while suffering from the flu and hits her head badly enough to cause a concussion. This concussion in turn causes a blood clot near her brain, and she is hospitalized. Even at this point, she is seen as a probable 2016 presidential candidate, so speculation that there will be speculation about her health begins to circulate.

2013: According to a later note from Clinton's doctor, Lisa Bardack, she is tested for any lingering effects of the concussion and clot, and she's found to be essentially fine, though she is put on an anticoagulation medication.

2014: Infamous Republican operative Karl Rove says that "we need to know what's up with" Clinton's medical condition, a bit of rumormongering that Democrats push back against immediately.

2014–2015: Ed Klein, a prolific anti-Clinton journalist whose sources are sometimes, ah, a little suspect, publishes two books in which he claims that Hillary Clinton is hiding health problems from the public and has a series of strokes.

July 28, 2015: Clinton's doctor releases a note explaining the candidate's medical history, including detailed information about the 2012 concussion. "She is in excellent physical condition and fit to serve as President of the United States," the letter concludes.

December 4, 2015: Donald Trump's doctor sends out a similar note, though in keeping with Trump's general trend toward making the biggest, splashiest, most luxurious public statements possible, he goes further than Clinton's doctor while also being much less detailed. "If elected, Mr. Trump, I can state unequivocally, will be the healthiest individual ever elected to the presidency."

So. Trump is 70, Clinton is 68, and both are apparently healthy enough to be president. There are whispers around the nuttier margins that Clinton is sick, and there's a cottage industry of folks who say Trump is a narcissist, but it doesn't seem like the health of either candidate will be nearly as important as their temperaments and personalities. Thanks for reading this timeline, everyone! Article over.

Early 2016: OK, well, maybe it's not actually over, because some fringe-y right-wing sites like WorldNetDaily and Breitbart are spreading rumors that Clinton is secretly sick, but these are just echoes of the Klein books, and no one reputable picks them up. Whatever.

Summer 2016: Some conspiracy-minded YouTube channels post slowed-down videos of Clinton that they say prove she has Parkinson's or some bullshit like that. Outside of the comically credulous InfoWars wing of Trump voters, no one cares. This is still a non-story.

August 7: Or... it is a story after all? An old photo of Clinton being caught by her handlers when she slipped walking up some stairs is widely circulated on conservative websites, including the Drudge Report. #HillarysHealth becomes a popular Twitter hashtag.

August 8: Fake medical records purporting to show that Clinton suffers from dementia spread online.

The next week: Sean Hannity of Fox News, who has been unashamedly sucking up to Trump even by the standards of the conservative cable network, devotes major time to the alleged controversy surrounding Clinton's health, interviewing medical experts and asking if she could be suffering seizures.

Mid August: Trump seems to nod to these rumors when he starts talking about how Clinton lacks "physical stamina" in stump speeches. By now, many prominent mainstream news outlets have explained in detail why these theories about Clinton's health are pretty nutty—but Trump supporters aren't inclined to trust mainstream news outlets, and in any case, the very fact that this has to be debunked means it's no longer a mere rumor but part of the campaign.

By August 21: Rudy Giuliani, the former New York mayor now working full-time as a Trump hype man, tells Fox viewers to google "Hillary Clinton illness"; Trump spokesperson Katrina Pierson claimed on MSNBC that Clinton had brain damage.

August 22: Clinton appears on Jimmy Kimmel Live! and jokes about all this, opening a jar of pickles as a way of laughing off concerns about her strength.

August 23: Alex Jones thinks that the pickle stunt was fake and brings out his own pickle jar to "prove" it.

August 28: Trump goes on Twitter to say that he thinks both he and Clinton should release their medical records. "I have no problem in doing so! Hillary?" he tweets.

September 5: Clinton coughs a lot during a campaign event, a fit her camp blames on allergies.

September 8: Like a cold that just won't quit, Clinton's health is a now full-blown story. The New York Times reports that releasing "full medical records" for anyone is pretty difficult and complicated.

September 9: Clinton is examined by Bardack and is diagnosed with pneumonia, though this information isn't revealed to the public.

September 11: While attending a 9/11 anniversary event in New York City, Clinton basically collapses and has to be helped into a car. Her campaign says Clinton felt "overheated" before revealing that the candidate actually had pneumonia. Later that afternoon, Clinton appears in front of the press to demonstrate that she's fine, but she also cancels a trip to California.

The video of Clinton being carried into her car, unlike the old out-of-context clips of her having "seizures," actually does make her look sick, because she is sick. But more than that, the Clinton campaign's handling of the incident invites a lot of very simple questions:

If you know that the candidate's health is an issue—no matter how dumb you think it is—why not tell everyone about the pneumonia on Friday? If Clinton's biggest weakness is her reputation for secrecy, why hide information about her health, especially when hiding information about her health is LITERALLY WHAT YOU HAVE BEEN ACCUSED OF BY YOUR ENEMIES FOR MONTHS? Why even attend a public event in the heat when you are seriously ill?

Also on September 11: That night, Trump's campaign tells Bloomberg that he's not going to weigh in on the whole pneumonia thing, preferring to stay out of the spotlight and let the press focus on Clinton.

September 12: Oops never mind—on Fox News, Trump again pledges to release more of his medical information and says that the two candidates' health is "an issue." Only 56 days until Election Day.

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