Hillary's Health and Hillary's Secrecy

Hillary's Health and Hillary's Secrecy
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For weeks, Hillary Clinton's supporters said all questions about her health were out-of-bounds, the product of conspiracy theorists. She had a cough. She had an allergy. Move along, nothing to see here.

At Clinton Campaign Central that’s still their story and their sticking to it. For the rest of us, the debate is now over. Hillary ended it herself with a “health episode” at a 9/11 memorial service, leaving early and wobbling to her car, helped by aides. It was more than a cough. It turned out to be pneumonia, Clinton’s doctor now says, and the Democratic presidential nominee had not disclosed it until the episode forced her to do so.

The episode itself and Clinton’s delay in revealing her condition are certain to lead to more discussion, more questions, and, if the campaign so far is any indication, more personal attacks from both sides.

After Sunday’s events, it is entirely reasonable to ask questions about Clinton's health—and Donald Trump's. (He has told us almost nothing.) It is equally reasonable to ask whether Clinton and her campaign are still being forthright about these health issues.

The reason for this skepticism is simple: They’ve said as little as possible about Mrs. Clinton’s health, and what they have said has sometimes been misleading. Since that same characterization applies to her answers about her email and private server, and because more disquieting revelations about them continue to dribble out, she has no chance of shutting down a new discussion about her health.

That’s what happens when you lose your credibility. Even truthful answers are greeted with skepticism.

Clinton’s hurried exit from the 9/11 event and her campaign’s subsequent disclosure that she had already been diagnosed with pneumonia raises two main questions:

Did Hillary disclose her illness before her public episode?  And did she and her campaign do everything possible to prevent the press from covering the news as it happened? 

The answer the first question is no, she disclosed nothing; the answer to the second is yes, she tried hard to block all coverage.

On Friday, under Hillary’s latest version of events, she knew she had walking pneumonia. She decided not to disclose it or to update her campaign’s previous reports that nothing was wrong. She let those misleading reports stand.

On Sunday, when she suffered an "episode," her aides maintained radio silence after giving the misleading statement that it was somehow "heat related." The heat may have played a role, but it did so because Clinton was suffering from undisclosed pneumonia. When she did fall ill, her campaign acted immediately to prevent the campaign pool reporter (NBC, as it happens) from following Clinton as she was helped into a car that then sped off. The pool is there for exactly this reason, to inform other news outlets about breaking events like this. For 90 minutes, no reporters, including the pool representative, knew where Hillary Clinton was.

The answer to that mystery turned out to be her daughter’s home, which struck some people as an odd venue for a pneumonia patient to seek sanctuary from the media considering that two small children live in that home, including an infant born in mid-June.

When the campaign finally spoke, very little was revealed. Clinton aides have not said how long the candidate has had pneumonia, what type it is, whether it is contagious (there are different types), whether it was diagnosed by x-rays or required a previous doctor's visit, and so on. The answers to those are anybody’s guess. They will have to be pried out of the campaign.

In other words, Hillary Clinton and her campaign have behaved exactly the way they normally do: Only insiders get information and then only on a need-to-know basis. Remember all those reporters chasing after her van at the beginning of the campaign? Remember the 260+ days without a press conference, ending only last week. Secrecy like this is her standard operating procedure.

Pervasive secrecy about newsworthy issues is bound to feed the rumor mill, but Hillary takes no responsibility for it.  She should. Better yet, she should clear it up by disclosing more truthful information, not blaming it all on people who wear tin-foil hats.

If you don’t like rumor-mongering—and I don’t—then end the excessive secrecy that feeds it.

RCP contributor Charles Lipson is the Peter B. Ritzma Professor of Political Science at the University of Chicago, where he is founding director of PIPES, the Program on International Politics, Economics, and Security. He blogs at ZipDialog.com and can be reached at charles.lipson@gmail.com.

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