The media’s 2016 freak out over Clinton’s pneumonia looks really suspect today

We know more about the medical history of private citizen Hillary Clinton than we do about the president of the United States

A woman walks by a bus stop with an advertisement campaign for a Belgium radio news channel picturing Donald Trump eating a waffle, on February 29, 2016 in Brussels. 
(Credit: EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP/Getty Images)
A woman walks by a bus stop with an advertisement campaign for a Belgium radio news channel picturing Donald Trump eating a waffle, on February 29, 2016 in Brussels. (Credit: EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP/Getty Images)

Six thousand years ago, during the last few months of the 2016 presidential election, Hillary Clinton contracted a bout of walking pneumonia.

The entire media world breathlessly covered her every movement that September day, when Clinton had to be helped into a van after baking in the summer sun at a 9/11 memorial ceremony. We learned several hours later that Clinton had retired to her daughter’s New York City apartment to cool off and recover, and that she had been diagnosed with a mild case of walking pneumonia.

The whole episode reignited the well-worn — and casually sexist — narrative that Clinton, at 68 years old, might not have had the physical fortitude to assume the most important job in the world. It was a narrative pushed heavily by Donald Trump and his loathsome progeny, but the media was equally complicit. Of course the far-right, led by Fox News and the usual consortium of internet drudgery, assumed their battle stations, but so too did outlets like NPR, where host Cokie Roberts suggested the next day that Democrats were considering replacing Clinton with Joe Biden, less than two months before election day.

On CNN, John King took umbrage with Clinton’s failure to disclose her pneumonia, suggesting it was because she “refuses to be human,” and not because a woman who exhibits even a hint of vulnerability will have her competency, stamina, and authority immediately called into question.


The New York Post went with “HILL HEALTH CRISIS,” accompanying a grainy photo of the back of Clinton’s head as she ducked into an awaiting van. “Clinton collapses at 9/11 memorial,” read a smaller headline, which also happens to be a lie.

Even the New York Times ran with Clinton’s momentary sick break as its top story in the next morning’s paper.

Fast forward 20 months. On Tuesday afternoon, CNN reported that longtime Trump physician Harold Bornstein admitted that the doctor’s note he signed and publicly released during the campaign — you know, the one where he said Trump’s “physical strength and stamina are extraordinary, that he would be “the healthiest individual ever elected to the presidency,” and whose blood work was, in professional medical parlance, “astonishingly excellent” — was a complete fabrication, and was in fact dictated by Trump himself.

As of midday Wednesday, Fox News has yet to address the subject on its website. NPR and the Washington Post ran short stories based on CNN’s reporting. The New York Times ran a short wire piece from Reuters on its website. The discrepancy between the coverage of Clinton’s health and Donald Trump’s by the country’s newspaper of record wasn’t lost on people.

And so it goes. After 16 months of the Trump presidency, we are completely deadened to monumental scandal. The president of the United States colluded with a licensed physician to falsify medical records — a felony — in an effort to conceal his health from the American people and win an election. What’s more, after winning, he sent some muscle, led by his personal aide, to improperly seize his legitimate medical records — another felony.


Tossing out Bornstein’s stenography means the only medical information we know about Donald Trump comes to us from the White House doctor, who conducted a routine medical exam back in January assuring the public that “the President’s overall health is excellent,” that he could correctly identify a drawing of a lion, and that he weighed 239 pounds, precisely one pound less than the threshold for clinical obesity for someone his height. The physician who administered the exam was Dr. Ronny Jackson, who would later be nominated to head the Department of Veterans Affairs, only to withdraw from consideration after his tendency to drink on the job and dole out prescription drugs like candy was uncovered during his confirmation hearing.

So what do we actually know about the overall health of the former fast food spokesman and oldest person ever elected to the White House, the only person capable of launching a nuclear weapon, who can (and has) changed federal policy via tweet? We know he refuses to exercise because he believes human beings function like batteries (which, for the record, is the entire premise of The Matrix trilogy). We know Donald Trump’s preferred diet can be ordered via drive thru windows. We know he has a history of slurred speech. And we know that he is willing to commit multiple felonies to keep his actual medical history a secret.

Contrast that with what we knew about President Obama’s health. He released his medical records during the 2008 campaign, and continued to provide regular updates while he was in office. So too did Hillary Clinton, who released her medical history going back to her husband’s presidency, and again after the pneumonia incident.