Politics

The Clinton campaign’s bad damage control just made the health story even worse

Hillary Clinton was forced to leave a Sept. 11 memorial service Sunday after feeling “overheated.”
Eric Thayer/The New York Times
Hillary Clinton was forced to leave a Sept. 11 memorial service Sunday after feeling “overheated.”

Conservative media coverage of Hillary Clinton’s health has been borderline hysterical. OK, not even borderline - just plain hysterical. Amateur diagnoses of the Democratic presidential nominee on various news sites range from Parkinson’s disease and cancer to radiation poisoning and aphasia. Mainstream outlets have generally dismissed such conjecture.

But after Clinton was forced to leave a Sept. 11 memorial service early Sunday - feeling overheated, according to her campaign - the journalistic scrutiny seems likely to intensify. And not only - or even primarily - because of the overheating.

The bigger issue is the secretive manner in which Clinton’s campaign managed the incident. It is an approach that is sure to prove counterproductive than if reporters had been allowed to follow Clinton out of the ceremony or if aides had been faster to address her condition. A lack of information always makes journalists wonder whether something more serious is being kept hidden. It just does.

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In the immediate aftermath of Clinton’s exit, reporters tweeted their frustration at not knowing what was going on - and being prevented from finding out.

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From NBC Pool Report: ‘‘We are told by the campaign that we are no longer allowed to shoot anything from the ceremony.’’

Sure, anyone can start to feel lightheaded in 80-degree heat, of course. I’ll never forget watching a saxophone player in my high school marching band (yes, I was cool) drop to the ground during a Memorial Day ceremony. We weren’t even marching or playing at the time. She just hadn’t hydrated properly, locked out her knees and ... boom. And she was perfectly healthy.

So Clinton’s overheating on its own doesn’t prove anything. But her campaign’s unwillingness to be instantly forthcoming may well make people in the media who had previously laughed off talk of a health problem suddenly take it a bit more seriously.

‘‘We don’t scrutinize her coughing fits,’’ Fox News host Bill O’Reilly told me last week, drawing a contrast between his program and others. ‘‘We don’t do any of that.’’

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Think that will still be true on Monday’s edition of the ‘‘O’Reilly Factor”? It’s hard to imagine it will be.

It’s also hard to imagine that O’Reilly will be alone in treating Clinton’s health as a legitimate campaign issue going forward.