On Sunday, Hillary Clinton abruptly left a 9/11 memorial event, with her campaign telling the press that she “overheated.” Later, a video surfaced that appeared to show Hillary stumbling as she was escorted to a van. The departure and video caused renewed speculation that Clinton could be in poor health, an idea that has been circulated by alt-right media outlets for months. Finally, five hours afters after the event, the campaign revealed that Clinton had been diagnosed with pneumonia on Friday. Why did it take more than two days for the campaign to disclose her diagnosis with the public? And after the video surfaced, why did it take another five hours? Jon Favreau, Tommy Vietor, and Jon Lovett explained what her campaign may have been thinking on the latest Keepin’ It 1600.
Listen to the full podcast here. This transcript has been edited and condensed.
Revealing the Diagnosis Could Have Added to the Conspiracy Theories Already Swirling
Tommy Vietor: I don’t think they have an obligation to disclose something like pneumonia, though it’s obvious now that it would’ve been beneficial. I don’t know that there’s a precedent for disclosing something … like this. Or a health issue like this where you take antibiotics and it goes away. That said, I do think it was a mistake not to tell reporters almost immediately when she got ill that she had been diagnosed with pneumonia Friday. That period of time between [the video surfacing and] the initial statement from the campaign that she felt overheated or exhausted and we had idiots on either side debating how hot it was in New York that day. … [There are] a lot of Hillary defenders not helping her by just being ridiculous, but obviously the fact that Sean Hannity and the Trump campaign have been trying to create bogus health rumors for weeks now led to the campaign feeling like they shouldn’t disclose this, and it led her to go to an event that she was way too sick to attend. And that sucks. It’s absurd that this sort of conspiracy fear health mongering has gotten her to this place, but it would’ve been easier if they had gotten this out earlier.
Jon Favreau: I tried to put myself in Hillary Clinton’s shoes here. If Friday comes along, you get the diagnosis, “By the way, you have pneumonia, but you know what? You don’t need to be in a hospital bed, but you should cut back the schedule and take some antibiotics and you should be fine.” Then you’re thinking, “Hmm, if I tell people I have pneumonia right now, after there has been weeks [of] health conspiracy theories saying I have six months to live, do I tell people that and fuel the rumors and not go to this event, and what will they say? What will Trump say?” So you’re worried about that. I think if I were her, I would’ve done the same thing. Now, hopefully, there would’ve been staffers around me that would’ve said, “Hey boss, the transparency police are going to come after you if don’t disclose this, maybe it’s better to disclose this.” Now we look back and say they should’ve, but if they [did] disclose it, I could also imagine two days of coverage about how ill she really is.
It Can Take Time to Put Together a Full and Complete Statement
Jon Lovett: I understand how that length of time happens, and it happens faster than you think. We’ve all been on campaigns. There’s a desire to put out one definitive statement and, OK, there’s a doctor going to see her, let’s get a statement from the doctor, and a little more time goes by. These things can get away from you, and I think the campaign has even said that. But part of the reason it’s an issue is because there was so much false rumormongering for so long. You see a lot of coverage about this somehow being part of a bigger story about Hillary Clinton’s health, and that’s not really fair because there is no story about Hillary Clinton’s health that was very legitimate until Sunday. As far as the Clinton world is concerned, there was nothing to even say [on] Friday. So you’re talking about a three-day situation where she had this allergy-related cough, she goes to the doctor because she feels a little bit under the weather, the doctor diagnoses her with pneumonia on Friday, she goes on the antibiotics, they have this question, “Do we have to disclose the fact that she has this treatable kind of pneumonia that a lot of people get?” It’s a borderline thing. I think so. That’s why we’re having this conversation. We wouldn’t [have this conversation] if it was a cold. We would have a different conversation if it was more serious. It’s hard to say whether she could [have] disclosed or not. She had hoped she could go on the antibiotics and that she was feeling better and she could have her schedule and not have to deal with the fact that there is a group of reporters and right-wing pundits waiting to add this to the litany of conspiracy theories and false health stories. She tried to get over the hump without dealing with it and obviously that didn’t work too well.
Politicians Don’t Normally Reveal Every Time They Get Sick
T.V.: I have a feeling that we know a lot less about our president’s or a candidate’s medical disclosures than we think we know, right? We all remember that George H. W. Bush puked on the Japanese prime minister, so we all learned he had the flu. We all remember [George W.] Bush choking on a pretzel and passing out and they had to disclose that because he got a big bruise on his face. … They took a raft of shit for it from the press corps. I think the problem is compounded by a broader set of frustrations among the press corps. On a day like this, the fact that she doesn’t have a protective pool yet I think really set them off because there could’ve been something seriously wrong in their minds and they weren’t there to cover it.
Neither Clinton Nor Trump Have a Protective Pool, Which Could Have Revealed the Diagnosis Sooner
T.V.: A protective pool is a rotating group of reporters that trails the candidate from morning to night. They send constant updates on what the candidate or the president is doing. It’s basically what the president has for his coverage. It’s overseen by the White House Correspondents’ Association. Basically they’re there for the most catastrophic events to the most mundane. They generate pool reports, they disseminate them to the broader press corps, they come with you to Iraq, they go with you golfing, they go with the president to get ice cream with his kid. They call it “Death Watch,” because they watch the helicopter come up and go down, and the only reason you’re there for that is in case something really bad happens.
J.L.: The theory being … that this is an objective observer…in the event that some sort of history takes place and we don’t have to rely on the narrators who have a partisan interest. Reagan gets shot? They’re there to see it. 9/11 happens? They’re there with the president. They’re a part of the only plane in the sky. Candidates usually get a protective pool as soon as they officially secure the nomination. Obama did it in June, McCain did it in July, Romney waited until early August. … Both [Trump and Clinton] don’t have a protective pool right now and I think, frankly, they should.
J.F.: Yeah, I think this is an easy one. Protective pools are annoying, of course, to a candidate because you can’t go anywhere without the press reporters following you. But look, it’s precedent, and I think the argument can be made that if there was a protective pool around her then maybe we would’ve known about the pneumonia earlier on Sunday and then we would’ve spared, all of us, five hours of freaking out.