WASHINGTON (MEDIA GENERAL) — Hillary Clinton had a three-minute coughing fit on Labor Day that set the media ablaze.
It got written up on heavily trafficked sites like Buzzfeed (Hillary Clinton Jokes Cough is Because She’s “Allergic” to Donald Trump) and NBC News (Hillary Clinton Fights Back Coughing Attack).
The hashtag #HackingHillary began trending on Twitter.
It’s a narrative native to the nooks and crannies of the conservative online world, and widely popularized by Republican nominee Donald Trump’s innuendo-laden queries about Clinton’s health and “stamina.”
Origins of Hillary health conspiracies
Clinton’s doctor released a letter in July 2015 detailing her health conditions and medications, summarizing that “Mrs. Clinton is a healthy female with hypothyroidism and seasonal allergies, on long-term anticoagulation.”
Mayo Clinic defines hypothyroidism as a condition that “upsets the normal balance of chemical reactions in your body” and slows the metabolism, usually affecting “women, especially those older than age 60.”
In the 14 months since that letter, ultra-right websites have tirelessly pounded away at 68-year-old Clinton with Sick-Hillary stories, based on clumsy, and sometimes downright wacky, evidence.
Leading the charge were sites outlets like The Drudge Report, World Net Daily (WND), Heat Street and InfoWars.
Heat Street ran a detailed exposé, including notated photographs, showing Clinton’s reliance on pillows to support her lower back.
The Gateway Pundit tried to convince readers that Hillary was seizing, not laughing, at a campaign events.
WND introduced readers to “10 prominent doctors [who] question Hillary’s health.”
For a play-by-play of Clinton’s respiratory activity, Twitter users can now follow @HillaryCoughing.
All the coverage got to be so much that The Daily Beast posted a tongue-in-cheek piece in 2016 that jokingly asked “Is Hillary’s Cough The New Benghazi?”
Trump demands more health coverage
Donald Trump expressed dissatisfaction that mainstream media didn’t more eagerly jump on Hillary’s latest coughing attack.
Trump’s tweet seems to suggest that reporters and media executives — and presumably her own doctor — are giving Clinton a free pass when it comes to her health.
Meanwhile, the only medical information publicly shared by the Trump campaign about his health came from a gastroenterologist who promised that the billionaire “will be the healthiest individual ever elected to the presidency.”
Dr. Harold Bornstein wrote that hyperbolic letter, he recently revealed, in the span of five minutes.
Yet and still, it is Trump leveling charges against his opponent and demanding more information.
Hillary Clinton has chosen to minimize the line of attack by laughing it off.
She went on ABC’s “Jimmy Kimmel Live” to have him check her pulse and watch her open a jar of pickles.
Clinton also reminded Kimmel that “back in October, The National Enquirer said that I’d be dead in six months.”
Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Clinton’s running mate, confronted the endless chatter more forcefully, calling Trump’s health-based attacks “idiotic.”
Media walk thin line
The media has an ethical responsibility to cover issues of substance, including serious questions about candidates’ health.
However, there have been no indications that Clinton suffers from any debilitating or life-threatening ailments.
Following the uptick in Clinton health coverage, Chris Cillizza of the Washington Post wrote an article asking, “Can we just stop talking about Hillary Clinton’s health now?”
If Trump and right-wing outlets have anything to say about it, the likely answer is easy: Probably not.
Follow Chance Seales on Twitter: @ChanceSeales