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Friday, August 19, 2016

Medical Mudslinging: the swiftboats of August 2016

by digby

I wrote about the latest smear that Hillary Clinton has brain damage for Salon today

How do we know it's the dog days of August in a presidential election year? Swimmers and swiftboats, that's how. Actually until August of 2004, we used to call swiftboating by other names: whisper campaigns and smear jobs. But after the success of the slick, pre-packaged set of lies about Senator John Kerry's war record this tactic will always be known for the boat that first made Kerry a hero and later destroyed his reputation.

This year, we're treated to an especially ugly form of swiftboating.  The right wing smear machine is working at warp speed to convince the nation that Hillary Clinton has brain damage. That is not hyperbole or some kind of a joke. They are literally claiming that she is hiding a physical and mental disability that renders her unfit for office. And they are, as usual, being helped by members of the mainstream media who are simply unable to resist "reporting" such a juicy tale even knowing that it is absurd. And so it becomes part of the narrative, true or not, that will color the rest of the campaign and Clinton's presidency should she win.

Karl Rove first crudely suggested that Clinton had a serious brain disorder when she fell and suffered a concussion a few years ago which required her to wear her thick prism glasses instead of contacts to correct temporary double vision. Nobody took him seriously at the time, but the rumor has been percolating in the fever swamps and Trump and company were obviously aware of it. Trump himself has been saying from the beginning that Clinton doesn't have the "strength or the stamina" to be president. He also claims that she can't campaign more than a couple of days a week and then she has to go hide and recover. (This is one of those lies so blatant that it renders people mute --- Clinton is clearly campaigning constantly, indeed she's out there more than he is.)

This attack was echoed by Matt Drudge as far back as October when he appeared on conspiracy monger Alex Jones' show and said "she’s old and she’s sick, she is not a viable, vibrant leader for this country.”  It's no surprise then that this latest full blown swiftboat offensive began on Drudge's web site. It's one of his specialties.

On August 7th he linked to an obscure right wing website that had posted a picture of Clinton tripping on some porch steps and being steadied by a couple of aides under the title “2016: Hillary Conquers the Stairs." He neglected to mention that the picture was taken in February.

The next salvo came from Trump's friends at the National Enquirer which published a screaming headline “Hillary Clinton’s Secret Health Crisis.” And according to Ben Collins at the Daily Beast, "by the middle of the day the No. 2 trending Google search about Hillary Clinton was: “Is Hillary having health problems?”

That night Trump surrogate Sean Hannity devoted his show to fanning the rumors, even bringing in the Fox Medical A-Team who appear regularly on the network to diagnose her from afar and demand to see a complete neurological workup and all of Clinton's medical records. He continued the rumor mongering throughout the week.

By this time the fall was old news. Now she was said to be having seizures and speaking oddly and having weird expressions on her face and exhibiting muddled thinking. When a protester tried to rush the stage at one of her rallies and a secret service agent stepped to the podium and said they had things under control, people said he had a diazepam pen in his hand at the ready, apparently in case she had a seizure right there on the spot. (It's all rubbish, of course.)

Meanwhile, the "Alt-right" has gone completely over the edge with this craziness. Collins writes that the conspiracy site Info Wars has turned over its entire site to these rumors:
Hillary Clinton supposedly has Parkinson’s disease, syphilis, brain damage, a brain tumor, autism, a degenerative disease that is giving her seizures and/or strokes, and a blood clot, according to InfoWars writer Paul Joseph Watson. Oh, and he says she has a drug problem. All of these diagnoses—save for Parkinson’s, which commanded a separate full-length article—came in a single one of Watson’s YouTube videos released on Thursday. It now has over 1.6 million views at press time.
And yes the mainstream media has joined in the fun. On MSNBC Chris Matthews has devoted several segments to the issue, apparently convinced that where Republicans blow smoke there must be fire saying, "what are the Republicans up to on this health issue? Why are they on to this? What do they know? Is there something we don't know in the health records? Something that could change this election around?"

Newspapers are running stories pointing out that she uses a stool on stage when someone else is giving a speech as evidence that she's too weak to stand. Web sites are posting picture arrays of Clinton using a pillow behind her back as if that's a sign that she "needs propping up." Dr Drew Pinsky of Celebrity Rehab weighed in saying that he's concerned that Clinton isn't getting the proper medical care for "her condition." (Even Newt Gingrich called that "junk medicine.") And fake medical records appeared out of nowhere and started making the rounds prompting Clinton's physician to reiterate her earlier declaration that Clinton was a healthy woman capable of handling the duties of president.

Last night Trump surrogate Katrina Pierson took it to a new level by offering up a full diagnosis on MSNBC, saying there are “reports of observations of Hillary Clinton’s behavior and mannerisms,” that Clinton suffers from “dysphasia” — a neurological condition that limits a person’s  ability to communicate or understand speech. I'm going to take a guess that Pierson didn't come up with those talking points herself.

This confluence of activity didn't happen by chance. It was planned and executed from InfoWars to Youtube to Drudge to Hannity to The Daily Mail to MSNBC and finally the NBC Nightly News and The New York Times.   And regardless of what the fact checks say, a whole lot of people in this country now believe that Hillary Clinton, a woman of great intelligence and impressive endurance, is a brain damaged invalid. Swiftboat mission accomplished.

Despite the fact that Donald Trump is actually older than Clinton and does not appear to be particularly fit, there has been virtually no scrutiny of his health. Indeed, the fact that he most likely dictated the ridiculous letter his doctor supposedly wrote for him, in which the doctor declared that he could "state unequivocally" that if Trump were to win he'd be the "healthiest individual ever elected to the presidency" hasn't raised the kind of suspicion that one might expect. isn't it odd that a man of his age and prominence doesn't see a top flight doctor who could vouch for his health?

The same cannot be

Many years ago, I coined a term called "Cokie's Law" after DC doyenne Cokie Roberts who when asked about whether or not Hillary Clinton really blamed Bill's rough childhood for his misbehavior, "at this point it doesn't much matter whether she said it or not because it's become part of the culture. I was at the beauty parlor yesterday and this was all anyone was talking about."

Trump: Importantly, she lacks the mental and physical stamina to take on ISIS and all of the many adversaries we face

Matthews: Well he's being doing that and did it against last night in a recorded comment Why is that relevant?

Kellyann: Many things are relevant to...

Matthews: the health of the other candidate. Why is that a focus?

Kellyann: They think that his tax returns are relevant, but both of their health is not relevant. But I'll say this, he is a very ...

Matthews: I think they're both relevant if there's a health problem. But is there a health problem of Hillary? He keeps saying she's got a health problem

Kellyann: Oh I have no idea because I'm not a doctor. let me make that very clear. I have not examined her a patient, I wouldn't be qualified to ...

Matthews: Well, he's not either

I want to say something about that. She and Senator Warren and a whole lot of them at the Democratic convention were in the hometown of Philly Chris. Somehow it's ok for them to insunlt this guy six ways to Sunday every chance they get and if he shoots back with one comment it's "ahhh look at him, he's attacking a woman he's attacking her health." Have you seen the way the speak about him? I would laying it all down tomorrow if she would have a debate on the issues because she can't ...

Matthews: Just an hour ago Trump campaign spokeswoman Katina Pierson said Clinton had a condition called dysphasia, which is a loss of the power to use and comprehend words. Here's what she said:

I'm not a doctor, you're not a doctor, Kellyann your candidate's not a doctor neither is Hillary Clinton. But your people are putting out the word that there's a hidd... you've seen this with Michael Dukakis. you've seen how politics works. You put out rhe word there's something wrong with the guy there's something wrong with the woman and people start buzzing about it. is this a tactic that you like?

Kellyann: oh I don't like it as much as just taking her on on the issues and taking her on on the issues blah, blah blah... Clinton foundation.

Matthews:  good point. Don't bury your lead.

Cokie's law is still in effect

So, I just watched Andrea Mitchell of MSNBC standing on a rope line where Clinton was taking selfies with voters peppering her with questions about her health. And why was she doing this?  Because Trump and his henchmen are trying to make a bogus case that Clinton is an a weak, sick old woman who doesn't have the strength to do the job.  Chris Matthews devoted a whole segment to getting to the bottom of this "story."

This is a manufactured hit job by the likes of Matt Drudge and Sean Hannity which the mainstream media, particularly MSNBC, finds irresistible apparently.

Here's Chris Matthews on it:

MATTHEWS: Hannity is ranting on this topic. What's going on? What are the Republicans up to on this health issue? Why are they on to this? What do they know? is there something we don't know in the health records? Something that could change this election around?

Democratic strategist Steve McMahon tries to put that false rumor to rest.

MCMAHON: No. There's no indication there's anything like that This was something that was thrown out there as a canard about a year or so ago that Hillary Clinton had somehow had strokes or something. And, it's ridiculous. (It's) what happens when a campaign appears to be failing, and they make charges that don't seem credible at all, it actually reflects more on the person making the charge.

Nope, that is not enough for Tweety. He keeps it alive.

MATTHEWS: Is it smart to make a charge like this if they know it's not going to be proven true? Is it smart if they can lead into something actually coming out or they can force some information out of her medical records. Why would they go into a wall on this? Why say something that will be demonstrably proven wrong within a matter of weeks?

MCMAHON: Because they don't think beyond the next news cycle. They are just desperate and grasping for straws and you can see it.

That should be the end of it. But no. We continue. He asks Susan Page of USA Today what are her thoughts and she brushes it off as pretty ridiculous. So he turns to the last of the panel.

↓ Story continues below ↓
Republican Strategist Matt Schlapp does his damnedest to turn the fake Hannity claim into a story about her accessibility, and thus we should surmise her health is compromised; as if they are one in the same. You know, GOP logic, 1+1=5, right?

SCHLAPP: Democrats often say, people in the press often say hey, she's awfully hard, she's not very available, he's very available, he's too available. It's hard to get her on our shows, hard to...

MATTHEWS: Does that mean she's hiding ailments?

SCHLAPP: I don't know. she's certainly behind some kind of veil.

As if the needle is skipping on the record...McMahon attempts to put this matter to rest, again.

MCMAHON: If i'm not mistaken, Hillary Clinton's doctor put out something that addressed this some time ago. i don't think there's anything; there's nothing to see here as the police would say.

Thankfully, there are commercials, at least sometimes!

Here's an example of the idiocy that's going around and which MSNBC is helping to perpetuate:

After months of clicking "next" on Getty Image galleries of Hillary Clinton, Heat Street, a website known for its bombshell exposé on who feminist writers block on Twitter, has made another jaw-dropping discovery: the Democratic presidential candidate frequently sits on or near comfortable-looking pillows.

According to Heat Street:

Hillary is being propped up by a pillow, and it’s hardly the first time this has happened. In fact, the former secretary of state used to include propping cushions on her list of demands during her lucrative time on the paid celebrity speaking circuit.
With the help of the all-powerful Microsoft Paint "arrow" tool, Heat Street then highlights the many times Secretary Clinton has appeared in public sitting with a pillow behind her back, apparently — ahem, excuse me, this is hard to write — so she'll be more comfortable. In one upsetting image, Clinton even goes a bit further: The photo shows her seemingly being propped up by a pillow, perhaps in an effort to appear taller — a thing women never attempt.

The old bag is little more than an invalid!

There's another starling expose out there that shows her sitting on a stool on the stage while someone else is giving a speech at her rallies, which is obviously a sign that she can barely stand on her own.