Throughout the 2016 presidential election, the right-leaning tabloids were Hillary Clinton’s personal hypochondriac, constantly diagnosing her with one physical ailment after another. From an alleged seizure during a press conference to a supposed defibrillator strapped onto her back, Clinton accumulated a long list of fictitious afflictions. The creators of these ailments were conservative in their beliefs but highly liberal with their imaginations. Hillary’s bill of health was constantly scribbled over, whited out, added to and folded up. This obsession with Hillary’s health shows not only the power of fake news but also strong notes of sexism.
In July of 2016, a video of Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton making dramatic head movements went viral. The video had been filmed a month earlier but went mostly unnoticed when it first aired. Searching for any possible display of abnormality from the enemy, conservative tabloids uncovered this video and claimed that it portrayed Clinton having a seizure. Although fact-checkers quickly debunked this claim, it continued to spread widely, amplified in a crescendo of likes and retweets. This was not a one-time incident. The anti-Hillary internet army continued to flood newsfeeds with similar ideas, sending new fanciful claims hurtling over those that were already struck down.
Another phantom ailment conjured up for Clinton was her need for a defibrillator. After spying an abnormal shape on Hillary’s back under her coat, the ever-zealous blogs and tabloids of the right quickly claimed that it was a heart-stabilizing device called a defibrillator. What else could a bump on someone’s back be? It turns out that the culprit was actually a transmitter, which is very commonly worn by speakers and politicians using wireless microphones. In the same lane, accusations of Clinton wearing a catheter spread after her pant leg did not fall smoothly enough for the prying eyes of her hoard of highly attentive internet doctors.
Running with the idea of Clinton being sick, a right-wing cartoonist tweeted the image above, amassing 700 retweets and 1.4K likes.
It depicts Clinton as a near-corpse, unable to walk. It also shows a dripping syringe in one of her bodyguards’ hands, having the viewers of this cartoon assume that Clinton needed to be drugged before she could approach the podium. This kind of colorful, eye-catching drawing is a perfect way to spread fake news quickly and efficiently. There is no chunk of text standing in the way of understanding the point before liking and sharing.
Also taken in proving sickness, was a much more concise and aggressive route; the forging of Clinton’s medical records. A picture of Hillary’s allegedly leaked medical records started making its way around twitter during the 2016 election. According to these records Clinton was diagnosed with “early-onset Subcortical Vascular Dementia” and prone to “intensified Complex Partial Seizures” as well as experiencing memory loss, among other things. It would undoubtedly be absurd to send Clinton into office with such severe medical conditions. But these records were easily exposed as fake for many reasons including the forger’s lack of knowledge of what a medical record actually looks like.
To counteract the spread of more fake news about Clinton’s health, her doctor Lisa Bardack released the actual medical records. Doctor Baradack is a renowned physician and clearly states in these publicly released records that “Mrs. Clinton is a healthy 67-year-old female whose current medical conditions include hypothyroidism [which is later explained to be easily controlled by a common daily medication] and seasonal pollen allergies.”
These examples perfectly demonstrate how any motivated internet craftsman can melt down, twist, and blow innocent facts into a shiny, new creation. They also present a question: why is everyone so obsessed with Hillary’s health? There is a simple answer to that question. She is a woman.
It is a well-known fact that Franklin D. Roosevelt suffered from the crippling disease of polio yet he still went down in history as a competent president. We now know that John F. Kennedy, another revered president, was suffering from a myriad of health problems while in office. Lyndon Baines Johnson also notably had a publicized heart attack before winning the presidential election. Looking at these historic examples, it can be concluded that the American public does not necessarily require their presidents to be without health problems. Yet perfectly healthy presidential candidate Hillary Clinton is constantly said to be unhealthy, too weak to take office. What is the most obvious difference between Clinton, Roosevelt, LBJ, and JFK? Clinton is not a man. This idea of Hillary’s inherent weakness and sickliness stems from the societal ideas of a woman.
Our society has constructed the belief that women are in general weaker than men, and this is now frantically being projected onto Clinton through the guise of health problems. Women are constantly fighting to represent themselves in government. The battle over Clinton’s health gives a prime example of how women constantly get pushed out of positions of power because of their supposed inability to perform to the level of excellence that men can.
Although Donald Trump won the election over Clinton nearly four years ago, #Hillaryshealth on twitter brings up just hours-old posts. Even after being clearly disproved, the tabloid whack-a-moles continue popping their heads back up and shouting out fabricated ailments. As long as there is an internet connection and perceived enemies to attack, the production of fake news will continue in exorbitant quantities, fueled by bigotry and sexism.