For Hillary Clinton, the second week of September 2016 should have been a media disaster.
She collapsed on Sept. 11 of that year after fainting during a 9/11 memorial service and had to be poured into a van by her security detail.
Later that week, she referred to supporters of then-Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump as “deplorables.” With two months until the election, new concerns about her health and a comment condemning roughly half the nation should have amounted to days of negative headlines.
But it didn’t. It was reported she powered through the 9/11 collapse and continued working later that day. As for the “deplorables” comment, well, aren’t they?
But when first lady Melania Trump underwent kidney surgery and remained in the hospital for several days afterward, the media created its own ecosystem of conspiracy theories, rumors and speculation.
In a single article, the New York Times claimed the White House had “shrouded in secrecy” Trump’s recovery, then later revealed she had tweeted she was “feeling great” and even added quotes to that effect from White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders and Stephanie Winston Wolkoff, a close friend of the first lady.
CNN attempted to play the lack-of-transparency card as well.
“The first lady did not divulge the details of her medical condition, while her office declined to offer more details,” the article read. In the next paragraph, CNN cited a White House statement explaining the first lady’s condition in considerable detail.
It said she underwent an embolization procedure to treat a benign kidney condition at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., then said, “Out of respect for patient privacy, Walter Reed Bethesda does not release information on any patient who receives care at our Medical Center,” the CNN article quoted the statement as saying.”
An article in People implied the first lady had essentially gone missing for two weeks in what it referred to as an “unusually long absence.” It said in the last paragraph she stayed in the hospital that long only because of her celebrity.
The contrast with the coverage of Clinton’s health problems – which had the potential to affect a presidency – is stark.
CNN’s Brian Stelter spun Clinton’s health episode as another example of her “strength” and later invoked the gender card to seemingly shame anyone who dared to ask questions.
“Hillary Clinton also trying to show her strength. If she had pneumonia and she went to the 9/11 ceremony this morning, that’s a very strong, bold thing to do also knowing that Trump was going to be there. We should be honest about the double standards that women sometimes face with regards to their health, with the idea that women are portrayed as being weaker than men, how they have to work harder to show they’re as strong as men, especially in workplaces, especially in politics,” Stelter said.
Similarly, the New Yorker’s Ryan Lizza blasted those questioned Clinton’s fitness for office as conspiracy theorists.
CNN’s Christiane Amanpour added, “This must [be] another typical Clinton conspiracy to fool them with a total transparency breakdown.” Amanpour then used Clinton’s fall as an opportunity to criticize Trump for not releasing his tax returns. “Talk about transparency breakdown; what about Donald Trump’s tax returns? Where are they,” Amanpour said.
“Can’t a girl have a sick day or two? Don’t get me started because when it comes to overqualified women having to try a hundred times harder than underqualified men to get a break or even a level playing field, well,” Amanpour said. “We know that story.”