Hillary Clinton needs to start telling the truth about her health

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio speaks to US Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton during a memorial service at the National 9/11 Memorial September 11, 2016 in New York.
Brendan Smialowski | AFP | Getty Images
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio speaks to US Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton during a memorial service at the National 9/11 Memorial September 11, 2016 in New York.

The Clinton campaign's handling of Hillary Clinton's "medical episode" on Sunday, where she almost collapsed at a public 9/11 memorial ceremony and was caught on video being literally dragged into an SUV, was simply yet another inexcusable example of its aversion to openness and the truth.

Clinton's campaign has been telling us for several weeks that Clinton had been suffering from allergies. Then, after the incident Sunday, it told us she was overcome by the heat during the outdoor event. Finally, it "came clean" with its statement about a pneumonia diagnosis.

It simply seems like the Clinton team chooses dishonesty at worst and obfuscation at best every time it's asked a question, even in non-confrontational situations. And that's what really was the worst part of Sunday's episode: Clinton's health may not really be anywhere near as bad as what looks like a true allergy to the truth.

Clinton's critics have been questioning her health for more than a year. And the released transcript of her FBI questioning on her personal email scandal included the presidential candidate herself telling investigators that she suffered memory loss and other health issues due to a concussion. But it took Sunday's incident, made worse by a scary-looking video of a lifeless-looking Clinton being dragged into an SUV, for the campaign to admit to a more severe condition such as pneumonia.

To be clear, we do not KNOW that Hillary Clinton has pneumonia. That's what her campaign and a doctor her campaign is quoting says. Any reference to pneumonia should be made in the context of attributing that claim to her campaign. In other words, any reporting about her condition until we know otherwise should be phrased like this: "The Clinton campaign says she has pneumonia." Not, "Hillary Clinton has pneumonia."

And many more questions need to be asked, like why wasn't Clinton taken to the hospital? What kind of pneumonia does she have? Doing anything else is irresponsible and blatantly ignores the continued problems with the truth her campaign and her husband's presidential administration had with the truth.

On the other hand, it is similarly not right to publicly speculate that Clinton has another malady unless one is an expert doctor who feels professionally confident in diagnosing something he or she saw in the video of her from Sunday or in other instances.

Another bigger question now is whether Clinton's fellow Democratic Party leaders will finally take her to task in a way so many prominent Republicans have excoriated and publicly demanded better behavior and candor from Donald Trump.

It is well past time for a prominent Democrat still in office, and not just a liberal columnist or former Bernie Sanders supporter, to publicly demand that Clinton and her campaign fix their act and fast.

It was refreshing to see this tweet by former Obama campaign manager David Axelrod:

Axelrod was being gentle with his use of the word "privacy" instead of "dishonesty," but I think we all know what he's getting at.

This incident has also shed a light on just how poorly the news media has been covering this presidential election.

The news media has the duty to seriously scrutinize the health of a presidential candidate. The nation has been deceived many, many times before regarding the health of our presidents from Woodrow Wilson to FDR to JFK to LBJ. The fact that some members of that news media are excoriating their colleagues for doing that duty, (and there are many doing this today), is a disgrace. A presidential nominee has basically collapsed or lost the ability to stand on her own in public during the height of the campaign. Of course this is a major story and not a time to be disingenuously demanding respect for privacy.

But before we put all the onus on the news media and powerful politicians alone, let's not forget the complicity the public has in this kind of saint-like worship of many of our presidential candidates in recent years. The unforced, but still slavish devotion we see from so many everyday people for Hillary Clinton, President Obama, and Donald Trump is frightening and depressing. It far exceeds the public devotion we saw for even very popular and unifying candidates and presidents of the past like Ronald Reagan and Dwight Eisenhower. A large number of Clinton's supporters today are not only pushing back on the growing scrutiny about her health, they're asking how dare anyone invade her privacy and question her own words about the state of her health. In case you didn't notice, that kind of talk doesn't emanate from a truly democratic society, it's more like what you hear coming out of a monarchist society.

Every voter and journalist should demand honesty and accountability from candidates for and holders of higher office. If you're one of the above who doesn't think it's right to ask Clinton or Trump hard questions about their health or anything else they say or do, you simply don't get it.

Commentary by Jake Novak, CNBC.com senior columnist. Follow him on Twitter @jakejakeny.

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