I’ve never been part of a conspiracy theory. Now, video of my surprised facial expression has become Exhibit A in the latest unfounded speculation about Hillary Clinton.
It starts with Clinton’s visit to a muffin shop in Washington on June 10, five days before the District of Columbia’s Democratic primary. The then-presumptive Democratic nominee popped in for a photo op with Mayor Muriel Bowser and other officials supporting her campaign.
As an Associated Press reporter who’s spent more than a year covering her candidacy, I was there for her appearance. After she ordered herself a “cold chai,” my colleagues and I shouted some questions, mostly about Clinton’s recent meeting with Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren.
Perhaps eager to avoid answering or maybe just taken aback by our volume, Clinton responded with an exaggerated motion, shaking her head vigorously for a few seconds. Video of the moment shows me holding out my recorder in front of her, laughing and stepping back in surprise. After the exchange, she took a few more photos, exited the shop and greeted supporters waiting outside.
Two months later, that innocuous exchange has become the fodder for one of some Trump supporters’ most popular conspiracy theories: her failing health. Where I saw evasiveness, they see seizures.
Stringing the footage together with shots of Clinton seeming to get help going up stairs, they pressed the case that Clinton has health issues serious enough to disqualify her from the presidency. The hashtag? #HillaryHealth.
“Wow! Did Hillary Clinton Just Suffer a Seizure on Camera?” asked Jim Hoft at Gateway Pundit on July 23, more than a month after that day at the muffin shop.
Much of such speculation about the state of Clinton’s health stems from a concussion she sustained in December 2012 after fainting, an episode her doctor has attributed to a stomach virus and dehydration. During the course of her treatment, she was found to have a blood clot in a vein in the space between the brain and the skull behind the right ear.
To recover, Clinton spent a few days in New York-Presbyterian Hospital and took a month-long absence from the State Department for treatment.
Republican strategist Karl Rove later called it a “serious health episode” that would be an issue if Clinton ran for president, fueling a theory the concussion posed a graver threat to her abilities than Clinton and her team let on.
A July 2015 letter released by Clinton’s campaign proclaimed her in “excellent physical condition and fit to serve as president of the United States,” according to Dr. Lisa Bardack, an internist and chairman of the Department of Medicine at the Mount Kisco Medical Group in New York.
Bardack also said testing in 2013 showed “complete resolution” of the concussion’s effects, including double vision, which Clinton wore glasses with special lenses to address — further fueling rumors.
Such medical records are routinely released by presidential candidates. Trump’s, released in December, proclaimed him to be in “extraordinary” health.
Clinton’s campaign didn’t comment on the latest round of speculation.
That hasn’t stopped plenty of people online. After the video appeared on cable news, my Twitter feed exploded. One commenter compared me to actress Shelley Duvall from the horror movie “The Shining.”
The conservative Fox News host Sean Hannity opened a 6-minute Thursday night segment titled “Hillary’s Health” by saying, “as speculation swirls about Hillary Clinton’s health,” citing a headline from the right-wing news site Drudge Report.
Hannity repeatedly played the muffin shop footage, describing what Clinton was doing as “this sort of twitching thing that she does in front of reporters that was really bad” and then as “a violent, violent, repetitive jerking of the head.”
Seemingly as “proof” that something was amiss with Clinton, Hannity exclaimed: “Watch the reporter, like, pull back as she — the reporter got scared. And she keeps doing it. What is that?”
Fox News never contacted me to ask that question. For the record, I wasn’t scared for a moment.