December 31, 2012

Recent weeks have yielded an example or two of precisely how media figures should not go about heaping skepticism on reports that a prominent public official has taken ill. On Dec. 17, Fox News contributor John Bolton rolled out the premier case in point, telling Fox’s audience that Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s concussion was a mere “diplomatic illness”; essentially an excuse for getting out of dealing with Benghazi.

Now for an example of effective expression of skepticism about the Clinton health story. It comes courtesy of Robert Bazell, who is the chief science and health correspondent for NBC News. The guy has a degree in biochemistry from Berkeley and did graduate work in biology at the University of Sussex, England.

Consistent with that background, Bazell keeps his reporting to science. In a report highlighted in the clip above, Bazell recites his misgivings about the official State Department story that Clinton had checked into a hospital to address a blood clot related to her concussion. It went on to state that she was taking blood-thinning medication. And it’s right there that Bazell steps in:

All we have is a one-sentence statement from Hillary Clinton’s office which says that she is, as you said, being treated for a blood clot…that stemmed from a concussion she suffered a few days ago. The problem is that concussions, when they lead to blood clots, the blood clots are not usually treated with blood thinners as they say she’s being treated. If she has a blood clot that occurred because she was sitting around or something, they would treat that with blood thinners and that would be fine. But there may be more to this story that we don’t know.

The lessons here:

  • Stick to the science;
  • Lay out the facts and state where they don’t connect;
  • Avoid health judgments;
  • Refrain from alleging faking.

With slightly more colorful language, the Daily Beast raised many of the same concerns as Bazell did, saying the official line is a touch “fishy.” And both reports contain some comfort for Bolton and his ilk, who have consistently complained about a lack of transparency from officialdom regarding the secretary’s status.
Clinton spokesman Philippe Reines didn’t immediately respond to an inquiry about Bazell’s reporting.
(h/t Politico)

Erik Wemple writes the Erik Wemple blog, where he reports and opines on media organizations of all sorts.