Hillary Clinton has had two public coughing fits in the past week. This is important because ... well, it's not explicitly clear.
The Weekly Standard simply posted video of Clinton's coughing during a rally on Sunday in Bridgeport, Conn., along with the explanation she offered the crowd: "I have been talking non-stop for weeks now." The conservative magazine didn't attempt to get into the significance.
The Washington Free Beacon took a similar approach to Clinton's coughing during a "Breakfast Club" radio interview last Monday, posting video and recapping the Democratic presidential front-runner's exchange with the show's hosts, who joked that she sounded as if she had been smoking medical marijuana and asked if she needed CPR. The conservative newspaper offered no broader implications.
This is typical of coverage by right-leaning news outlets whenever Clinton suffers an on-camera coughing spell, as she has on several occasions in this campaign. The recurring headline might as well be "Hillary Clinton has a coughing problem — just sayin'."
But they're not "just sayin'." There's a reason the former secretary of state's ticklish throat is an issue. Fortunately, we can count on a couple of straight-shooters to abandon subtlety and suggestion. "Is Hillary Clinton healthy enough to be president?" wondered the Daily Caller in February. A few weeks earlier, Breitbart News reported that Clinton's coughing raises "questions about her health and stamina."
There it is. This is about suggesting that Clinton might be physically unfit to be commander-in-chief. And no one has pushed this idea harder than Matt Drudge, the news aggregator extraordinaire whose highly trafficked Drudge Report website seems to favor Donald Trump.
In another tweet, which he later deleted, Drudge wrote that "no probe into Hillary's flaring hypothyroidism/Hashimoto's is top media coverup of '16. There is a goiter forming!"
Let's get a few things straight here: Clinton does have a condition called hypothyroidism, which hinders the thyroid's production of a hormone that regulates metabolism and can cause fatigue. And she is prone to coughing spells when speaking for extended periods of time; according to NBC News, she drinks tea and uses a humidifier to combat the problem. These non-secrets have been noted by Politico, Mother Jones, Salon, the Hill and many other outlets that Clinton haters would like to believe are engaged in a cover-up.
Let's also say that it is fair to ask whether presidential candidates — especially older ones like Clinton — are up to the physical demands of running the country.
Clinton will be 69 on Inauguration Day; Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders will be 70 and 75, respectively. All three have released doctors' notes documenting good health. If Clinton actually had a serious medical problem, or otherwise appeared too frail to be president, it would be a big deal.
But mainstream media outlets haven't made a big deal of Clinton's coughing because, as Dr. Philip Weintraub explained last fall to an inquiring patient — The Fix's Philip Bump — it probably doesn't indicate anything more than a dry throat brought on by prolonged talking.
Also, Clinton's coughing thing has been a thing for almost a decade now — during which time she has managed to run for president twice and serve four years as secretary of state. If it were really a symptom of some terrible ailment that would prevent her from fulfilling her duties, wouldn't it have done so by now?
In 2007, a coughing fit interrupted Clinton's commencement address at Dillard University in New Orleans. Drudge took note of that episode, too, but seemed to give her a pass.
"The campaign trail is long and tough," he wrote at the time, sounding an awful lot like Clinton herself. Drudge was even more generous on his radio show, according to a profile published later that year in New York magazine.
When Clinton started wheezing and coughing in a speech in New Orleans in May, Drudge expressed genuine concern for her. "Hillary, dear, take care of yourself. We need you. I need you personally … Take a few days off, what's this frenetic pace?" He added admiringly, "She was professional. She kept going. She finished the speech." After a left-wing listener IM'd Drudge to say he wanted Hillary to drop dead onstage, Drudge said, "I need Hillary Clinton. You don't get it. I need to be part of her world. That's my bank. Like Leo DiCaprio has the environment and Al Gore has the environment and Jimmy Carter has anti-Americanism … I have Hillary."
Once upon a time, even Matt Drudge thought Clinton's coughing fits were merely a side effect of giving speech after speech — something worthy of a little sympathy and even admiration, not something that might disqualify her from the White House.