On 27 September 2016, images purportedly showing a “secret wire” running down the back of Hillary Clinton’s dress was circulated on social media along with the claim that it proved the Democratic presidential nominee had cheated by wearing a secret earpiece through which answers could be fed to her remotely (or she wore a “coughing prevention machine” to cover up her supposedly poor health) during the first presidential debate of 2016:
Although these images appear to be genuine, such photographs are not evidence of a “secret earpiece,” a “coughing prevention machine,” or any other furtive scheme by the Democratic presidential candidate. This image most likely shows one of two things: An odd wrinkle in Clinton’s clothing, or a wire for the lapel mic she wore during the debate.
Here’s a screengrab from NBC News’ broadcast of the debate, showing that even though the candidates both stood in front of mounted microphones on the debate stage, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump also wore lapel mics:
A lapel mic is typically connected to a wire that is hidden underneath clothing and connected to a transmitter. Here’s an image of a lavalier mic set, similar to the type worn by Clinton and Trump during the debate:
Clinton’s ears and neck were also clearly visible during the debate. While a “secret wire” could have been concealed in her dress, a wire connected to an earpiece mounted in or behind her ear would have been noticeable.
Moreover, the questions asked of the candidates during the first debate posed no surprises — they were obvious queries that both sides should have anticipated and prepped for, and therefore neither should have needed offstage help with their responses.
This isn’t the first time that a harmless microphone wire has been mistaken for something sinister. As conspiracy theories about Clinton’s health started gaining traction in August 2016, a photograph purportedly showing the Democratic Presidential nominee wearing a defibrillator under her jacket was widely shared online.
Clinton was also previously accused of wearing a “secret earpiece” during this election cycle. While a cropped, blown-up image showing an odd light momentarily hitting Clinton’s ear was shared as “proof” that the Democratic Presidential nominee was being fed answers during the “Commander-in-Chief Forum” on 7 September 2016, this image was debunked as other photographs clearly showed nothing unusual in Clinton’s ears.