Hillary Clinton's health has been the subject of intense speculation during the 2016 presidential campaign, in part because the candidates' fitness to serve is of valid concern to voters, and in part because it was seized upon by her opponents as a way to undermine her candidacy.
While presidential candidates aren't required by law to release information about their medical histories, it has become routine for them to do so, and both Democratic candidate Clinton and Republican candidate Trump have provided physician's statements attesting to their good health. Despite this, rumors to the effect that Clinton is suffering from some kind of serious, undisclosed medical condition continue to run rampant.
The statement released by Clinton's personal doctor, Lisa Bardack, MD of Mount Kisco, New York, lists past bouts of deep vein thrombosis (blood clots), an elbow fracture, and a concussion, plus ongoing conditions of hypothyroidism and seasonal pollen allergies. Though her family medical history includes heart disease and stroke, a cardiac screening was conducted in 2015 and came back negative. So did a cancer screening. "[Clinton] is in excellent physical condition," Bardack concluded, "and fit to serve as President of the United States."
We note that Dr. Bardack's assessment (which she reaffirmed in writing in August 2016) was based on an actual physical examination of the candidate — not a minor consideration, given that much of the speculation about Clinton's health has been fueled by "diagnoses" from afar by physicians who have never shaken her hand, much less conducted a thorough examination of her.
Media personality "Dr. Drew" Pinsky, for one, delivered a rambling assessment of Clinton's health on a radio talk show in which he repeatedly claimed he had "grave concerns" about her medical fitness — based on nothing more than having read Dr. Bardack's two-page statement. He was roundly criticized by other medical professionals for doing so.
While Pinsky's speculation was that Clinton suffers from brain damage, a later entrant in the armchair diagnosis field, Dr. Ted Noel of Orlando, Florida, claimed he could prove via cherry-picked news articles, photos, and video clips of the candidate that she likely suffers from Parkinson's disease. Noel's 16-minute video, titled "Hillary Clinton's Illness Revealed," starts with this disclaimer:
I am a medical doctor with 36 years of experience, but I am not Hillary Clinton's treating physician, so I can't claim that what I'm about to tell you is a conclusive diagnosis.
Nevertheless, at the end of a litany of hearsay, conjecture, and conspiracy theories Noel states, flat out: "Hillary Clinton has advanced Parkinson's disease."
We'll examine some of his evidence and arguments momentarily, but first, here's what we know about Dr. Ted Noel himself:
1. Dr. Ted Noel is a board-certified physician with 36 years of experience — as an anesthesiologist
That doesn't mean he's incapable of recognizing symptoms of Parkinson's disease, but consider this: If your primary care doctor suspected you had Parkinson's and wished to refer you to a specialist to confirm the diagnosis, it would be to a neurologist, not an anesthesiologist.
2. Dr. Noel has never conducted a medical examination of the patient (Hillary Clinton) he purports to diagnose.
How accurate and reliable can such a medical diagnosis be? As we noted in the case of Dr. Drew Pinsky above, most medical professionals consider this inappropriate behavior on the part of a physician, if not downright unethical. Would you accept a diagnosis of Parkinson's disease on the basis of a few minutes of video watched by a doctor you've never met?
3. Dr. Noel's assessment of Clinton is neither objective nor impartial
In fact, Noel's assessment is nakedly partisan in intent, despite this feigned disavowal that he makes toward the end of the video:
Let us not confuse medical and political issues here. I'm firmly opposed to Hillary Clinton on political and moral grounds, but this discussion has been about her medical condition.
That's after Noel has described Clinton as "a politician who lies about everything," and after he has made this statement about her "medical" condition:
Our president must always be strong and clear-headed. If she is not doing the job, then who will? Will it be Huma Abedin, who has been associated with Muslim causes and directly involved in the Clinton Foundation corruption? Will it be Bill Clinton, who is at the center of the Clinton Foundation corruption? ... Or will Vice President Tim Kaine take over? Of course, then the Clintons would lose their juice.
What is the above, if not precisely "confusing medical and political issues"?
4. Noel is a conspiracy theorist
We're not just throwing that out as a dismissive epithet; we mean he is a conspiracy theorist. The fundamental premise of this video is that Hillary Clinton and everyone around her — her doctor, her family and friends, the inner circle of her campaign, and the Democratic National Committee — know full well that she (supposedly) has an incapacitating disease and are willfully concealing that fact from the public to gain power.
Let's move on to consider the "evidence" Dr. Ted Noel uses to support his claim that Hillary Clinton has Parkinson's disease.
The Secret Service whistleblower
According to a conspiracy web site, an unnamed Secret Service whistleblower revealed that Clinton has Parkinson's. Note well, however, Noel is here citing a secondhand report from a single, unnamed source published on the Alex Jones web site Infowars.com, which at one time or another has pushed every conspiracy theory known to humankind, from allegations that President George W. Bush authorized the 9/11 attacks (which, by the way, weren't really "attacks" according to this site, but rather "controlled demolitions") to the claim that President Barack Obama forged his own birth certificate.
The Wikileaks e-mail
Noel says WikiLeaks released U.S. State Department e-mails which show that Clinton asked aides to research new Parkinson's disease drugs. Not true. Among the messages WikiLeaks released was one e-mail received by Clinton that contained information about Provigil, a prescription drug described in that message as follows:
Provigil is used to treat excessive sleepiness caused by narcolepsy or shift work sleep disorder (sleepiness during scheduled waking hours among people who work at night or on rotating shifts). It is also often prescribed to treat excessive sleepiness in patients with Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, and multiple sclerosis. Additionally, it has also gained a following among students, truckers, and others who want to stay awake for extended periods of time.
In simpler terms, Provigil is used to treat excessive sleepiness. Sometimes that excessive sleepiness is in Parkinson's and Alzheimer's patients. Other times it's in people suffering from sleep apnea, narcolepsy, or shift work sleep disorder. Is it accurate to describe Provigil as "a new Parkinson's disease drug"? No. Are there Wikileaks e-mails indicating that Clinton specifically asked staffers to research Parkinson's drugs? No (check for yourself).
Faints and falls
Noel attempts to link three separate incidents over a period of years in which Clinton fainted and/or fell, implying that the stated explanations for each hid the "real" cause, Parkinson's disease.
31 January 2005: Clinton said she was feeling "queasy" as she began a speech in upstate New York and later fainted at the podium. Secret Service agents broke her fall, so she was unhurt. "Oddly, she did not seek medical attention," Noel claims, but, even more oddly, an image of a CNN article reporting that she did receive medical attention at scene from a doctor in the audience flashes on screen at the exact moment he says it. The physician, Dr. Stephanie Pincus, said Clinton had been suffering from a GI virus for at least a day, and needed fluids and a rest. Nothing mysterious.
17 June 2009: Clinton fell and broke her elbow on her way from the elevator to her car in the basement of the State Department. Noel again uses the word "odd" to describe the incident, wondering why Secret Service agents weren't able to break her fall, as they had done in the previous incident. "She would have to fall at a distance from them with no warning," he opines. And, indeed, according to news reports, she slipped and fell — obviously without warning. Nothing mysterious.
17 December 2012: Clinton fainted in her home due to dehydration and struck her head, causing a concussion. "But again, this is very odd," Noel says. "To strike your head requires a complete loss of protective reflexes." Which, not very oddly at all, is precisely what occurs when you faint and lose consciousness. "Being wobbly from dehydration won't do this," he argues. But no one is talking about "being wobbly." Clinton fainted; she lost consciousness, fell, and hit her head. And dehydration is frequently cited as a cause of fainting. Nothing mysterious.
Why does Noel try so hard to make it seem there was something inexplicable about each of these incidents? Here's why: "If Hillary has Parkinson's disease," Noel says, "all three falls make sense" — as if they're impossible to make sense of without the Parkinson's explanation. But, as we've just shown, that is not the case.
"Early in 2016," Noel continues, "Hillary's problems started to be really obvious. Videos of odd physical movements and brain freezes became common. This is consistent with the progression of Parkinson's disease into its later and more troublesome stages.
"The first picture to surface is Hillary being helped up a set of porch steps in February. Once again, if she froze while climbing the steps, the people right next to her could catch her and keep her from injury."
But there's no reason to suppose that she "froze." The original caption on this Getty Images photo, dated 24 February 2016, says she slipped while going up the stairs.
Head nodding "tremor"
Noel then directs our attention to a video clip in which Clinton is seen nodding repetitively as other people speak:
"To most people, that was just odd," says Noel, once again employing his favorite adjective. "But if we think about Parkinson's disease, it's obvious. This is a head nodding tremor."
No, it isn't. It's a tic Hillary Clinton has had for a long time, since at least the early '90s, usually in evidence when she's listening to another public speaker. Here's an example from 1993:
Noel next shows a video of a Clinton campaign rally on 2 April 2016, in which he claims she uses certain "techniques to hide tremors in her hands." The first is placing her hand flat on her chest, and the second is a gesture in which her fingers come together to form a sort of point — both of which he claims she does to prevent the audience from noticing tremors. But, in fact, if you watch more of the video than the few seconds Noel shows us, and with the audio turned on, you see that she's clearly using these gestures to emphasize verbal statements, and to suggest to the audience that they're heartfelt. Plus, she transitions easily in and out of these hand gestures, never once displaying anything like a "tremor" when she's not using them.
Noel next presents a series of images and clips, including every conspiracy theorist's favorite Hillary Clinton video — the same one that they have previously tried to pass off as an "epileptic seizure" — and claims, again, that the real explanation is Parkinson's. Here's the famous video:
This is "another Parkinson's disease problem," Noel claims, "but this time it's from the treatment, not the disease. It's an example of Parkinson's disease levadopa-induced dyskinesia, or PD LID."
But no, it's not. As we reported previously, the journalists surrounding her at that moment saw nothing amiss or disturbing in her actions. Associated Press reporter Lisa Lerer described it as follows:
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.
In closing, we wish to make it clear what our aim has been in this analysis. We have not tried to make the case that Hillary Clinton does not have Parkinson's disease (in point of fact, we don't think that case even needs making). Rather, we have shown that what Ted Noel did in this video is systematically misrepresent perfectly ordinary and explicable phenomena as "Parkinson's disease symptoms," and his motivation for doing so was purely political.