With Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and his media surrogates making unfounded allegations about Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s mental and physical well-being and demanding she release more medical records, The New York Times recently addressed the issue of candidate health. In a story headlined “Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, Ages 68 and 70, Share Few Health Details,” the newspaper claimed that both Trump and Clinton “have been more secretive and selective than many recent presidential nominees in providing up-to-date details about their personal health.”
The Times article quickly conceded that Trump has been less forthcoming than Clinton. But it’s wildly misguided to suggest Trump and Clinton have treated the issue of medical disclosures in a remotely similar fashion. Yes, each candidate has released a letter from his or her personal doctor evaluating the candidate’s current health. But it’s fantasy to pretend that the two doctors’ letters are comparable.
And that’s where the Times examination really stumbled, by trying to take seriously the dubious letter from Trump’s doctor that was released last December -- a letter that has been widely derided as a joke. “It purports to be a medical letter, but it is one of the most ridiculous documents ever to emerge in any political campaign,” Kurt Eichenwald recently wrote for Newsweek.
So committed was the paper to the narrative that both Clinton and Trump were hiding their medical past, the Times ignored the real story: Trump has released no verifiable information about his medical history. None. Because to date, Trump’s only medical release is his very weird doctor’s letter, which remains a completely useless document.
The brief, vague letter was released 11 days after Trump vowed in December to make public a “full medical report” about his physical health and fitness to serve as president. He bragged that the medical report would “show perfection.”
To date, there’s been no medical report, just the weird, uninformative letter penned by Dr. Harold N. Bornstein.
Accentuated by typos -- including a very odd “To Whom My Concern” salutation -- and featuring a website URL that doesn’t work, Trump’s four-paragraph medical letter was filled with strange terms like “astonishingly excellent,” which convey no medical meaning.
Dr. Jennifer Gunter dissected the Trump letter for The Huffington Post, noting that doctors "just don't typically write vague, quasi-medical things in letters. ... I would never write anything this terrible for a jury duty excuse or a back to work note. ... It’s medically illiterate.”
At one point, Trump’s doctor boasted that the Republican nominee’s “physical strength and stamina are extraordinary.” But the doctor never explained how he measured Trump’s stamina and strength. Bornstein also claimed Trump had lost “at least fifteen pounds” in the previous year, but he never listed the candidate’s current weight.
Another gaping hole, as noted by Eichenwald:
The letter from the Trump campaign mentions nothing about family history, as any normal letter assessing someone’s medical condition would. (Clinton’s does.) Family history is critical in understanding possible diseases that may emerge, particularly those with a genetic link. Trump’s father, Fred Trump, died from complications of late-onset Alzheimer’s disease.
Meanwhile, Bornstein in the letter says he’s been treating Trump for decades. But note that the physician is a gastroenterologist, a doctor who treats digestive tract problems. If Trump is in such “astonishingly excellent” health, why has he been going to see a gastroenterologist for nearly half his life? (Clinton’s letter of medical evaluation was written by Lisa Bardack, director of internal medicine in the Mount Sinai Health System at CareMount Medical.)
None of it makes any sense, which is why the Trump letter has been widely derided as a joke. Yet this week the Times opted to treat the letter as legitimate in an effort to portray Trump and Clinton as equally secretive.
The truth is, Clinton has released about as much medical information as President Obama did when he ran for president in 2008. By contrast, Trump has released only a baffling, useless document from his gastroenterologist. “The letter provides essentially no medical information,” wrote Gunter.
The Times is right that there is a candidate in this race who’s being “more secretive and selective” about releasing medical information. But it’s not Clinton.