Anatomy Of A Clinton Smear: From Rove's Baseless Speculation To Right-Wing Media's Calls For Evidence

A look at how right-wing media ran with Fox contributor Karl Rove's speculation that Hillary Clinton suffered brain damage from a fall in 2012, laying the groundwork to establish the baseless smear as an issue for the 2016 presidential race.

Flashback To 2012: Right-Wing Media Invent Conspiracy Theories Over Clinton's Health

Rove Floats Sinister Spin On “Traumatic Brain Injury”

Rove Does Damage Control On Fox News

Right-Wing Media Run With Rove's Specious Smears ...

Parsing Rove's Comments ...

... Demanding Clinton End The Debate By Releasing Health Records

... And Even Blaming Democrats And The Media

Rove Signals To Right-Wing Media To Make Clinton's Health And Age An Issue In Potential 2016 Presidential Run

Flashback To 2012: Right-Wing Media Invent Conspiracy Theories Over Clinton's Health

Clinton Treated For Blood Clot After Suffering Concussion. In December 2012, Hillary Clinton reportedly suffered a concussion after fainting due to dehydration. During a follow-up exam to check on her recovery from the concussion, she was diagnosed with a blood clot, which was later treated. According to CNN, her doctors announced that she was “making excellent progress” and was expected to “make a full recovery.”  [CNN, 12/31/12]

Right-Wing Media Mocked Clinton's Concussion, Linked It To Benghazi. Media Matters documented how Fox News and other right-wing sources accused Clinton of faking her concussion to avoid testifying on Benghazi -- claims which the State Department noted were “wild speculation based on no information.” [Media Matters9/11/13Media Matters12/18/12]

Questions About Clinton's Health Have Been Asked And Answered. Information about what happened to Clinton in 2012 is already public. She spent four days in the hospital after a blood clot was discovered in her brain several days after her fall. According to experts and the State Department, glasses worn by Clinton during her January 2013 testimony on the attacks in Benghazi were a corrective instrument meant to treat “double vision” as a result of her fall. [Media Matters5/13/14]

Rove Floats Sinister Spin On “Traumatic Brain Injury”

Rove Seizes On Clinton Concussion To Recklessly Speculate Over Long-Term Impact: “We Need To Know What's Up With That.” On May 12,  New York Post's Page Six reported that Fox contributor Karl Rove suggested that Hillary Clinton may have brain damage while speaking at a conference the previous week. He reportedly said that he was skeptical of Clinton's recovery after she suffered a concussion in December 2012. Rove went on to claim that Clinton's use of corrective glasses was likely a sign of “traumatic brain injury” and claimed, “we need to know what's up with that” (emphasis added):

Onstage with Robert Gibbs and CBS correspondent and “Spies Against Armageddon” co-author Dan Raviv, Rove said Republicans should keep the Benghazi issue alive.

He said if Clinton runs for president, voters must be told what happened when she suffered a fall in December 2012.

The official diagnosis was a blood clot. Rove told the conference near LA Thursday, “Thirty days in the hospital? And when she reappears, she's wearing glasses that are only for people who have traumatic brain injury? We need to know what's up with that.”

Rove repeated the claim a number of times to the audience. [New York Post, Page Six, 5/12/14]

Rove Does Damage Control On Fox News

Rove Claims “I Didn't Say She Had Brain Damage,But That “She's Hidden A Lot Of This.” The Fox contributor appeared on Fox News on May 13 to explain his remarks, stating, “I didn't say she had brain damage.” He went on to toss around wild speculation about Hillary's health status, claiming, “We don't know what the doctors said about what does she have to be concerned about. Don't know about -- I mean she's hidden a lot of this.” [Fox News, America's Newsroom, 5/13/14, via Media Matters]

Right-Wing Media Run With Rove's Specious Smears ...

Limbaugh Invokes Benghazi: “If Hillary Has Brain Damage, What Difference Does It Make?” On May 13, Rush Limbaugh congratulated Rove on his speculations, calling them “progress.” He was quick to connect the speculation to Benghazi, and even expanded on Rove's claims, saying: “If you're going to start going down this road with Mrs. Clinton, you've got to go back a little farther than December of 2012”:

LIMBAUGH: We also have Karl Rove speculating that Mrs. Clinton might have suffered some sort of brain injury back in December of 2012, which is progress. Generally Karl thinks it's the Tea Party that's crazy.  Now he's thinking maybe Mrs. Clinton is crazy. What happened here, reportedly Karl Rove told a conference near Los Angeles on Thursday -- and here it is in quotes -- “Thirty days in the hospital?  And when she reappears, she's wearing glasses that are only for people who have traumatic brain injury? We need to know what's up with that.”


My reaction is this. If Hillary has brain damage, what difference does it make now?  What possible difference does it make now how it happened, or even if she has brain damage.  If you're going to start going down this road with Mrs. Clinton, you've got to go back a little farther than December of 2012. [Premiere Radio Networks, The Rush Limbaugh Show5/13/14, via Media Matters]

Washington Times Columnist: Clinton Should Have Been Checked Into “Rubber Room” For Her “Psychosis.” In a May 13 column, Washington Times columnist Charles Hurt called on Clinton to release MRI records from her 2012 concussion, accusing her of showing “varying degrees of psychosis,” and claiming she showed an “inability to relate to the pain” of the families of the Benghazi victims. Hurt argued that it is “just and fitting” for voters to be “informed about the mental fitness of our politicians seeking higher office”:

[T]he terrorist attack in Benghazi proved that Mrs. Clinton certainly wasn't up to the task.

After months of dodging, evasions and doctors' visits, Mrs. Clinton finally lashed out in public about the attack. “What difference at this point does it make!” she bellowed at her interlocutors.

Well, the families of the four Americans, including the U.S. ambassador to Libya, would like clear answers and closure. They would like to know why Mrs. Clinton and the White House were far more interested in immediately covering up their handling of the attack than protecting American property and personnel in the first place.

This inability to relate to the pain felt by those around her is a frequent sign of varying degrees of psychosis.

In any event it was an awkward MRI moment that should have gotten the former first lady checked into a rubber room for further evaluation.

And, if she really wants to be president, the American people have a right to know what the results of that MRI showed. [The Washington Times5/13/14, via Media Matters]

Parsing Rove's Comments ...

Conservative Radio Host Chris Plante: Rove Didn't Use The Term Brain Damage. On the May 14 edition of Fox News' The Real Story, conservative radio host and frequent Fox guest Chris Plante defended Rove, saying he “didn't use the term brain damage. He suggested traumatic brain injury.” [Fox News, The Real Story5/14/14]

Fox Anchor Bret Baier: “Rove Did Not Specifically Say Brain Damage.” On the May 14 edition of Special Report, host Bret Baier introduced a segment on Rove's comments by claiming he “did not specifically say brain damage. He mentioned a fall resulting in a blood clot.” [Fox News, Special Report5/14/14]

Fox Host Greta Van Susteren: Rove Said Brain Injury, Not Brain Damage. On Fox News' On The Record, host Greta Van Susteren defended Rove by taking issue with the notion that “he said brain damage, which is a lot different from saying someone had a brain injury from which he or she may or may not recover fully or fairly. And I think that's a big difference.” Fox guest A.B. Stoddard agreed, saying a “concussion actually is a moderate, mild version of traumatic brain injury. It is an injury to the brain. ... what Karl Rove said is not incorrect.” [Fox News, On The Record, 5/14/14]

... Demanding Clinton End The Debate By Releasing Health Records

Brad Blakeman: Clinton “Could Have Ended This By Making Her Records Public.” On Fox's America's Newsroom, GOP strategist and Fox contributor Brad Blakeman blamed Clinton for the scandal surrounding Rove's statements, saying “Hillary has done herself a disservice. When she suffered this illness she was a public servant, she was a secretary of state. She could have ended this by making her records public at that time, then we really wouldn't be talking about it at this time.” [Fox News, America's Newsroom, 5/14/14 via Talking Points Memo]

Wall Street Journal's Mary Kissel: “If They Want To Set The Record Straight, Release Her Health Records.” On Fox News' On The Record, frequent Fox guest and Wall Street Journal editorial board member Mary Kissel reacted to the controversy by saying if the Clintons “want to set the record straight, release her health records.” [Fox News, On The Record, 5/14/14]

Fox Medical Analyst: Clinton's Medical Records Are “Fair Game.” The May 15 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends devoted a full “Medical A-Team” segment to analyzing Clinton's health, with co-host Steve Doocy asking, “Do we need to see her medical records if she does decide to run for the White House?” Fox medical analyst Dr. Marc Siegel dismissed Doocy's suggestion that Clinton's age was a source of concern, yet argued that even though “we don't have any reason to believe” that Clinton is in poor health, “we need more facts,” and that Clinton's medical records should be “fair game”:

SIEGEL: [W]e haven't seen her medical records. Because she had a previous blood clot in her leg in 1998, it raises the question of whether she has the tendency to form blood clots, whether she's on blood thinners. We don't know those answers. Now, even if she is on blood thinners, it shouldn't interfere with her running for president. And it certainly looks like she's completely in great shape, as President Clinton says, out working out. We don't have any reason to believe otherwise, but we need more facts.

DOOCY: And so if she does run, we should just note -- let's go ahead and see it rather than a one-page summary like Obama and Clinton, President Clinton, gave.

SIEGEL: Well, and you know, when John McCain ran, it was like, what was the lasting impact of having been a POW, and all of these questions came up. Some of them weren't entirely fair. I think it's fair game for us to be able to look at her medical records about what happened in 2012. [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 5/15/14]

... And Even Blaming Democrats And The Media

Fox & Friends Hosts Use Debunked Smear To Claim Rove's Remarks Are Appropriate Because Obama Made Health-Based Attacks On McCain. On the May 14 edition of Fox & Friends, co-hosts Elisabeth Hasselbeck and Steve Doocy defended Rove by claiming that during the 2008 presidential election, Obama attacked Sen. John McCain by suggesting he was too old to be president. It's a six-year old smear that has been repeatedly debunked since 2008: Obama was actually referencing McCain breaking his promise to engage in a smear campaign. [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 5/14/14 via Media Matters]

Newsbusters' Tim Graham: Rove Only Under Fire Because “The News Media Never Holds The Clintons Accountable.” On the May 14 edition of Fox News' The Kelly File, Newsbusters' Tim Graham criticized the media for defending Hillary Clinton after Rove's attacks, complaining that the media had not previously asked Clinton about her health because news media “loves her so much.” [Fox News, The Kelly File, 5/14/14, via Media Matters]

Rove Signals To Right-Wing Media To Make Clinton's Health And Age An Issue In Potential 2016 Presidential Run

Rove: "This Will Be An Issue In The 2016 Race Whether She Likes It Or Not." On the May 13 edition of Fox News' America's Newsroom, Rove attempted to clarify his remarks, but added:

ROVE: My other point is, this will be an issue in the 2016 race whether she likes it or not. Every presidential candidate is asked for all of their health records, by The New York Times, they turn them over -- and vice presidential candidates -- they turn them over to a battery of doctors and they examine them in detail. And my point was, that everybody says she's going to run and she probably is. But I would bet it's a more complicated calculation than we might think because, look, she'll be 69 by the time of the 2016 elections. She will be 77 if she serves two terms. And this ends up being an issue. I would remind you, John McCain - here's the headline from U.S. News and World Report: “McCain's age and past health problems could be an issue in the presidential campaign.” This happens every presidential campaign.


When you go through a health incident like this, any presidential candidate, any presidential candidate has to ask themselves, am I willing to do this for eight years of my life, serve? And run for two years and then serve for eight? And particularly when you're, you know, it's a natural thing to say, when I'm 69 years old, 77 -- [Fox News, America's Newsroom, 5/13/14, via Media Matters]

Rove: If Clinton Runs In 2016, “She Is Going To Have To Be Forthcoming” About Health. In an interview with The Washington Post published after his May 13 Fox appearance, Rove predicted:

“Of course she doesn't have brain damage,” he said in an interview with The Washington Post.

But Rove said that it is apparent that Clinton suffered “a serious health episode.” He added that if she runs for president in 2016, “she is going to have to be forthcoming” about the details of where, how and when it happened. [The Washington Post5/13/14]

Rove Signaled That Clinton's Health Will Be Major Line Of Questioning In Possible 2016 Presidential Run. On May 14, Rove appeared on Fox News' Hannity and signaled:

ROVE: If you're going to turn 69 two weeks before the 2016 election, and you've had this kind of a serious health incident, and if you get elected, you're going to serve -- you might want to -- for eight years, you're going to be 77 at the end of it, I, you wouldn't be human if you didn't say, you know, I had this incident that's going to cause me to think about, do I really want to do this?

And so, my point was, this incident, more complicated, I think, contributes to a more complicated decision whether or not to run.


Now is this going to be the issue of the 2016 presidential campaign if she runs? No, it's going to be a minor thing. There are going to be bigger issues that are going to predominate in the campaign. But my point was that she's going to have to do it, everyone else has to. I know you don't like to do it. I can remember those conversations in 2000 and 2004. But that's just the way it has to go. And the mainstream media will demand them. And they probably have a right to know more fully the health status of the American president.  [Fox News, Hannity, 5/14/14, via Media Matters