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Clinton's Pneumonia Diagnosis Reignites Questions About Candidate Health

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Maybe it's time to let experts and not the internet decide whether Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are healthy. That's an idea that Politico's Dan Diamond has been writing about this campaign season, and he's come back to it again after Clinton's pneumonia diagnosis and the time it took her campaign to reveal it. The candidate nearly collapsed Sunday leaving a September 11 ceremony. Dan, welcome back to the studio.

DAN DIAMOND: Thanks for having me, Audie.

CORNISH: So it's turned into a major issue in this campaign. You've even likened it to the birther movement. You've - you used the term healther (ph). What's going on here?

DIAMOND: The same forces that fueled conspiracy theories around President Obama's birth seem to be martialing again, now around conspiracies on Clinton's health. No matter what happens, there is going to be a group of Americans who see the evidence and view it through a lens of a conspiracy theory. There's always been scrutiny on health care in presidential elections, but the level of rumor-mongering and conspiracy theories this time is fairly unprecedented. The fact that Donald Trump has tacitly endorsed some of these theories from the stump has also legitimized them and given it fuel over the past month.

CORNISH: So one alternative you've written about to address this is having an independent board of, I guess, medical professionals who would issue this, you know, clean bill of health to the candidates. How would it work?

DIAMOND: The goal would be a nonpartisan panel - much like we have a nonpartisan panel picking the frame of the presidential debates - would find medical experts who could assess all the serious candidates, looking at their vitals, looking at their medical history, looking at their mental and physical fitness, an important qualifier for a job that requires decision-making that affects the globe.

CORNISH: But the argument used to be the campaign itself (laughter), which is grueling, was somehow evidence of good health and that that should be enough. I mean, is - can you really please anyone, right? One thing we've learned about the birther argument is that just turning in a piece of paper to the public doesn't necessarily quiet the conspiracy theorists.

DIAMOND: I think you're right, Audie. These campaigns are long. They are grueling. They are in the public eye. If a candidate was hiding a secret illness, we'd probably know it pretty quickly. This is not the 1940s or '50s when candidates could be much more stage-managed and the crowd didn't have camera phones that could immediately beam video live around the world. But I do think there are things that might be behind the scenes, the possibility of some mental condition - dementia, early onset Alzheimer's, a tumor - that we as voters don't know about but we probably should if we're voting to put these people in office to make hugely important decisions that affect all of our lives.

CORNISH: So they've already got to pony up their tax returns, right? The process itself...

DIAMOND: ...Theoretically (laughter).

CORNISH: They're under scrutiny all the time. Do you think they're going to go for this medical examination as well?

DIAMOND: It's a little late this year in the election process to set up a panel. But certainly moving forward, given the amount of care that voters seem to have about this issue, I think not only is it an idea worth exploring, it's an idea that more politicians will be interested in exploring, too.

CORNISH: Of the people who are exploring this idea, do they say how or who would do the setting up? I mean, when it comes to the Commission on Presidential Debates this is in part, you know, part of the media, right? Like, at a certain point, networks, everybody said, let's all kind of figure out a way to make this work where we can all come together and agree. There's not, like, a bunch of doctors sitting around (laughter), thinking about how they can weigh in on the campaign and, you know, drawing themselves in.

DIAMOND: Well, based...

CORNISH: ...Would it come from the executive? Like, where?

DIAMOND: Based on the conspiracy theories that some doctors have sent me about this campaign, I think there are doctors who want to weigh in - maybe not the doctors that we'd want assessing presidential health. There are panels at Walter Reed and other independent government bodies. Astronauts get assessed by a medical panel. So do pilots. It actually strikes me that many doctors would be interested in serving on such a panel. And certainly different associations that are leaders in the field could find honest, reliable, independent physicians who would serve our country in this way.

CORNISH: Dan Diamond, reporter at Politico. Thanks so much for coming in.

DIAMOND: Thank you, Audie. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.