Hillary Clinton has once again got herself in trouble for holding back information, in this case not letting the press know that she had pneumonia until she almost collapsed. It’s ultimately a pretty small lie, but it feeds perfectly into the narrative of Clinton as shifty.
At her most dishonest, Clinton doesn’t come close to the dishonesty of her rival, Donald Trump, who tells huge whoppers on a daily basis. Clinton more often paints things in the best light based on the public record, and then continually makes small changes in her story as new information comes to light. Overall, her stories don’t really change all that much, but the constant drip-drip-drip of modifications makes it seem like she never actually tells the truth.
Donald Trump, on the other hand, tells huge, ridiculous, easily disproved lies, and when he is shown the evidence, he simply insists the evidence is wrong. The irony for Clinton is that her attempts to adjust her story to conform to the available facts creates a perception of shiftiness, while Trump’s bold, unapologetic dishonesty just makes people think that he’s a man who sticks to his guns.
Imagine Hillary Clinton were accused of shooting someone. The police would take her into the interrogation room, and she would say, “I didn’t know that person, we never met, I wasn’t there that night, and I don’t even own a gun.”
When the cops would show her a photo of her with the victim, she would say, “well, we may have met once, but I don’t remember them, and anyway, I was out of town and don’t own a gun.” And when they bring in the gun, registered in her name, with her fingerprints on it, she would say “come to think of it, I do have a gun, but I certainly never shot someone I barely knew with it.”
Now imagine Donald Trump was accused of shooting someone. He too would say, “I didn’t know that person, we never met, I wasn’t there that night, and I don’t even own a gun.” Faced with a picture of himself with the victim, he would say, “I never met him, that’s not even me in the photo.” When they brought in the gun, he would say, “I never owned a gun, those aren’t my fingerprints.” When they showed security video of him pointing the gun at the victim and pulling the trigger, he would say, “no, that’s not me. Absolutely not.”
Trump’s ability to stick to his lies makes it difficult for the press to even report on them. Every time Clinton makes a small change in her story, the press can write, “faced with new information, Clinton changes story.” But how many times can the press report that Donald Trump has repeated the exact same lie in the exact same way? It’s not really news; it’s like reporting that the sun rose this morning.
It must be frustrating for Clinton to see her every lawyerly prevarication become a damning headline while her opponent tells so many lies that journalists consider them nothing but “dog bites man” stories. But she keeps reinforcing the negative perceptions by refusing to get ahead of a story; she always waits for events to catch up with her. If on Friday she’d simply announced she had a touch of pneumonia but was going to try and keep going, she would have seemed forthright for admitting to illness and tough for pushing through, and video of her staggering into a car would have been nothing but proof that you shouldn’t run around when you have pneumonia. By waiting until she had no choice but to say something, she encourages people to think she has something worse than pneumonia. If in a couple of days she announces she actually has double pneumonia, no one will be surprised, because that’s what she does.
And if in a couple of days Donald Trump announces that he is incapable of getting sick and in fact hasn’t even aged since he was thirty, people will shrug. Because that’s just Donald being Donald.