On Wednesday, pro-Trump website Breitbart published Dr. Jane Orient’s unfounded speculation that Hillary Clinton could be “medically unfit to serve,” referring to Dr. Orient as the “executive director of a physicians’ organization.”
Dr. Orient is indeed the executive director of a medical organization but not a large one like the 200,000-member American Medical Association (AMA).
Rather, she belongs to a small, Tuscon-based conservative nonprofit organization called the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons (AAPS) which, at last estimate, had only 5,000 members—a number that Orient told The Daily Beast was “about right.”
AAPS is a small nonprofit organization with Tea Party ties that prioritizes “individual liberty, personal responsibility, [and] limited government.” Their journal, as Mother Jones reported, has published articles suggesting that abortion causes breast cancer, that vaccines cause autism, and that AIDS is not caused by HIV. (Breitbart, naturally, has published articles lending credence to at least two of these disproven theories.)
The AAPS also has a long history with the Clintons as well. The organization’s “About” page prominently features its opposition to the 1993 Clinton health care plan. In fact, the organization spent the better part of the ’90s embroiled in litigation against the former first lady, first suing her in 1993 to gain access to the records of the Task Force on National Health Care Reform. Eventually, in 1999, a federal appeals court ruled in favor of the Clinton administration.
Even without that background, it should have been clear from Orient’s blog post that she is not exactly a detached observer of the 2016 election.
“Surely [Trump’s] style can be abrasive and blunt,” she wrote. “But a huge number of ordinary Americans cheer him, probably because he said what they were thinking.”
Her praise for Trump supporters continues: “They are sick of being pushed around and disrespected by the politically correct crowd who are hypersensitive about almost everything—but constantly spew profane, obscene, and vulgar language that demeans American and Christian culture and blames it for all the world’s evil.”
That certainly sounds like the introduction to an objective, evidence-based evaluation of Hillary Clinton’s health!
When The Daily Beast asked Dr. Orient if she supported Donald Trump, she replied, “Whether you support Trump or not, you ought to be willing to consider the fitness, or lack thereof, of his opponent.”
In her blog post, Orient repeats the usual conspiracy theories about the former Secretary of State’s physical condition. First, she comments on the photograph of Clinton supposedly having difficulty with a set of stairs, which was actually taken after an accidental slip.
“Did she simply trip?” Orient asks. And then, breathlessly: “Or was it a seizure or a stroke?”
In addition to that bit of grossly unethical speculation, Orient uses circuitous, Trump-esque phrasing to paint a picture of an ailing Clinton.
Instead of using the signature Trump phrase “many people are saying,” for example, Orient says that “it is widely stated that [Clinton] experienced a fall that caused a concussion” (emphasis added). She opines that certain videos of the Democratic nominee, “if authentic,” are “very concerning.” And she packs a mouthful of qualifiers into her claim that an object in a Secret Service agent’s hand “purportedly might have been an autoinjector of Valium” (emphasis added).
When asked about this phrasing, Orient told The Daily Beast, “If there is a sign of serious illness, it is irresponsible not to follow up even if evidence is equivocal.”
In other words, there’s no proof for anything Orient says—and often, there’s evidence to the contradictory—but that didn’t stop Breitbart from lapping her words up and slapping it with the headline “Physician: Mainstream Media ‘Strangely Silent’ About Hillary Clinton’s Health.”
The reason for the silence is a complete lack of proof.
As The Daily Beast’s Ben Collins reported, this most recent wave of misinformation about Clinton’s health was started by the National Enquirer, which endorsed Trump in March, and by InfoWars writer Paul Joseph Watson, who works for professional conspiracy theorist Alex Jones. From there, Collins noted, Fox News Trump fan-in-chief Sean Hannity and CNN’s Jeffrey Lord voided the rumors on national television.
“Donald Trump is willing to point out other things people have been pointing out for years,” said Lord.
The irony of Orient adding fuel to that fire is that she herself is critical in the blog post of people who are “tossing out psychiatric diagnoses” such as narcissistic personality disorder to criticize Trump.
The American Psychiatric Association agrees with her. The so-called Goldwater Rule states: “[I]t is unethical for a psychiatrist to offer a professional opinion unless he or she has conducted an examination and has been granted proper authorization for such a statement.”
It follows that any physician should refrain from diagnosing—or floating potential diagnoses—for a presidential candidate unless they have personally examined them.
But even when asked why she would critique lay diagnoses of Trump if she engages in speculation about Clinton, Orient insisted that her choice was not unethical or hypocritical.
“Asking questions based on observable events is not engaging in unfounded speculation,” she told The Daily Beast. “I feel it would be irresponsible to ‘choose’ not to raise important questions.”
When it comes to Hillary Clinton’s health, questions are all she has.