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The Riggs Report: Healthy transparency is missing in 2016

September 15, 2016

Privacy doesn’t apply on presidential campaign trail

It’s not hard to understand. When you’re a candidate for the White House, you can forget about the usual claims of privacy when it comes to physical health. Most politicians understand this.

So the lack of clarity from both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton about their medical records is odd.

The issue came to the forefront this week after Clinton became ill during a 9/11 memorial event and had to be helped into a staff car. Only after the moment was captured on video did the campaign acknowledge that, late last week, she had been diagnosed with pneumonia.

It’s that kind of caginess on the part of her staff that probably hurt Clinton more than news of the illness itself. It played directly into the suspicion many voters have, as measured in polls, that the Democratic nominee is too secretive.

But Donald Trump isn’t clean on the issue either. Although his campaign criticized Clinton for failing to initially disclose her pneumonia, it also said that due to privacy concerns, Trump didn’t feel the need to make public his full medical records.

On Wednesday, after conflicting reports about what he would discuss, Trump decided to reveal some of the results of a recent physical exam during a taping of the “Dr. Oz Show.” The program indicated that there was also some review of Trump’s family medical history.

Occasionally, politicians and office-seekers have to be reminded about the importance of disclosure. In December 2005, then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger caused a brief commotion when he had to be hospitalized at the UC Davis Medical Center.

Schwarzenegger had experienced a rapid heartbeat after a case of stomach flu, his office said.

I was covering the Capitol for KCRA at the time, and encountered First Lady Maria Shriver on the building’s west steps, where she told me that her husband had been released from the hospital and that his health was a private matter.

Of course it was not, and Press Secretary Margita Thompson quickly agreed to my request to allow a camera into a meeting Schwarzenegger was conducting, and the video was widely distributed to Sacramento television stations as proof that he had recovered. That move by Schwarzenegger’s press office quickly defused what could have been a crisis.

The point is that officeholders and office-seekers are better off erring on the side of disclosure, especially when it comes to the fundamental question of physical health and the ability to perform the job.

In this year’s presidential race, neither campaign has lived up to the full disclosure that voters deserve.