By Amie Parnes - 09-08-16 06:00 AM EDT
Hillary Clinton's campaign is working the refs hard when it comes to reports about her health.
While Clinton responded to a fit of coughing this week with humor, saying she was "allergic" to GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump, her aides and surrogates played the role of bad cop.
Campaign spokesman Nick Merrill took to task an NBC reporter who wrote about the coughing spell, posting on Twitter that the writer should "get a life."
The five-paragraph story, by Andrew Rafferty, was titled "Hillary Clinton fights back coughing attack" and reported that the "frog in Clinton's throat on Monday was one of the most aggressive she's had during her 2016 run."
Jon Favreau, a former speechwriter for President Obama, asked via Twitter if "anyone on NBC, or anywhere else," was willing to defend the piece.
The pushback signaled that Clinton's campaign intends to sharply counterattack news organizations that take questions about her health seriously.
"They're trying to work the refs a little bit as they try to push back on the mainstream media's willingness to pick up on some of this stuff that's usually left to the fringes," Clinton surrogate Jim Manley explained.
The Drudge Report and other conservative media sites have largely driven the coverage of Clinton's health, following the concussion she suffered in late 2012 and years before she announced her intention to run again for president.
But Manley said the Democrat's camp has seen the coverage "bleeding to the mainstream media" in recent weeks.
After Trump insinuated recently that Clinton wasn't healthy, the campaign responded forcefully, ripping Trump allies for concocting fake documents from Clinton's doctor.
"They're trying to stop it," Manley continued. "I think they learned a long time ago that you can't just ignore these things. There's always a fine line between react or not, but in this day in age, to say nothing is often not the best way to go."
Clinton aides and supporters see the healthcare stories as a bunch of baloney, and they want the media to cover it as such.
One former Clinton aide called it a "complete farce, and the only way to handle it is to say in no uncertain terms that Donald Trump is full of it."
The former aide also agreed that the Clinton campaign wants to put pressure on the press.
"I think that the fact that any mainstream publications would do anything but make this is a story about Donald Trump is completely out of the mainstream and why these claims have gotten worse," the former aide said. "Some reporters have taken these claims at face value, and it's the reason this story is still out there."
Those around the Clinton campaign insist Clinton World isn't worried that the health stories will damage her White House bid, though the latest pushback comes as polls of the race have tightened.
"The fact of the matter is there is no truth or factual evidence to debunk," the former aide said. "She is perfectly healthy. The only way is to challenge him to a pushup contest at the first debate."
New revelations about Clinton's use of a private email server when she was secretary of State and a round of negative headlines about donors to the Clinton Foundation are mostly blamed for the closer poll results. Clinton continues to battle perceptions that she is untrustworthy, and the twin storylines have hurt her.
Allies, however, maintain that voters aren't worried about the stories questioning her health.
"I think the media deserves to be beat up on this because I think it's ridiculous. I really doubt that any American really cares about this," said Democratic strategist Brad Bannon.
"This is as trivial as you can get. The media deserves pushback for giving so much coverage to this thing," he added.
Both the Clinton and Trump campaigns have had a contentious relationship with the press.
Reporters on the Clinton beat have complained about a lack of access to the candidate and the lack of a press conference for months. And Trump has frequently targeted reporters for ridicule by name while complaining of being treated poorly by the Fourth Estate.
More recently, both campaigns have sought to improve their relationships with the press.
Trump ended his blacklist of media organizations, announcing that news outlets banned from entering his events would again be allowed to cover him.
Clinton this week allowed reporters to begin traveling with her on her campaign plane. She has repeatedly gone to the back of the plane to answer questions from the traveling press.
Her joke about being allergic to Trump drew applause from a supportive crowd in Cleveland.
But Kellyanne Conway, Trump's campaign manager, used the moment to highlight Clinton's standoffishness with the press.
"Must be allergic to media," Conway wrote on Twitter. "Finally spent a minute [with] them."