After NBC’s Dasha Burns interviewed Pennsylvania Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman this week about his U.S. Senate race against celebrity surgeon Mehmet Oz, progressives voiced outrage. Still, they recognized Burns’ reporting underscored that the candidate lost some mental acuity after he had a stroke this spring, and has yet to regain it.
Her conversation with Fetterman was the first one-to-one, sit-down interview he has given since the stroke. Reporting to anchor Lester Holt, Burns noted the candidate required closed captioning, a tool that his campaign insisted be available to him when he debates Oz in Harrisburg on October 25.
“In small talk before the interview without captioning, it wasn’t clear he was understanding our conversation,” she said. She observed while speaking to Fetterman that he has demurred when her network requested his medical records or an interview with a doctor who has treated him.
The entertainment news website The Wrap characterized Burns’ reporting as “mistreatment.” Leftist podcaster Kara Swisher called it “nonsense.” And Pennsylvania left-wing bigwigs echoed their distaste for Burns’ work, while sometimes acknowledging the same cognitive concerns she raised.
“The treatment of @JohnFetterman shows how far we still have to go on the stigma associated with mental & brain health and invisible disabilities,” liberal media strategist Brittany Crampsie wrote in a Twitter post. “If he had broken his leg, no one would question reasonable accommodations. Accessibility can apply to the brain and body.”
State Representative Mike Schlossberg (D-Allentown) was even harder on Burns.
“I need to talk about the genuinely atrocious coverage of @JohnFetterman’s stroke, interviews, and the need for a closed-captioning device,” he tweeted. “It’s genuinely awful, and reporters like @DashaBurns who made a big deal of it should be ashamed.”
Yet Burns was not alone among the national press to express worry about Fetterman’s cognition.
“He wants to be a U.S. senator and not a single Democrat cares that he can’t put three sentences together,” NewsNation’s Leland Vittert said in a broadcast last week. “Of course we wish him a speedy recovery and the like. But the U.S. Senate matters. The people in there matter.”
He made his remarks following a clip of Fetterman at a rally where the lieutenant governor said, “What is wrong with demanding for an easy, safe kind of their income? A path to a safe place for them to win.”
Concerns about whether Fetterman commands the cerebration necessary to serve effectively in the Senate came up this week on the Commentary magazine podcast. The magazine’s staff, conservative but not hyper-partisan, opined that Burns made appropriate observations about aspects of Fetterman’s alertness that, should they persist, would inevitably affect his performance in the Senate. They also deemed progressives’ reactions to her interview vicious and unfair.
“Liberal journalists absolutely piled on her for pointing out what voters of Pennsylvania have known and anyone who has seen Fetterman post-stroke struggle with a public appearance knows,” media columnist Christine Rosen said. “She did her job. She reported on her understanding and experience with this candidate and for that she will be punished.”
Her editor, John Podhoretz, agreed, expressing sympathy for his struggle while pointing out that representing a state in the Senate requires the very communication skills that Fetterman presently lacks.
“It’s terrible,” he said. “I feel very, very sorry for him. He does not have the right to become senator from Pennsylvania because we should all feel sorry for him and because stroke victims are people too and should be able to be employed wherever they want to be employed.”
Oz’s party has deplored what it sees as a lack of transparency on Fetterman’s part, leaving constituents only to speculate about how capably Fetterman will be able to represent them, should a majority of voters send him to Washington. Republicans also emphasize that Oz, unlike Fetterman, has publicized his medical records.
“John Fetterman seems to think that he can lie to reporters about his health, hide his medical records and obstruct from being thoroughly vetted by Pennsylvanians without consequence,” Republican National Committee Spokesperson Sean Shute told The Pennsylvania Daily Star. “Pennsylvanians know John Fetterman is unfit for office, which is why Pennsylvania will elect Dr. Oz in November.”
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