Blue-check liberals on Twitter rallied behind Democratic Senate candidate John Fetterman after journalists questioned the Pennsylvania lieutenant governor’s mental fitness following his interview with NBC News.
Ever since he suffered his stroke earlier this year, Fetterman has largely refrained from doing media appearances with the exception of friendly interviews on MSNBC.
On Tuesday, however, he granted his first in-person interview, which showed him relying on closed-caption technology from a desktop computer so he could read questions in real time.
“In small talk before the interview, without captioning, it wasn’t clear he was understanding our conversation,” NBC News correspondent Dasha Burns told Lester Holt at the top of the “NBC Nightly News” report.
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Burns later encouraged others to watch the Fetterman sitdown, tweeting, “Unlike any political interview I’ve ever done. Unlike any race I’ve ever covered.”
Other journalists drew attention to Fetterman’s health condition, suggesting it could have an impact in his Senate race against GOP rival Dr. Mehmet Oz.
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“This is a rough clip for @JohnFetterman, will only fuel questions about his health,” New York Times correspondent Jonathan Martin reacted.
“An important interview with top Senate contender. Will Pennsylvanians be comfortable with someone representing them who had to conduct a TV interview this way?” CBS News correspondent Ed O’Keefe similarly wondered.
Liberal journalists who’ve interviewed Fetterman in the past attempted to debunk the notion that he was difficult to communicate with.
“Sorry to say but I talked to @JohnFetterman for over an hour without stop or any aides and this is just nonsense. Maybe this reporter is just bad at small talk,” Vox’s Kara Swisher knocked the NBC reporter.
“Here’s my interview with @JohnFetterman from a few days ago. The notion that he wasn’t able to understand is mind-numbingly false,” liberal YouTube personality Brian Tyler Cohen tweeted.
“I interviewed @JohnFetterman here, he understood everything I was saying and he was funny,” podcast host Molly Jong-Fast said.
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“As someone who has recently interviewed him: Fetterman’s comprehension is not at all impaired. He understands everything, it’s just that he reads it (which requires extra acuity, I’d argue) and responds in real time. It’s a hearing/auditory processing challenge,” New York Magazine writer Rebecca Traister defended Fetterman.
“I interviewed him – there were absolutely no issues. I probably stumbled more,” MSNBC host Stephanie Rule wrote in a now-deleted tweet.
Others piled on the reporters, many accusing them of “ableism.”
“This is ableist af and you should delete this tweet,” Crooks and Liars managing editor Karoli Kuns told the Times reporter.
“This clip makes it abundantly obvious Fetterman has no cognitive issues. He only has mild speech and hearing issues,” Raw Story reporter Matthew Chapman wrote.
“I’m not comfortable with reporters who think people who need closed captions aren’t capable of being senators,” Vulture editor Josef Adalian reacted to O’Keefe. “Deaf people rely on captions to see Mr. O’Keefe’s reports. Does he question whether they can comprehend those words?”
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“Ed- I thought or hoped we had passed this kind of prejudice,” Robert Shrum for the USC Center of Political Future shamed the CBS reporter.
“Wow. This is a terrible tweet. Not sure if Ed really believes this or if Oz’s campaign just suggested it, but the ableism is pretty disturbing. Nothing in the interview suggests Fetterman wouldn’t be up to the job,” New York Daily News columnist Brandon Friedman said.
“What’s next? Going after the seeing and hearing impaired? Revolting. You should all be ashamed of yourselves,” TV producer Steven DeKnight shamed Burns.
Fetterman’s health has dominated the Pennsylvania Senate race ever since he reentered the campaign trail. Remarks from stump speeches would go viral for various verbal mistakes.
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Critics have blasted Fetterman for not committing to multiple debates with Oz and some are calling out the progressive candidate for having closed-captioning to aid him on the debate stage – scheduled just two weeks before Election Day.
Polls have tightened in recent weeks. Fetterman has less than a four-point edge over Oz, according to the RealClearPolitics average of polls.