An NBC reporter is enduring a liberal media onslaught over her interview of Pennsylvania Democratic Senate hopeful John Fetterman and her remark that he had difficulty understanding their conversation off-camera.
NBC correspondent Dasha Burns’ remarks about Fetterman, who is recovering from a stroke he suffered earlier this year, have prompted a barrage of tweets blasting her judgment and journalism, as well as multiple reports from outlets such as the New York Times, Washington Post and Associated Press about the backlash from the media and disability advocates.
“When something turns people who are normally pretty lucid and rational completely hysterical, you know there’s a real story there. And when those same people tell you incessantly there’s no story, you can guarantee it’s worth exploring further,” Fourth Watch newsletter editor Steve Krakauer wrote Wednesday. “That’s why this John Fetterman ‘closed captioning’ uproar is so instructive – there’s panic among supposed objective journalists.”
Burns interviewed Fetterman, in a rare national TV appearance for the candidate, using closed captioning so he could better understand the questions. It was his first in-person, one-on-one interview since his stroke, and Burns outraged liberals by pointing out it “wasn’t clear he was understanding” their “small talk” conversation before the interview without closed captioning. She noted he still has “auditory processing issues” and continues to struggle with his speech.
Burns added that Fetterman had declined to release his medical records.
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What followed was a Twitter barrage, with liberal journalists like Kara Swisher – who once suffered a stroke herself – Brian Tyler Cohen and Molly Jong-Fast fuming that they had no issue talking with Fetterman in interviews. Others denounced Burns and others as “ableist.”
Some media figures like CBS’ Ed O’Keefe and the New York Times’ Jonathan Martin said the interview, where Fetterman verbally stumbled at times, could be harmful to his campaign.
It was enough to draw the attention of the Associated Press, which penned an entire piece on the blowback to Burns, “NBC reporter’s comment on Fetterman draws criticism.”
Burns was even questioned by her colleague, NBC’s “Today” co-host Savannah Guthrie, when she appeared on the morning program to explain that Fetterman had a “difficult” time understanding small talk. Guthrie pushed back, citing other journalists who have claimed Fetterman seemed fine to them during remote exchanges.
“Since [your report], other journalists who have also dealt with Fetterman came forward and said they had a different experience,” Guthrie told Burns on the air.
Burns defended her initial assessment, responding, “Yeah, and Savannah, that’s completely fair that that was their experience. We can only report our own.”
A New York Times guest essay by David M. Perry said Burns’ interview had in part shown there is a “long way to go before disability is understood and accepted in our society.”
“With that one statement, Ms. Burns shifted the conversation away from a necessary adaptation to implying that NBC was doing Mr. Fetterman a favor by using captioning and that it was a problem for the candidate that he needed technology to reliably converse,” Perry wrote. “Her comment suggests that certain kinds of accommodation are illegitimate.”
A disability advocate even told Buzzfeed News the NBC reporter’s comment would increase “violence” against disabled people.
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The Washington Post also rushed to Fetterman’s defense with a report bluntly headlined, “Fetterman’s use of captions is common in stroke recovery, experts say,” by disability reporter Amanda Morris. It featured voices speculating Fetterman has aphasia, an auditory processing disorder, while admitting he’s released “very little information about his health.”
“While neurological experts said they could not offer a specific diagnosis about Fetterman’s health, they noted that closed captions are a common tool for people with auditory processing or hearing issues, conditions which have nothing to do with overall intelligence,” Morris reported.
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ABC talk show “The View” also got in on the action Thursday, with left-wing co-host Sunny Hostin declaring Burns was not a “neurosurgeon.” She also appeared to admit she wouldn’t comment on off-camera remarks made by an interview subject that were newsworthy, out of politeness.
“Maybe it’s her,” Hostin said, agreeing with Kara Swisher’s tweet that perhaps Burn was bad at small talk herself. “I don’t know if it was an off the record – if the interview was off the record. But I know, Sara [Haines], you’ve interviewed people. We’ve interviewed people, and we have small talk before. That is generally not something that you mention when you are being interviewed by an anchor.”
Burns has stood by her assessment, tweeting in response to Swisher, “It’s possible for two different reporters to have two different experiences [with] a candidate. Our team was in the room [with] him & reported what happened in it, as journalists do.”
The race between Fetterman and Oz is critical to party control of the U.S. Senate, as Republicans are counting on Oz to hold the seat being vacated by Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Penn.
An NBC spokesperson didn’t respond to a request for comment.
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Fox News’ Gabriel Hays and Lindsay Kornick contributed to this report.