'Ableist propaganda': Media condemned for criticizing John Fetterman's use of closed captioning
Pennsylvania Democratic U.S. Senate nominee John Fetterman has been very open about the stroke he suffered just days before the primary, and appeared in an interview Tuesday night with NBC News after asking for a simple accommodation: a speech-to-text device so he could read the questions, which he was more than able to answer.
But NBC News correspondent Dasha Burns, who interviewed Fetterman, is now being accused of misrepresenting Fetterman’s abilities.
“‘Because of that auditory processing, he still has a hard time understanding what people are saying,’ Ms Burns said, while explaining the use of closed caption technology for her interview,” The Independent reports.
“She added that ‘some of the conversations’ she had with the Democrat before his first sit-down interview post-stroke – which were without closed caption help – were a ‘challenge for a canddidate’ and that ‘it wasn’t clear he understood what I was saying’ without the use of captions.”
Fetterman, a former mayor and current Lt. Governor, has never had a problem doing his job and there his no indication he does now.
MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell put the entire situation in context.
“I have a confession to make. I used a teleprompter in this interview last night,” he tweeted, pointing to his interview with Fetterman which was after the NBC News interview with Burns.
“The truth is I am not able to do my show without a teleprompter. (That’s true of every TV news host who is discussing the way John Fetterman does interviews.)”
By many accounts the NBC News interview was good, but some, like now-former New York Times reporter Jonathan Martin took to social media to claim it did not go well for the Democrat, who is leading his GOP opponent, celebrity physician Dr. Oz, by a strong margin.
“This is a rough clip for @JohnFetterman, will only fuel questions about his health,” Martin tweeted, pointing to the NBC News interview.
Axios senior political correspondent Josh Kraushaar tweeted out the quote from Burns, writing, “NBC News’ Dasha Burns: ‘In small talk before my interview [with Fetterman], it wasn’t clear he understood what I was saying.'”
He, and Burns, were excoriated.
Journalist Molly Jong-Fast, who contributes to The Daily Beast and Vogue, among other top publications, responded to Kraushaar by tweeting: “This is bs.”
“I interviewed @JohnFetterman on @FastPoliticsPod two weeks ago,: she said, pointing to her podcast.
Kara Swisher, a noted journalist, contributing editor at New York magazine, and formerly of The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, and The Washington Post, also responded to the Burns quote.
“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.”
“Listen to the interview in which we did not edit the ums or ahs out as we typically do for everyone else. There were few slips — I had more — and at no moment did he seem distracted,” she also tweeted.
Swisher, who is highly respected, did not stop there.
“Lastly the most irksome thing for me when I had a stroke in 2011 is all Dr. Google folks who kept trying to give me advice (‘Slow down,’ they’d say; ‘Fuck you,’ I’d reply) or study my speech for signs of trouble. It is a slow recovery but many younger people do just fine,” she added.
New York magazine writer Rebecca Traister also pushed back – hard – against the mainstream media’s attacks on Fetterman.
“I wrote in my lengthy profile of Fetterman this week about how open he has been about his ongoing stroke recovery, and how awful it is to watch not just Fox but mainstream media push for ‘transparency’ even as he offers just that,” she writes, pointing to her article.
“Watching tv news/online pundits leer over clips of an interview in which he’s completely engaged and communicative is stomach-turning and a super depressing example of what I was trying to describe,” she adds, pointing to these excerpts:
“Every week, Fetterman’s public engagement has increased, & nothing about his increasingly frequent rallies & media interactions is at odds with what doctors suggest would be normal for a 53-year-old four months out from a serious stroke and expected to make a recovery.”
“Yet legitimate newspapers are pushing for further documentation with some of the energy once applied to Hillary’s emails, while the right-wing carnival barkers treat complete medical records as they did Obama’s birth certificate.”
And she adds, “Fetterman speaks about what it’s like to have a doctor (Oz) mock his recovery—a gross irony, yes. Also ironic is news media clamoring for transparency then themselves offering distortion: implying challenges are cognitive when they’re not, failing to contextualize accommodations.”
CBS News Senior White House & Political Correspondent Ed O’Keefe is also among those being blasted for attacking Fetterman.
“An important interview with top Senate contender. Will Pennsylvanians be comfortable with someone representing them who had to conduct a TV interview this way?” he tweeted, suggesting that using a teleprompter-like device was too much of an accommodation.
Benjamin Dreyer, the copy chief at Random House and the author of “Dreyer’s English: An Utterly Correct Guide to Clarity and Style,” responded to O’Keefe by asking, “What in God’s name is the matter with you?”
Another Twitter user responded, noting: “FDR was crippled by polio and helped lead USA through unfathomable catastrophe and media would now turn him into a circus freak.”
Others on social media, like this attorney, are also blasting NBC News.
“NBC News is pushing ableist propaganda to imply John Fetterman isn’t well enough to be a Senator for Pennsylvania because he requested closed captioning. Meanwhile, Republicans believe Herschel Walker has brain damage and they are pouring millions in his Georgia race.”
Harvard Law School Cyberlaw Clinic clinical instructor Alejandra Caraballo says, “It’s absolutely disgusting what the media is doing to John Fetterman. He has a hearing impairment as a result of his stroke and they’re treating it as a scandal. It’s one of the worst examples of ableism in politics I’ve ever seen.”
In his interview with O’Donnell, Fetterman has responded to critics, saying, “The truth is, is that I’m going to be feeling better in January, but [Dr. Oz is] going to still be a fraud!”
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