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Media Question Fetterman's Fitness While Claiming Disabled Inclusivity

Lt. Gov. John Fetterman (D-PA) as seen Tuesday night in his first sit-down, on-camera interview since his stroke.


(Screengrab/NBC News video)

Some of the news networks questioning whether stroke-related disabilities might make Lt. Gov. John Fetterman (D-PA) unfit to serve in the Senate have policies touting their official inclusion of disabled people and rejecting the stigmas they face.

Fox News has been focused intensely on Fetterman’s race against Dr. Mehmet Oz, with much of its coverage not just questioning but asserting that Fetterman is “completely incapable” of serving, as Tucker Carlson put it.

That was true even before NBC News aired Fetterman’s first on-camera, face-to-face interview with a reporter last night.

But both networks say explicitly on their websites that disabled people are capable of working there.

NBCUniversal says it offers job opportunities “regardless of…disability…” The Fox Corporation touts worker inclusion groups, including ABLE, which is “committed to breaking the stigma around seen and unseen and unseen disabilities.”

Last month, on his Fox program, Carlson called Fetterman “an incompetent husk…who, by the way, cannot even think clearly.”

In NBC’s newscast last night, anchor Lester Holt introduced reporter Dasha Burns by saying, “[T]his was not a typical candidate interview.” Burns responded that the Fetterman campaign “required closed-captioning” so that he could read her questions as she asked them. It wasn’t clear whether NBC wanted to do the interview any other way, or why.

Like many other companies, NBC routinely provides accommodations for people suffering permanent or temporary disabilities, presumably without drawing attention to them. NBC's edited version of the interview included Fetterman pausing and stumbling, even though verbal missteps are typically edited out, especially in time-conscious tape pieces aired on half-hour newscasts.

Although Fetterman’s doctor has said he is fit to serve, and Fetterman evinced no behavior to suggest otherwise, NBC pressed him to release his medical records. (The segment also said that Fetterman has voted to parole convicted murderers, suggesting that refusing to keep rehabilitated convicts in prison makes him “soft on crime.”)

The segment ended noting that Fetterman plans to use closed-captioning in his debate with Oz later this month.

As writer Parker Molloy suggested, reports that Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Chuck Grassley (R-IA) are suffering cognitive difficulties have gotten little attention. Fetterman’s need for closed-captioning, by contrast, she said, “has political reporters freaking out.”

Both before and after last night’s NBC interview, journalists and media outlets have overstated Fetterman’s auditory-comprehension issues, or suggested they make him unfit.

Referring to Fetterman’s performance last night, CBS Senior White House and Political Correspondent Ed O’Keefe asked whether Pennsylvania voters would “be comfortable with someone representing them who had to conduct a TV interview this way?”

CBS’s policy is that it’s comfortable hiring disabled people. Just last month, CBS said it’s expanding on-screen representation of disabled people through its “Performers with Disabilities Talent Initiative.”

The National Association of Hispanic Journalists, to which O’Keefe belongs, says its policy “strictly prohibits any form of discrimination” on the basis of mental or physical disability.

Last month, a CNN online column called the news that Fetterman might need accommodations at the debate “a pretty big admission.” WarnerMedia policy is that “we all must ensure there is greater inclusion of…those with disabilities…both in front of and behind the camera.”

Conservative-leaning Axios Senior Political Correspondent Josh Kraushaar Tweeted that Burns had said “it wasn’t clear [Fetterman] understood what I was saying” in their pre-interview small talk. As NBC photographer Paul Rigney responded, “This is not what she said.”

Rigney pointed out that in her actual remarks, Burns referred only to conversation when Fetterman wasn’t being accommodated with closed-captioning. Rigney concluded by saying, “But hey man, enjoy the RTs.”

With additional reporting by TYT National Correspondent Matthew Sheffield.

Jonathan Larsen is TYT’s managing editor. You can find him on Twitter @JTLarsen.


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