Nothing to See Here: Nets Downplay Fetterman’s Struggles on Debate Stage

October 26th, 2022 1:45 PM

On Wednesday, ABC, CBS and NBC attempted to channel Obi-Wan Kenobi from Star Wars during their morning news shows by telling viewers to move along and dismiss what they saw Tuesday as Lt. Gov. John Fetterman (D-PA) showed severe cognitive impairment on a debate stage against Republican Dr. Mehmet Oz for Pennsylvania’s open Senate seat.

For a news media that so often has demanded we not normalize Donald Trump, they were hellbent on normalizing Fetterman’s inability to offer a string of coherent thoughts and required massive screens displaying the closed captioning.



ABC’s Good Morning America co-host and former Clinton flack George Stephanopoulos painted the debate in a tease as perfectly normal:

Pennsylvania in the spotlight in the race for control of Congress. Overnight Democrat John Fetterman and Republican Dr. Mehmet Oz face off in the high-stakes election’s only debate fighting for the state’s open Senate seat. Fetterman’s recent stroke front and center as the candidates clash over abortion and crime.

Leading off the show, congressional correspondent Rachel Scott insisted “[t]he stakes are high and the circumstances are unique” with Fetterman’s recovery, but boasted that her candidate “addressed” his stroke “head on” and “cut to the chase.”

But Scott otherwise painted the debate as normal with both going “on the attack,” Fetterman being pressed on “President Biden’s student loan forgiveness program,” and the Democrat “drawing a clear contrast” with Oz on abortion.

At the end of the debate, Scott said the two told “voters why they are the right man for the job here in Pennsylvania.”

Before a rehash from Scott in the second hour, Stephanopoulos said in a 7:30 a.m. Eastern half-hour brief that “Fetterman squared off with Mehmet Oz in their first and only debate” with the Democrat’s “stroke...front and center with two big monitors.”

CBS Mornings co-host and Democratic donor Gayle fretted in the “Eye Opener” that “[a] candidate's health is a topic at the Pennsylvania Senate debate” before teaming with correspondent Robert Costa to spin for Fetterman.

The two made Tuesday seem like a typical debate with “fiery” and “tense exchanges on the issues” (click “expand”):

KING: We’re gonna begin though in Pennsylvania with the Senate race that’s got huge implications for the country and which party has power in Washington. Now this was a first and only debate between Democrat John Fetterman and Republican Mehmet Oz. It included fiery exchanges on abortion rights, the economy, and a range of other issues. But with early voting already underway, John Fetterman’s health was also a topic.  Robert Costa is following this campaign. Bob, good morning to you. He started right off the bat saying ‘let’s address the elephant in the room.’ Good to see you. 

COSTA: He did Gayle, good morning. Good to be with you. Last night’s debate, it was a crucial crossroads in the battle for the Senate. It was also reflective of the state of politics in Pennsylvania and the nation. Tense exchanges on the issues and on character. 

Costa continued to be Fetterman’s flack: “Fetterman started off the hour-long debate reassuring voters he’s still capable of doing the job...five months after having a stroke...[w]hile...Oz went straight to attacking his opponent as soft on crime.”

Explaining that “[t]he two clashed on abortion” and the mood “got heated” on higher education, Costa offered the lamest defense of Fetterman that “some” saw “a strong performance” (though he, like, NBC, played an embarrassing Fetterman answer on fracking):

Fetterman’s use of a closed captioning device during the debate — where he read questions in real time on a screen above the moderators — sparked debate on social media with some observers seeing a strong performance amid recovery, while others cast him as unsteady.

NBC’s Today came the closest to suggesting Tuesday night was a tire fire.

Co-host Savannah Guthrie, however, played the part for the left, hyping “the first and only Senate debate there with control of Congress hanging in the balance” with Fetterman and Oz “fac[ing] off on the issues.”

In the lead-off report, Guthrie tried to have it both ways: “

This was highly anticipated not only because of questions concerning Democrat John Fetterman's health after his stroke six months ago, but also because this race could decide which party controls the Senate and that will affect every single American come next year. We’ll show you how it played out. 

Correspondent Dasha Burns — who was dragged by liberals and other journalists for her tough words about Fetterman — called the race “extremely tight,” but the big focus was “how Fetterman would fare after suffering a stroke earlier this year and the stakes could not have been higher.”

Before going to abortion and whether Oz would back Trump in 2024, Burns focused on Fetterman’s physical and mental incapacitation (click “expand”):

BURNS: Fetterman acknowledging what he called the elephant in the room, the stroke that nearly killed him five months ago. 

FETTERMAN: I had a stroke. He’s never let me forget that. And I might miss some words during this debate, mush two words together. I’m also fighting for any forgotten community all across Pennsylvania. They ever got knocked down that had to be — to get back up and I made my entire career dedicating to those kinds of pursuits. 

BURNS: Fetterman using closed captioning to assist with auditory processing, battling Dr. Oz.

FETTERMAN: It's about supporting and helping, you know, young earners, excuse me, young — young, uh, young students to give them a break. 

BURNS: But experiencing some stumbles throughout the debate, particularly during an exchange over fracking challenged by the moderators for past contradictory comments. 

FETTERMAN: I do support fracking and I don't — I don't — I support fracking and I stand — and I do support fracking. 

BURNS: Fetterman says he's fit to serve citing a letter from his doctor but he would not commit to releasing his full medical records. 

FETTERMAN: I believe if my doctor believes that I'm fit to serve and that's what I believe is appropriate – 

BURNS: The celebrity TV doctor never directly addressing Fetterman's health but saying this during an exchange on education. 

OZ: I visited vocational schools, I have an answer, but John, obviously, because I wasn't clear enough for you to understand this.

Burns later closed by saying Team Fetterman insisted “the campaign was thrilled with his performance saying he won ‘countless exchanges against Oz.”’ 

Washington correspondent Hallie Jackson tried to have it both ways, claiming Fetterman’s performance will be seen positively by voters for “putting himself out there” and the debate’s focus on abortion, crime, and the economy were similar to other debates in states like New York.

Wednesday’s dismissals of Fetterman’s cognitive impairment and attempted Jedi mind trick by the press was made possible thanks to the endorsement of advertisers such as Discover (on ABC), General Mills (on NBC), and Kohl’s (on CBS). Follow the links to see their contact information at the MRC’s Conservatives Fight Back page.

To see the relevant transcript from October 26, click here (for ABC), here (for CBS), and here (for NBC).