Articles from The New York Times and ABC News rushed to John Fetterman’s defense and highlighted how bias against people with disabilities catalyzed negative reactions to the Pennsylvania Senate candidate’s debate performance.
“One in four Americans has a disability, but disabled politicians are rarely on the national debate stage. That made John Fetterman’s appearance a powerful moment, but public reactions were painful,” The Times’ Maggie Astor wrote.
The piece, citing disabled Americans, called Fetterman’s performance both a sign of positive development in political representation, but also a difficult reminder “how far they have left to go.”
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“On one hand, Mr. Fetterman, the Democratic nominee, was in a nationally watched debate months after a stroke left him with an auditory processing disorder, speaking openly about his disability — a remarkable moment for people who have felt pressure to hide their own, and who rarely see people like themselves in politics,” Astor added. “On the other hand, much of the coverage of the debate focused on Mr. Fetterman’s verbal stumbles.”
ABC News released a similar article on Thursday, speaking with disability advocates about the public reception to the Fetterman debate with Republican Mehmet Oz.
“Disabled activists say persistent, ongoing jabs about Fetterman’s condition despite his perseverance on the campaign trail highlight the ways in which ableism turns a condition someone is experiencing into a weapon to be used against them to make assumptions about their abilities,” Kiara Alfonsaca wrote.
The writer also noted that Fetterman would not be the first American politician to serve with a disability, comparing him to President Biden, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, R., Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., and former President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
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Biden has a speech impediment, both Abbott and Roosevelt suffered permanent paralysis, and Duckworth lost her legs while fighting in the Iraq War.
The piece noted that Fetterman’s decision to not release his medical records may have exacerbated negative reactions to his stroke and cited neurologists who asserted that speech issues do not necessarily indicate cognitive impairment.
The Times, on the other hand, made no mention of Fetterman’s resistance to releasing his medical records.
Fetterman’s health has been a focal point in the election, as he suffered a stroke five months ago. Oz’s campaign has repeatedly made requests to view the Democrat’s medical records, to which he gave a flat “no” when asked during the debate.
“My doctor believes that I am fit to be serving, and that’s what I believe is where I’m standing,” Fetterman said when asked if he would release his medical records on Tuesday night.
When asked by a reporter if Biden believes Fetterman should release his medical records, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre declined to weigh in.