Fetterman debate fiasco leaves some liberal journalists fuming: ‘How to bully people with disabilities’


Some liberal journalists fumed and rushed to defend Pennsylvania Senate candidate John Fetterman, D., following his debate performance Tuesday night, which saw the candidate’s health challenges quickly become the center of discussion. 

During live analysis of the debate against Republican Dr. Mehmet Oz, several New York Times writers questioned how Americans would react to Fetterman’s performance, offering concessions for his health and lack of television experience. 

“This is clearly a format that favors Oz. The question is whether voters will understand that Fetterman is operating at a disadvantage, and make allowances for that,” Sheryl Stolberg wrote. 

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Times editor Blake Hounshell also provided his quick analysis, writing that it is a “weird tradition” for potential U.S. Senators to condense their answers into 60-second sound bites. 

“It’s an odd notion of what the job requires,” he added.

Times columnist Jamelle Boulie took to Twitter as the debate reached its conclusion, writing that he felt Fetterman speaking with a disability was “less painful and off-putting” to watch on television than Oz’s “cruel and smirking jabs” at Fetterman’s stroke. 

Boulie was responding to New York Magazine Washington correspondent Olivia Nuzzi, who tweeted, “There is no amount of empathy for and understanding about Fetterman’s health and recovering that changes the fact that this is absolutely painful to watch.”

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USA Today columnist Connie Schultz, whose husband is Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, expressed her frustration at verified Twitter users who criticized Fetterman’s debate performance. 

“My God, the blue-check people here mocking John Fetterman during this debate, as if they are immune from the randomness of illness and infirmity. Time catches up with everyone, no exceptions. Few would have his courage to recover so publicly,” she said. 

The Philadelphia Inquirer opinion staff weighed in on the debate, with editorial writers, columnist and contributors agreeing that Fetterman outperformed Oz on the Harrisburg stage. Fetterman received a score of 4.3/10, with one columnist writing, “He struggled, more than many were comfortable with, I’m sure. But that says more about us, than him.” Oz received a 4.1. 

The opinion staff also took a dig at Oz at the bottom of their reactions, when providing the moderators with a rating. 

“(Bonus: Moderators (10/10) – For their insistence on addressing him as “Mr. Oz.”),” they wrote. 

The Inquirer editorial board endorsed Fetterman earlier this month.

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MSNBC columnist Liz Plank fumed that Oz had given a “masterclass on how to bully people with disabilities” and said he had been forced to “rely on ableism to win.” Far-left, former MSNBC host Keith Olbermann erupted on an Axios report about the “brutal” reaction to Fetterman on Capitol Hill, calling the reporter a “Republican whore,” and Jezebel editor-in-chief Laura Bassett said it was “insane” to assess the debate as an even match between Fetterman and a “quack TV doctor.”

A piece in The Atlantic by John Hendrickson described the Fetterman-Oz debate as a “Rorschach test,” describing Fetterman as a man who talked one way, and “now he talks another way.”

“Tonight’s hour-long exchange was, in some ways, a Rorschach test of comfort with disability,” Hendrickson said, noting that no disability accommodations for Fetterman can change how society stigmatizes “verbal disfluency.”

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He admitted that Fetterman may have lost whatever swing voters are left in Pennsylvania, but may have won over voters who admired his courage for debating at all. 

Since suffering a stroke in May, Fetterman’s health has often led to discussions about his mental fitness for office. In early October, Fetterman sat down for his first in-person interview, which showed him relying on closed-captioning technology from a desktop computer for him to read the reporter’s questions in real time. 

“In small talk before the interview, without captioning, it wasn’t clear he was understanding our conversation,” NBC News correspondent Dasha Burns said in a report.

Burns was swiftly berated, second-guessed and criticized by other journalists — some of whom had recently interviewed Fetterman. Vox’s Kara Swisher called Burns’ claim “nonsense”; far-left podcast host Molly Jong-Fast declared Fetterman “understood everything” during their recent chat; and YouTube personality Brian Tyler Cohen shared his interview and suggested “the notion that he wasn’t able to understand is mind-numbingly false.” Now critics say she’s owned an apology. 

Swisher doubled down on Tuesday, saying she wouldn’t apologize to Burns when challenged on Twitter.

During the debate, Fetterman was granted access to closed captioning, similar to his NBC News interview, in order to read moderator questions and Oz’s responses. Fetterman frequently stumbled over his sentences, used incorrect words, and repeated phrases during the 60-minute debate. He also couldn’t explain his flip-flop on fracking and would not commit to releasing his medical records. 

Fox News’ Brian Flood and David Rutz contributed to this report

Liberal journalists from MSNBC, The New York Times, Philadelphia Inquirer, and elsewhere defended John Fetterman’s debate performance and erupted on his critics.

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