Figures at MSNBC and ABC said that Republican Pennsylvania Senate candidate Mehmet Oz “bullied” opponent John Fetterman at their debate Tuesday night.
Following Fetterman’s halting debate performance – a CNN article declared it “hard to watch” – that sent betting markets in Oz’s favor, some liberal media figures lambasted the Republican instead.
“It was really strange to me that he chose to bully a stroke victim,” “The View” co-host Sunny Hostin said on ABC. “He obviously was bullying him and, you know, I don’t think the people of Pennsylvania or the people in general like that because Fetterman raised $1 million after that debate and I think it takes real courage to show that you have been knocked down. I think it takes real bravery to allow people to see your weakness, right?”
On MSNBC, Politico White House bureau chief Jonathan Lemire also used the “bully” talking point.
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“Oz, certainly at moments, seemed to almost come off as a bully,” he said Tuesday morning. Later in the day on the same network, he said, “Fetterman really struggled with some answers. Then again, Oz himself came off as kind of a bully, had his own misstep with a line about abortion.”
MSNBC columnist Liz Plank tweeted Oz “just gave a masterclass on how to bully people with disabilities,” while retweeting a link to her live debate blog post titled “Oz bullies Fetterman for missing debates due to stroke.” She had previously written that the race between the two candidates was “premised on a deep-rooted ableist definition of health that labels disability as invalidating.”
The Atlantic’s John Hendrickson perceived one Oz line in particular as a shot at his mental acuity, adding the Republican spent much of the night “trying to swallow a smirk.”
“John, obviously I wasn’t clear enough for you to understand this,” Oz said at one point about one of his proposals.
Fetterman, still recovering from a stroke he suffered earlier this year, struggled throughout Tuesday’s highly anticipated showdown with Oz, at times sounding incoherent and barely managing to get through sentences.
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Several journalists declared Fetterman’s performance “painful to watch” – an Axios report described the bipartisan response on Capitol Hill to his showing as “brutal” – and his campaign fumed that the closed-captioning at the debate so he could better understand questions was “filled with errors.”
“Fetterman clearly lost last night,” Politico reported. “But the Fetterman campaign is betting that Oz will lose the all-important post-debate conversation.”
The debate received extensive media attention not only because of the crucial nature of the race, but also because of the unusual dynamics surrounding it. Oz had pressured Fetterman for weeks to agree to a debate, and the Democrat’s problems with the format were almost immediately evident.
On the subject of bullying, some media figures and conservatives called for apologies to NBC’s Dasha Burns, who received an onslaught of liberal criticism for saying Fetterman struggled to communicate when she spoke with him off-camera before an interview in early October. Based on Fetterman’s showing on Tuesday, her defenders said she was vindicated.