Oz-Fetterman debate: NY Times journalists plead with voters to ‘make allowances’ for Democrat’s ‘disadvantage’

Reporters for The New York Times adamantly defended Democratic Pennsylvania Senate candidate John Fetterman while he was debating his Republican opponent, Dr. Mehmet Oz, Tuesday night.

Fetterman has struggled to communicate after suffering a stroke last May. He requested closed captioning during the debate because of auditory processing issues lingering from the stroke. 

Some journalists winced at Fetterman’s responses, calling them “painful to watch.” But Times’ journalists Sheryl Stolberg, Blake Hounshell and Lisa Lerer repeatedly excused the Democrat’s halting performance during their live coverage.


From the get-go, Stolberg tried to ease voters’ concerns about Fetterman’s communication.

“Mr. Fetterman’s verbal stumbles and halting style do not reflect a problem with his brain, his doctors say. He has an auditory processing disorder, which means that his brain hears subtle differences in sound differently than before his stroke. And even before his stroke, Fetterman was not nearly as polished a communicator as Oz,” she wrote, as the debate kicked off.

Later, she added, “Fetterman’s style may be halting and some voters may even find it hard to listen to him. But he clearly understands what is being asked and he is getting his message across. When Oz accused him of supporting ‘socialized medicine,’ he shot back, ‘I never supported any of that thing.’ Everyone knew what he meant.”


Other reporters also tried to dismiss the debate style because Fetterman struggled to answer quickly.

Blake Hounshell wrote, “Watching this debate, I’m struck by what a weird American tradition this is. Senators are known for their long-windedness, but all of these questions require punchy, 60-second sound bites. It’s an odd notion of what the job requires.”

Stolberg followed up by declaring the debate “a format that favors Oz,” and asking if voters would “understand” and “make allowances for that.”

Fellow reporter Lisa Lerer agreed asking, “I’m really wondering about that too, Sheryl. I’m curious to see how voters respond to his performance. Do they make allowances for his halting speech, given his medical history? Or do they see him as less fluent than Oz, who has plenty of TV experience?”

Hounshell closed the Times’ analysis by suggesting that voters would be misled by clips taken out of context. 

“A reminder that few voters generally watch debates live, but many more will see remixed and selectively edited clips in the hours and days ahead. Pennsylvanians are also being swamped by millions in paid advertising; Republicans just tossed in $6 million more in ad spending there today,” he wrote.

Leading into the debate, some in the media tried to lower expectations for the Democratic candidate.

A CNN panelist Tuesday afternoon touted how “smart” it was for Democrats to “lower expectations” for Fetterman because if he was even “relatively coherent” his performance would be considered successful.

New York Times journalists gave John Fetterman glowing reviews during his debate with Dr. Mehmet Oz Tuesday night, despite many others panning the performance.

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