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Pennsylvania Senate Candidate Fetterman’s Health Questioned After Interview


Democratic Senate candidate John Fetterman is welcomed on stage during a rally. | Image by Getty Images

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An NBC News interview with Democratic nominee John Fetterman has created a firestorm of controversy over the stroke survivor’s difficulties with speech as he campaigns to represent Pennsylvania in the U.S. Senate.

While the whole conversation covered a sweep of issues — from abortion to crime to inflation — the story was primarily centered around Fetterman’s health issues since his May 13 stroke.

Dasha Burns, the NBC News correspondent who interviewed Fetterman, said after the interview that he has some “lingering auditory processing issues” and “some problems, some challenges with speech” due to the stroke.

“Just in some of the small talk prior to the interview, before the closed captioning was up and running, it did seem that he had a hard time understanding our conversations,” Burns told MSNBC viewers on Tuesday.

Fetterman has been dealing with auditory processing and word retrieval issues since his stroke and required the assistance of closed-captioning technology so that he could read Burns’ questions.

Some reporters on social media suggested Fetterman’s interview could hurt his campaign as it raised questions about how his health would allow him to serve in the U.S. Senate if elected.

“This is a rough clip for ⁦@JohnFetterman, will only fuel questions about his health,” New York Times correspondent Jonathan Martin tweeted.

“An important interview with top senate contender. Will Pennsylvanians be comfortable with someone representing them who had to conduct a T.V. interview this way?” CBS News correspondent Ed O’Keefe similarly wondered.

Still, other reporters fired back in defense of Fetterman, criticizing NBC and Burns for framing the interview around his health.

“Sorry to say but I talked to @JohnFetterman for over an hour without stop or any aides and this is just nonsense. Maybe this reporter is just bad at small talk,” said Vox’s Kara Swisher, who recently conducted an interview with Fetterman for her podcast.

A New York magazine reporter, Rebecca Traister, who interviewed the candidate for a cover story titled “The Vulnerability of John Fetterman,” tweeted:

“As someone who has recently interviewed him: Fetterman’s comprehension is not at all impaired. He understands everything, it’s just that he reads it (which requires extra acuity, I’d argue) and responds in real time. It’s a hearing/auditory processing challenge.”

Burns responded, saying she understands that different reporters may have had different experiences with Fetterman.

“Our reporting did not and should not comment on fitness for office,” Burns tweeted Wednesday. “This is for voters to decide. What we push for as reporters is transparency. It’s our job.”

Fetterman is facing off against Republican nominee Mehmet Oz in what is widely considered one of the most critical Senate races in the country.

Throughout the summer, polls showed Fetterman with a consistent lead, but the race has tightened. Last week, the nonpartisan Cook Political Report shifted the race from “Lean Democrat” to “Toss Up” status.

Whoever wins will shift the balance of power in the U.S. Senate, which is currently deadlocked 50-50.

Despite the importance of the race, Fetterman had a limited campaign schedule while recovering from his stroke. He has recently increased the number of campaign events, holding multiple rallies in the past few weeks.

Fetterman, who is also expected to use closed captioning during a debate with Oz later this month, has affirmed that his recovery from the stroke will not impact his ability to serve in the Senate.

“Recovering from a stroke in public isn’t easy,” he tweeted Wednesday. “But in January, I’m going to be much better — and Dr. Oz will still be a fraud.”

Fetterman also spoke about his stroke recovery at a Pittsburgh rally earlier this month.

“You know, the only lingering issue that I have after that stroke is sometimes auditory processing, sometimes. And, every now and then, I might miss a word or, sometimes, you know, I might mush two words together,” Fetterman said.

Fueling more questions about his health is that Fetterman, 53, has been unwilling to release medical records or allow reporters to question his doctors.

“We’ve asked multiple times for medical records, for interviews with someone from his medical team. Those requests have been denied to NBC News and other outlets that have requested this as well,” Burns said.

Fetterman did release a letter in June from his cardiologist, who said he would be fine and able to serve in the Senate if he eats healthy foods, takes prescribed medication, and exercises.

But Brittany Yanick, communications director for Oz, told Fox News Fetterman is not being transparent enough about his health.

“The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette called on both candidates to release their medical records weeks ago. Oz released his. Why hasn’t Fetterman?” Yanick said. “It’s bizarre and strange he hasn’t done it yet. What is John Fetterman hiding?”

Fetterman campaign spokesperson Joe Calvello rebutted Yanick’s statement.

“As we’ve said over and over again, John is healthy and he also still has a lingering auditory processing issue that his doctors expect will go away,” Calvello told Fox News.

Problems with understanding and using language are common in recovering stroke victims, according to Kevin Sheth, director of the Yale University Center for Brain and Mind health.

Some recover entirely, while some have continued impairments, he said.

“There is an arc to the trajectory of recovery that varies from person to person,” Sheth said.

But he cautioned that people could not judge Fetterman’s condition based on his use of closed-captioning technology without an examination or medical records.

One thing for sure is Fetterman’s health will continue to be a central theme of the race going into November.

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1 month ago

And maybe his thought process on releasing criminals and other questionable issues.