October surprises are never pleasant for candidates. Especially when they are manufactured by elements of the media. In 2016, it was Hillary Clinton’s emails, which was more of a campaign-long thing for Clinton, although James Comey’s infamous letter on Oct. 28 sparked a feeding frenzy.
This year, the October surprise in the Pennsylvania senate race really shouldn’t be a surprise at all: John Fetterman uses close captioning as part of his recovery from a stroke to help him comprehend questions. This is not something Fetterman has hidden. In fact, it has been mentioned in multiple prior interviews. But in an interview with NBC News that was run this past Tuesday, apparently, the close captioning is a disturbing revelation. Cue the usual suspects in the media, who jumped on this like it was a letter from a shady FBI director.
The auditory/processing deficit Fetterman is experiencing is common among stroke survivors. It is a temporary condition and it does not affect cognitive abilities. The use of close captioning to help survivors during their recovery so they can work is not exactly strange.
However, some in the DC media licked their chops and piled on, including CNN last night, who added to the hysteria with a segment of their own. Of course, Politico had to jump in…
NBC News’ Dasha Burns: “In small talk before my interview [with Fetterman], it wasn’t clear he understood what I was saying.” #PASEN
— Josh Kraushaar (@JoshKraushaar) October 11, 2022
Josh didn’t include the “without close captioning” part of what Dasha Burns’ said, which makes this seem like he didn’t understand her at any time. This was very misleading.
So very much like the Hillary Email Server hysteria. One might hope that such an embarrassing moment for so many in the DC media would cause some self-reflection but these days, I guess that’s for suckers. They obviously have learned nothing.
It is interesting to me that the backlash on this media pile-on started up almost immediately. That is one big difference between Close-Caption-Gate and Hillary’s Emails. Fellow stroke survivor and journalist Kara Swisher gave perhaps the sharpest and most succinct comeback.
— Kara Swisher (@karaswisher) October 12, 2022
This also points out another very odd aspect of the NBC News interview, NBC’s claim that this was the first interview with Fetterman after the stroke. No, that’s not true, because Swisher interviewed him. He also has been doing other interviews:
Fetterman has been doing long-form ed boards and interviews **despite** having had a stroke. He has been penalized by major networks for using captions – yet he’s still showing up.
So it’s fair to ask: where the hell is Oz? https://t.co/HPd9MB041Q
— Adam Jentleson (@AJentleson) October 13, 2022
And yes, a good question, why isn’t Dr. Oz doing these interviews? I guess he might feel that the media is doing the work for him, so why bother?
It is difficult to say how this will affect the race. On one hand, perhaps it will make some undecided, low-information voters who are blissfully ignorant of the stakes of this particular election reluctant to vote for Fetterman. On the other hand, it may make Fetterman a sympathetic and inspirational figure. There are people who have stroke survivors in their lives who they have watched make a recovery. These people might also find the media pile-on mean and off-putting, an example of ableism and bigotry toward the disabled. There is certainly that argument to make.
Perhaps the best piece about Fetterman this year was Rebecca Traister’s wonderful profile of Fetterman in New York Magazine. Traister writes with a lot of smarts and empathy, and this is a great example of her work:
I wrote in my lengthy profile of Fetterman this week about how open he has been about his ongoing stroke recovery, and how awful it is to watch not just Fox but mainstream media push for “transparency” even as he offers just that. https://t.co/NU7IQV5yDv
— Rebecca Traister (@rtraister) October 12, 2022
There is also the appalling idea of a doctor mocking a stroke victim’s recovery. My God, I know we can be a deeply screwed-up nation, but there is something quite sick about such a spectacle. Curiously enough, you really don’t hear any reporter pressure Oz about that, demanding to know if he thinks this could hurt him with voters.
Fetterman’s recovery is pretty inspiring, and that includes dealing with something most stroke victims do not have to: the hysterical DC media.
The last word goes to one of the great Dumb Bands of all time (yeah, yeah their songs all sound alike but do we hold that against The Ramones?). It’s a tribute to Mr. Fetterman’s preferred shirt color.