Numerous media outlets insisted that questions about Pennsylvania Senator John Fetterman’s health problems after his stroke were much ado about nothing in the run-up to the 2022 midterm election, when he won the hottest Senate races in the world. country.
Now, since he has been hospitalized for weeks with depression, the media’s tone has been laudatory about his transparency and generally silent when questions have been raised about how he is running his office as he recovers from serious health issues.
“Mental illness should not be covered differently than any other illness,” said Dr. Marc Siegel to Fox News Digital. “That said, the people of Pennsylvania deserve a senator…we certainly deserve more transparency here.”
“It’s all about political positioning, not a concern about health or ability to function,” Siegel added of the lack of media curiosity.
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Fetterman’s health was under scrutiny after he suffered a stroke while campaigning for the Pennsylvania seat. But skepticism that Fetterman would be able to handle the rigors of office came largely from the right, as the Democrats’ allies in the mainstream media defended him at all costs and criticized Republicans such as Mehmet Oz’s Senate campaign, which he criticized Fetterman’s physical form. Fetterman claimed victory in a large Democratic pickup truck and took office in January.
Fetterman was already struggling to adjust to life in the Senate when he was hospitalized in February for clinical depression. Before that, Fetterman struggled for weeks to adjust to his role as senator, relying on technology aids to help him communicate with colleagues and his own staff. He had a separate hospital stay after feeling dizzy at a retreat for powerful Democrats.
Leading up to Election Day, NBC reporter Dasha Burns was vilified by the left for suggesting that Fetterman had a “difficult” time to understand her pre-interview bullshit.
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Burns’ own colleague, Savannah Guthrie of NBC, pressed her and insisted that other journalists claimed that Fetterman was fine. Kara Swisher of Vox was among Fetterman’s angry supporters online and claimed that she spoke to him for “over an hour” without assistance from aides. Swisher called Burn’s report “preposterous” and suggested that the NBC reporter was “just terrible at small talk”.
Liberal podcast host Molly Jong-Fast said that Fetterman “understood everything I was saying and he was funny”, while MSNBC host Stephanie Ruhle tweeted that “absolutely no problem” when she spoke to him.
ABC News’ FiveThirtyEight ran an article declaring that Fetterman’s critics were biased against people with disabilities, while MSNBC ran an op-ed entitled, “Why Fetterman’s Senate Campaign Is a Greater Teaching Moment Than than this election”, which highlighted the “blatant ability”. The Washington Post also rushed to Fetterman’s defense last year with a report titled, “Fetterman’s use of subtitles common in stroke recovery, experts say.” It featured voices speculating that Fetterman had aphasia, an auditory processing disorder. , while admitting to having divulged “very little information about his health”.
Fetterman’s cheerleaders in the media haven’t backed down since he was admitted last month. NewsBusters’ conservative managing editor Curtis Houck, who has been open on social media about his own struggles with mental health, believes the press is only covering part of the story.
“The media is fully capable of doing two things at once to put the spotlight on mental health and how the stress of work and campaigning can wear you down. At the same time, Fetterman is a senator from a major state that is still one of the biggest in the country by population and elected in perhaps the most covered race since the midterm elections,” Houck told Fox News Digital, pointing to a March 9 New York Times report entitled “Closed in Walter Reed, Fetterman Runs His Operation in the Senate of far away”. as an example of bad coverage.
“The New York Times was correct in stating that much of the work in a congressman’s office is done by employees, right down to press releases, tweets and legislation writing. indefinite period of time and all it takes is a team to run to a Senate seat is an insult to both the constituents and the institution,” Houck continued. “Committee hearings, community appearances, press conferences and polls are just some of the areas that require the presence of an effective representative in a way that an unknown official can never fill.”
The Times report liberally quoted Fetterman’s chief of staff, Adam Jentleson, a longtime Democratic operative who has slammed voices that questioned Fetterman’s fitness and blocked some conservative critics who wonder how he is running his office from a hospital. . The Times reported, “It is not uncommon for legislators to be told by members of their staff, sometimes after the fact, which bills they are co-sponsoring”, though it noted that there are downsides to not being physically on Capitol Hill. For example, he cannot vote on bills.
When the news first broke, Fetterman was widely praised for undergoing treatment, while very little was said about his ability to serve. Many have celebrated the progress Americans have made since Thomas Eagleton was ousted from Democratic candidate George McGovern’s ticket in 1972 when it was revealed that he suffered from depression.
CNN and MSNBC panelists suggested that aides were “surprised” that the senator was depressed, but there is a “sense of relief” that the subject is being broached. “Morning Joe” regular John Heilemann said that, in hindsight, Fetterman’s health problems turned out to be an advantage in the US Senate race.
“They made it a humanizing element that connected him to the electorate in Pennsylvania and it kind of improved people’s view of Fetterman. He’s an ordinary guy,” Heilemann said.
Alicia Menendez of MSNBC compared Fetterman to Abraham Lincoln because he also struggled with metal-related health issues, while Abby Phillip of CNN called his treatment an “act of courage”.
CNN’s Michael Smerconish, who was one of the few experts to question Fetterman’s fitness before the races, donned rose-colored glasses and suggested that he could emerge as a “model of mental health” for Americans.
“Perhaps he could become the face of a mental health epidemic,” Smerconish said. “We can all benefit from it, so thank you, John Fetterman.”
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Once the calendar shifted to March, most of Fetterman’s coverage focused on photos his staff had tweeted about his recovery and criticism of Republicans who questioned whether he was fit to serve.
From the day Fetterman began treatment for depression on Feb. 16 until March 16, no one on CNN or MSNBC has questioned whether he remains capable of serving the people of Pennsylvania, according to a search of transcripts. The morning and evening news on NBC, CBS and ABC also did not seek answers.
“As someone who has struggled with his mental health over the years, the question has to be asked about how the senator got to this position. It’s not finger-pointing at any one individual, but a collective effort of where things broke down by his team and a press that, along with NBC’s Dasha Burns, worked hard to get him into office,” Houck said.
“For any member of Congress, there are layers and layers of people around him, and in a statewide campaign with such a following as Fetterman’s, that was the case on a large scale and considering his slow cognitive recovery from a stroke,” Houck added. . “The conversation should have been that it was sad that he ended up where he ended up and that he was arguably taken advantage of by people who should have put his health first. [New York] Times: Your absence is not something that should be dismissed as something from malicious ‘detractors’.”
Houck noted that Fetterman’s health story was initially reported “as if it came out of nowhere”, in addition to mentioning that he was recovering from a stroke and that everyone wished him well.
“In reality, the signs were there, and if even superficial media observers were honest, we would recognize someone facing a highly stressful campaign, perhaps the main race of a national election cycle is exhausting enough, but it was even more cruel. went through this while battling the effects of a stroke,” said Houck.
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DePauw University journalism professor Jeffrey McCall believes the news media has a “tricky challenge” in dealing with the Fetterman situation.
“Reporters normally shouldn’t touch the personal health concerns of journalists, who still deserve some degree of privacy regarding their health. Fetterman’s situation, however, deserves some journalistic scrutiny because it is legitimate to question whether he can effectively do the job. he was elected to,” McCall told Fox News Digital.
“This is not like reporting on a senator who has the flu or a broken ankle who could continue to function minimally during treatment and would presumably, in due course, be back at full capacity. It is reasonable to ask whether Senator Fetterman can resume their duties and, if so, to what extent. It is not petty, unprofessional or intrusive to raise this issue,” he continued. “Fetterman was largely protected by the media during the campaign last fall, but it would be irresponsible if the media thought they must continue to shield Fetterman from questions about his health and fitness for duty during his six-year term in the Senate.”
Houston Keene and Alexander Hall of Fox News contributed to this report.
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