The MRC's Fetterman Fail
Once it realized it could exploit his stroke to help his Republican opponent, the Media Research Center waged war on Democratic Pennsylvania Senate candidate John Fetterman -- and even whined that Oprah endorsed him. Fetterman won anyway.
By Terry Krepel
The Media Research Center largely ignored Democrat John Fetterman for most of his race for a Pennsylvania Senate seat. A February 2021 post by Alex Christy dismissed him as among the the "lefties" being promoted by the "hacks" on MSNBC, and another post that month briefly mentioned him -- but it wasn't until this past August, after Fetterman suffered a stroke yet still spent the summer owning his Republican opponent, TV doctor Mehmet Oz, on social media that the MRC got around to mentioning him again, in a post by Scott Whitlock fearmongering that Fetterman "supports abortion up to birth."
It was around then that the MRC started to realize it could exploit Fetterman's stroke to serve as a Republican surrogate in driving up concerns about his health and boosting Oz. A Sept. 1 post by Alex Christy complained about a "softball" interview Fetterman did with MSNBC host Stephanie Ruhle, mocking that Fetterman "looked like he was doing the interview from a dungeon" and whining: "Ruhle didn’t ask Fetterman if his health problems could limit his effectiveness as a senator, only how he plans to convince voters it won’t. She did ask if he eventually plans to debate Oz, but did not press him on it when he equated all concerns about his health with mocking his stroke."
In a Sept. 12 post, Curtis Houck cruelly sneered that a press release announcing the hated ex-CNN host Brian Stelter's new position as a fellow at Harvard sounds "just as painful as John Fetterman trying to offer a complete sentence."
That exploitation really kicked in after an NBC interview with Fetterman that just happened to mesh with right-wing anti-Fetterman narratives seeking to portray him as too sick to hold office. An Oct. 11 post by Kevin Tober repeatedly hyped Fetterman's purportedly fragile state:
NBC correspondent Dasha Burns broke news Tuesday when she revealed on both MSNBC and NBC Nightly News that Pennsylvania Democrat Senate candidate John Fetterman is in worse shape than originally thought after his near-debilitating stroke.
The next day, in whining about a Seth Meyers segment mocking right-wing Halloween candy fearmongering, Christy linked to Tober's attack post to sneer, "Maybe for his Thursday show, Meyers will talk about how Starburst is really just another term for 'the John Fetterman Campaign.'" Tim Graham praised NBC's interview with Fetterman -- because it served Republican purposes in hurting Fetterman and helping Oz -- in the writeup for his Oct. 12 podcast:
Meanwhile, NBC reporter Dasha Burns sternly questioned John Fetterman about his lack of transparency about his medical struggles after a stroke. Burns upset liberals by explaining beforehand that Fetterman required a Tele-Prompter to understand the questions, since he's having "auditory processing" issues. Democrats don't want you discussing how Fetterman is currently unable to debate on the floor of the Senate.
The MRC then moved on to attacking anyone who defended Fetterman by pointing out the reality of post-stroke auditory processing issues. Christy huffed in an Oct. 13 post:
Trevor Noah used the Wednesday installment of The Daily Show on Comedy Central to defend Pennsylvania Democratic Senate nominee John Fetterman from criticism he is not healthy enough to serve by comparing him to disabled war veterans Dan Crenshaw and Tammy Duckworth.
Nicholas Fondacaro struck the same tone in another post the same day:
Two days after NBC News reporter Dasha Burns made headlines with her first-hand account detailing just how extensive Democratic Pennsylvania Senate nominee John Fetterman’s deterioration post-stroke was, the cackling coven of ABC’s The View had their knives out for her. They suggested Burns broke journalistic ethics, it was no big deal that Fetterman couldn’t comprehend speech and mocked Georgia Senate candidate Herschel Walker (R) for supposedly having an impairment too.
Mark Finkelstein whined that the folks on "Morning Joe" pivoted to criticizing Oz instead of continuing to further right-wing narratives, while also invoking the NBC interview:
It was a schizoid Morning Joe today. On the one hand, Joe Scarborough and others defended NBC reporter Dasha Burns against criticism she has received from the liberal media for her comments on her interview with Fetterman. During the interview, Fetterman relied on closed captioning to understand her questions. In a subsequent NBC Nightly News appearance, Burns noted, "in small talk before the interview, without captioning, it wasn't clear he was understanding our conversation."
Houck used an appearance on Fox News -- presumably earned through all the Doocy-fluffing he has done over the past couple years -- to defend the NBC interview:
Making his latest appearance early Friday/late Thursday on the Fox News Channel’s Fox News @ Night, NewsBusters Managing Editor Curtis Houck teamed with District Media Group’s Beverly Hallberg to take down the liberal media for attacking NBC’s Dasha Burns after she pressed Pennsylvania senatorial candidate John Fetterman on his cognitive struggles since he suffered a stroke in May.
Unmentioned, of course, is how the right-wing media circled the wagons around Herschel Walker after his abortion scandal was exposed -- something the MRC defended.
Houck spent an Oct. 17 post, headlined "CLOWN SHOW," complaining that a Philadelphia newspaper endorsed Fetterman over Oz, despite the former being "mentally and physically incapacitated":
Major newspapers are prone to endorse Democrats. It’s almost as predictable as Joe Biden liking ice cream or Donald Trump posting on social media.
Houck huffed in an Oct. 20 post that one TV segment "wrapped on the Pennsylvania Senate race and ignored Lt. Gov. John Fetterman’s (D-PA) mental incapacity."
Clay Waters played a bizarre round of whataboutism in an Oct. 21 post comparing Fetterman to ... Herschel Walker?
The New York Times drips with understanding when it comes to the health problems plaguing Pennsylvania Democratic Senate candidate John Fetterman, but their sympathy turns to snideness when it comes to the dissociative identity disorder diagnosis of Georgia Republican Senate candidate Herschel Walker.
Waters didn't mention how his employer, along with the rest of the right-wing media, circled their wagons around Walker after he was credibly accused of paying for an abortion. (Bill D'Agostino similarly complained that "the media eagerly flooded the airwaves with the latest tidbits about Walker’s scandal, they have been incredibly protective of another embattled Senate candidate: John Fetterman, who’s running as a Democrat in Pennsylvania.")
Rich Noyes spent an Oct. 21 post noting that "Alone among the three broadcast morning shows, only ABC’s Good Morning America covered President Biden’s campaign appearance with Democratic Senate candidate John Fetterman in Pennsylvania on Thursday, and correspondent Rachel Scott admitted the President is unpopular with voters and unwanted by most Democratic candidates," grumbling that "while ABC at least talked about the President’s problems, Scott neglected to mention Fetterman’s ongoing health problems which have put the race in peril for Democrats, and showed no clips of Fetterman speaking."
Houck returned to claim in an Oct. 25 post that CBS is trying to "pull Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman (D) across the finish line" (you know, like how the MRC tried to pull Walker across the finish line):
Just as the liberal broadcast networks tried to keep former Gov. Charlie Crist’s (D-FL) campaign afloat, CBS Mornings did its best to pull Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman (D) across the finish line in his close race against Republican Dr. Mehmet Oz. Thanks to chief campaign and election correspondent Robert Costa, CBS had one simple message for voters weighing Fetterman’s health in their vote: let it go.
This was all setup before a debate between Fetterman and Oz, which the MRC exploited too.
Exploiting the debate
When Fetterman needed closed captioning during his debate to counter issues with auditory processing after his stroke -- an issue that usually resolves itself over time -- the MRC quickly pounced to bash Fetterman as severely mentally ill. Tober was first up, trying to establish the narrative that Fetterman's performance was "disastrous" and that the stroke has "incapacitated" him:
Hours after Pennsylvania Democrat Senate candidate’s disastrous debate performance Tuesday night, where he was unable to complete a coherent sentence, MSNBC’s The 11th Hour host Stephanie Ruhle sought to excuse Fetterman is clearly incapacitated by his recent stroke, and played whataboutism by directing attention toward Georgia Republican Senate candidate Herschel Walker.
Tober then complained that the folks on Ruhle's panel pointed out that Oz isn't from Pennsylvania.
Houck followed with an Oct. 26 post that emphasized Fetterman's "physical and mental incapacitation":
On Wednesday, ABC, CBS and NBC attempted to channel Obi-Wan Kenobi from Star Wars during their morning news shows by telling viewers to move along and dismiss what they saw Tuesday as Lt. Gov. John Fetterman (D-PA) showed severe cognitive impairment on a debate stage against Republican Dr. Mehmet Oz for Pennsylvania’s open Senate seat.
Christy complained that CNN reported that Fetterman's condition is not permanent and that he did OK despite that, then mixed in a little whataboutism:
CNN senior political analyst joined CNN Newsroom host Erica Hill on Wednesday to recap John Fetterman’s Tuesday debate performance. Avlon tried to reassure viewers that Fetterman’s poor performance was just “a snapshot in time,” that he will recover from his stroke, and that he was “gutsy” to even show up, but also that party label matters. The last point being a complete 180 from Avlon’s commentary on GOP candidates.
Fondacaro similarly played Herschel whataboutism while similarly whining about a TV show that wouldn't promote the right-wing anti-Fetterman narrative:
Two weeks ago, the cackling coven of ABC’s The View mocked Georgia Republican Senate candidate Herschel Walker for how he talks and suggested he had brain damage. Earlier this week, they used the term “stroke” to malign Florida Republican Governor Ron DeSantis’s debate performance. But on Wednesday, following the Pennsylvania Senate debate, the cast decried criticism of Democratic candidate John Fetterman as “unempathetic” and accused Republican candidate Mehmet Oz of “bully[ing] a stroke victim.”
Graham pushed this narrative as well in his Oct. 26 podcast, grumbling that "the post-debate coverage lauded Fetterman's 'courage,' downplayed his disabilities (or made them a virtue)." Tober, meanwhile, did some servile stenography for his favorite Fox News host:
Nearly 24 hours since the end of the one and only Pennsylvania Senate debate between Republican Mehmet Oz and Democrat John Fetterman, Fox News host Tucker Carlson opened his popular primetime show Tucker Carlson Tonight by going after the leftist media for knowingly covering up the extent to which Fetterman is incapacitated. Other than NBC correspondent Dasha Burns, the entire leftist media establishment covered up or downplayed Fetterman's brain damage.
By contrast, the MRC never criticized Carlson for selectively editing his interview with Kanye West -- which the MRC used to praise his right-wing values both before and after he tweeted out an anti-Semitic attack -- to take out the craziness and even more anti-Semitism.
Tober returned to whine in yet another Oct. 26 post:
On Wednesday night's edition of MSNBC's The Last Word, host Lawrence O'Donnell went into damage-control mode in the aftermath of Tuesday night's Pennsylvania Senate debate where Democrat candidate John Fetterman proved to everyone watching that he is incapacitated from the stroke he suffered last spring, and is unqualified to serve in the United States Senate. Knowing that, O'Donnell used the opening monologue of his show to compare Fetterman's illness to former President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill.
Finkelstein huffed in an Oct. 28 post:
Poor Mika Brzezinski. With John Fetterman's campaign collapsing around Democrat ears in the wake of his disastrous debate performance, the Morning Joe co-host soldiered on Thursday.
Finkelstein then penned another post complaining that Brzezinski repeated Fetterman's claim that “By January I will be much much better, but Oz will still be a fraud,” which quickly devolved into fearmongering about Fetterman's condition:
As per Johns Hopkins Health [emphasis added throughout]:
Finkelstein is not a medical doctor -- he's just some guy who did an internet search.
Jeffrey Lord spent his Oct. 29 column spinning a conspiracy theory about Fetterman under the ridiculous headline "What Did the Media Know and When Did They Know It?," in which he declared that "The reason for the collective shock at Fetterman’s performance - by “panicked Democrats” and others - is that once the fact of Fetterman’s stroke was known, the media tried to run cover on the subject of Fetterman’s real condition as a result":
Instead of investigating and doing its due diligence on what was really going on with the stricken candidate and reporting it to Pennsylvania voters and the rest of the nation, the media reflex was to run cover for Fetterman. And when Fetterman finally agreed to that solitary debate with Oz, the intake of breath by debate-watchers in and out of the media was real. Sheer shock at hand. And for one reason and one reason only.
That's rich coming from a guy who has suffered numerous self-inflicted blows by being such a creepily obsequious kneejerk Trump defender.
The weekend before the election, the MRC attacked Fetterman again, but for more prosaic reasons -- in this case, getting an endorsement from Oprah Winfrey. Christy spent a Nov. 4 post insisting that Oprah's endorsement meant nothing, even though it was a clear rebuke of Oz, whose TV career was launched by her:
Of all the stories that could’ve led off Friday’s CNN This Morning, the one that the cast settled on was Oprah Winfrey endorsing John Fetterman in Pennsylvania’s Senate race with co-host Don Lemon desperately trying to suggest it all mattered.
Fondacaro kicked off his daily two minutes hate of "The View" by only alluding to Oprah's endorsement while bashing the show's interview of Fetterman for not being as hateful as he would be:
The Friday edition of ABC’s The View brought with it one of the more highly anticipated interviews for the show, Pennsylvania Lt. Governor and Democratic Senate candidate John Fetterman. If you predicted it would be a cakewalk for him, you’d be correct. They refused to grill him pretty much on anything and instead repeatedly teed him up to go after critics and his Republican opponent, Dr. Mehmet Oz, and downplayed his obviously strained health condition.
Houck brought the conversation back to deflecting from Oprah's endorsement:
Friday on the “big three” network morning shows from ABC, CBS, and NBC, the trio eagerly touted Oprah Winfrey’s endorsement of handicapped Lt. Gov. John Fetterman (D) over her longtime colleague and Fetterman’s GOP challenger, Dr. Mehmet Oz.
That's a lot of complaining about something that supposedly doesn't matter.
And that, four days before the election, was pretty much the last anti-Fetterman gasp for the MRC. It didn't attack Fetterman or his stroke any more before election day -- which suggests that that it may have decided that its stroke obsession may not have worked or even backfired, not unreasonable give that Fetterman defeated Oz. It also suggests that, despite the MRC's kneejerk protestations to the contrary, Oprah's endorsement may have mattered after all -- enough to prematurely stop its partisan attack machine.