NBC reporter sparks disability row after revealing Fetterman needed support in interview after stroke

A row has been sparked by NBC News after a reporter provided details about the support John Fetterman needed for a sit-down interview, as well as a comment suggesting the Democratic Senate candidate had trouble following their conversation without closed captioning.

Mr Fetterman, the Democrat candidate for Senate in Pennsylvania, has spent most of the summer recovering from a stroke and has only recently returned to in-person campaigning.

While his campaign has made no secret of his ongoing trouble with communicating, NBC reporter Dasha Burns told viewers about the support Mr Fetterman needed for a new sit-down interview with Meet The Press, which was broadcast on Tuesday.

“Because of that auditory processing, he still has a hard time understanding what people are saying,” Ms Burns said, while explaining the use of closed caption technology for her interview.

She added that “some of the conversations” she had with the Democrat before his first sit-down interview post-stroke – which were without closed caption help – were a “challenge for a canddidate” and that “it wasn’t clear he understood what I was saying” without the use of captions.

Axios’s senior political correspondent Josh Kraushaar was among those to tweet about the NBC interview with Mr Fetterman and said: “NBC News’ Dasha Burns: ‘In small talk before my interview [with Fetterman], it wasn’t clear he understood what I was saying.’”

Paul Rigney, an NBC photographer responded, by disputing the claims – pointing out the difference between the use of captions during the interview but not before – and wrote: “Photographer who shot the interview and liveshots here, and this is not what she (Ms Burns) said. But hey man, enjoy the RTs”.

Many political commentators and others soon criticised Mr Kraushaar’s version of events as well as the details provided by Ms Burns and NBC News.

“Fetterman said he struggles to audibly process convos due to his stroke in May,” tweeted TribLive.com reporter Ryan Deto on Tuesday night. “But Burns says once he can read it, he can understand it. Then she said in small talk before interview before closed captioning was rolling, it wasn’t clear he could understand What’s the issue here?”

He continued: “Completely fair to bring up Fetterman not releasing his medical records, given his stroke. But if he needs closed captioning for an extended time moving forward, are we to believe the Senate can’t accommodate? What if a deaf person was elected or a senator became deaf?”

Author and former US Senate aide Adam Jentleson added in a tweet: “Right, this. Fetterman has been transparent about the lingering issues from his stroke, including the need for closed captioning. Not bad for a recovery! Yet NBC is penalising him for using exactly what he has publicly said he needs, and treating it like some kind of expose.”

Oliver Willis, a reporter for the American Independent, meanwhile, went further by saying that NBC’s coverage of the interview was a sign that it was “fiction the mainstream media cares about doing the right thing and aren’t actively working to undermine democracy for their own profit. I don’t know how many more decades of evidence we need.”

While Mr Kraushaar did not issue a response to the debate on Twitter, he did retweet comments shared by former Fox News pundit and political pundit Sean Trende, who argued that the NBC interview did not matter in comparison to the debate scheduled for 25 October or “online discourse”.

“The thing about the Twitter blow up about whether it is ok to discuss Fetterman’s health is that it doesn’t matter with something like this,” wrote Mr Trende. “The debate will happen and people will judge for themselves, regardless of online discourse. Or it won’t happen, on which case it’s over IMO.”

He said in another tweet shared by the Axios reporter: “To an extent, the point is to jawbone analysts/reporters into not discussing it. With some issues, that probably works. This isn’t one of them.”

Ms Burns, meanwhile, said NBC would release the interview with Mr Fetterman in full on Wednesday while retweeting the photographer, Mr Rigney’s, comments seemingly criticising Mr Kraushnaar’s tweet.

A debate is scheduled for 25 October, which will see Mr Fetterman take to the stage for the first and only time ahead of the 8 November election, in which he is facing Republican Senate candidate Dr Mehmet Oz.

The Independent has approached the Fetterman campaign, NBC News and Axios for comment.