Journalists Kara Swisher, Rebecca Traister and other media figures and politicians called out NBC News reporter Dasha Burns’ “nonsense” treatment of Pennsylvania senatorial candidate John Fetterman after airing a recent interview Tuesday.
Fetterman, who will run against Dr. Mehmet Oz as the Democratic nominee in the upcoming Pennsylvania Senate race, gave his first in-person interview since suffering a stroke in May to Burns, sitting for “NBC Nightly News.” In the Tuesday evening segment, it was revealed that Fetterman required a closed captioning device for Burns’ questions due to ongoing auditory processing issues from the stroke.
Burns introduced her interview, which included questions about whether or not Fetterman was physically fit to take office following his medical scare, by first speaking with Lester Holt, saying that “in small talk — before the interview, without captioning — it wasn’t clear [Fetterman] was understanding our conversation.” She also called the interview “unconventional” and reported that Fetterman’s team denied NBC News access to the candidate’s medical records.
It was those perceived slights against Fetterman and her interview with him that caught Burns in hot water.
“Sorry to say but I talked to @JohnFetterman for over an hour without stop or any aides and this is just nonsense,” veteran journalist Swisher tweeted Tuesday, adding that after surviving a stroke in 2011 “it is a slow recovery, but many younger people do just fine,” and that “the question is: When he was asked questions on policy or his campaign, could he answer cogently.”
“Maybe this reporter is just bad at small talk,” Swisher sniped.
New York Magazine’s Rebecca Traister, who interviewed Fetterman recently, also vouched for the candidate, saying, “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.”
“Fast Politics” podcast host also Molly Jong-Fast pushed back on the critique as “bs,” noting that she interviewed Fetterman two weeks ago.
During the interview with Burns, which further covered subjects ranging from abortion rights to crime rates, Fetterman said his stroke has changed “everything” and explained that he “sometimes will hear things in a way that’s not perfectly clear,” so he uses captioning to correct those discrepancies.
Following the backlash, Burns defended her comments by noting Wednesday, “It’s possible for two different reporters to have two different experiences w a candidate.” The reporter also clarified that the network was “happy to accommodate closed captioning” and that her team reported what happened in the room “before & after closed captioning was on.”
“Our reporting did not and should not comment on fitness for office,” Burns added. “This is for voters to decide. What we do push for as reporters is transparency. It’s our job. Fetterman sat down and answered our questions. That’s his job.”
Speaking with Savannah Guthrie Wednesday, Burns provided further clarity to her comments on “Today.”
“Other journalists who have also dealt with Fetterman came forward and said they had a different experience,” Guthrie posed.
“Yeah, that’s completely fair Savannah, that was their experience, we can only report our own,” Burns maintained. “I will say it’s important to note that according to the campaign itself, our team was first to be in the room with Fetterman for an interview rather than via video conference, and myself, my producer and our crew did find that small talk before that captioning was difficult because of those auditory processing issues I mentioned.
“Stroke experts do say that this does not mean he has any cognitive impairment,” she continued. “Doesn’t mean his memory or his cognitive condition is impaired, and he didn’t fully recover from this. And once the closed captioning was on, he was able to fully understand my questions throughout that 25-minute interview which we will publish later today.”
Watch the original interview with Fetterman below.