Gisele Fetterman slammed an NBC reporter as “ableist” on Monday, a week after her stroke survivor husband, Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, gave an interview to the network with the help of a closed captioning system.
The Democrat Fetterman is in the middle of a heated campaign to be Pennsylvania’s next senator with celbrity heart surgeon and former TV show host Dr. Mehmet Oz.
His interview with NBC News’ Dasha Burns last week revealed the extent of auditory processing issues that have lingered since the 53-year-old’s stroke in May.
Afterwards, Oz said Pennsylvanians “deserve better” than having Fetterman in the Senate due to his apparent deficit.
“I don’t think there’s closed captioning on the floor of the Senate, and maybe he doesn’t need closed captioning when he’s actually moving around,” Oz told Fox Business Network’s Maria Bartiromo. “But maybe he does. Again, lots of question marks, and voters deserve better.”
Gisele Fetterman took issue with a comment from Burns while promoting the interview in which she told viewers that it seemed like the senate candidate couldn’t follow along with small-talk before the interview, before the closed captioning system was up and running.
“If this happened in a school, if this was a child that was ableist towards another child or a teacher, there would’ve been issues stated. There would have been new training done,” Gisele Fetterman told the Independent.
“What is being done at the media after a reporter came out so openly ableist towards a person? I think shocked and appalled, but sadly not surprised. I know there’s still so much to do, but it would be great to see some accountability, to actually see real change,” she added.
Fetterman granted Burns his first sit-down interview since his May stroke, which forced him into a months-long absence from the campaign trail.
“We had a monitor set up so that he could read my questions,” Burns told MSNBC host Katy Tur afterwards, “because he still has lingering auditory processing issues as a result of the stroke, which means he has a hard time understanding what he’s hearing.
“Now, once he reads the question, he’s able to understand,” Burns went on. “You’ll hear he also has some problems, some challenges with speech. And I’ll say, Katy, that just in some of the small talk prior to the interview, before the closed captioning was up and running, it did seem that he had a hard time understanding our conversation.”
Gisele Fetterman also said that Burns and NBC should apologize for the interview, expressing concern that it has caused harm to the disability community, making those with disabilities more reluctant to ask for accommodations.
“I would love to see an apology towards the disability community from her and from her network for the damage they have caused,” she said.
“We have received so many messages from folks who said, ‘This is exactly why I’m afraid to seek accommodations. This is exactly why I’m afraid to pursue a different position because of exactly what your husband has gone through,’” Pennsylvania’s second lady said. “So I think he’s shown what he’s experienced, but a lot of people saw themselves in him.”
Burns defended her interview with John Fetterman from criticism last week, saying that her reporting “did not and should not comment on fitness for office.”
“We were happy to accommodate closed captioning. Our reporting did not and should not comment on fitness for office. 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,” Burns said in a tweet.
Burns also noted on NBC’s “Today” show that the Fetterman campaign acknowledged that Burns and her producers were the “first to be in the room with Fetterman for an interview rather than via video conference” and that her entire crew found “small talk before that captioning was difficult because of those auditory processing issues.”
She added that “stroke experts do say that this does not mean he has any cognitive impairment.”
Some in conservative media, such as David Harsanyi with National Review and Nicolas Clairmont with the Washington Examiner, have rallied to Burns’ defense, arguing that it is not ableist for a reporter to point out that Fetterman struggles with tasks that he previously did not have difficulty with prior to his stroke.
Fetterman leads his Republican challenger Dr. Mehmet Oz by 3.3 percentage points in the latest Real Clear Politics average of polls.