Reporter Who Profiled John Fetterman Refutes Claim That He Has Comprehension Issues from Stroke: 'Nonsense'

NBC News utilized closed captioning equipment to allow Fetterman, a stroke survivor, to respond to oral questions after reading captions off a computer screen

Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, D-Pa., speaks during a rally at the UFCW Local 1776 KS headquarters in Plymouth Meeting, Pa., on Saturday, April 16, 2022.
Photo: Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty

Pennsylvania Senate candidate John Fetterman's first in-person sit-down interview since suffering a stroke in May is making headlines — with some reporters offering conflicting assessments of Fetterman's health.

The NBC News interview, which aired Tuesday night, focused largely on the effects of the stroke Fetterman suffered earlier this year, and the occasional issues he now has with auditory processing.

The outlet reported that closed captioning equipment was used in the interview to allow Fetterman to respond to oral questions after reading captions off a computer screen.

"I sometimes will hear things in a way that's not perfectly clear. So I use captioning so I'm able to see what you're saying on the captioning," the Democrat said in the interview.

NBC News reporter Dasha Burns, who conducted the interview with 53-year-old Fetterman, said that, "in small talk" before the interview, "it wasn't clear he understood what I was saying."

Journalist Kara Swisher — who recently profiled Fetterman for New York magazine and is a stroke survivor herself — took issue with Burns' description, calling it "nonsense."

"Sorry to say but I talked to @JohnFetterman for over an hour without stop or any aides and this is just nonsense," Swisher wrote on Twitter. "Maybe this reporter is just bad at small talk."

Burns responded on Twitter, writing: "It's possible for two different reporters to have two different experiences w a candidate. Our team was in the room w him & reported what happened in it, as journalists do. Before & after closed captioning was on."

Burns also offered more insight in an interview with Today's Savannah Guthrie, saying she can only report on her "own experience."

"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," Burns told Guthrie.

She continued: "Stroke experts do say that this does not mean he has any cognitive impairment. 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."

Fetterman's health has been front and center in recent months, with the Democrat telling NBC News that his cognitive function and memory have been unaffected and citing a doctor's note that shows he is fit to serve in Congress.

"I feel like we have been very transparent in a lot of different ways," Fetterman told NBC in the interview. "When our doctor has already given a letter saying that I'm able to serve and to be running. And then I think there's — you can't be any more transparent than standing up on a stage with 3,000 people and having a speech without a teleprompter and just being — and putting everything and yourself out there like that. I think that's as transparent as everyone in Pennsylvania can see."

Fetterman's stroke came just days before Pennsylvania's Democratic primary in May. His doctor later revealed he has atrial fibrillation, which caused the stroke, and cardiomyopathy, which led to him undergoing a procedure to implant a pacemaker with a defibrillator.

Fetterman returned to the campaign trail in August, saying in an emotional speech he felt "better than I have in years."

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But his stroke has remained in the headlines, particularly as his Republican rival — Dr. Mehmet Oz— has seized on the health issue.

After Fetterman mocked a viral video of Oz's peculiar shopping trip for crudités, Oz's campaign fired back, with Rachel Tripp, Oz's senior communications adviser, telling Insider in an interview: "If John Fetterman had ever eaten a vegetable in his life, then maybe he wouldn't have had a major stroke and wouldn't be in the position of having to lie about it constantly."

Fetterman responded to the Oz campaign's swipe at his stroke in a post on Twitter, writing: "I had a stroke. I survived it. I'm truly so grateful to still be here today. I know politics can be nasty, but even then, I could *never* imagine ridiculing someone for their health challenges."

The back-and-forth continued after the Oz campaign said in a statement it would "pay for any additional medical personnel he might need to have on standby" if Fetterman would agree to a Sept. 6 debate.

After that announcement, Fetterman said he would not participate in the debate with Oz, adding: "They think it is funny to mock a stroke survivor."

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