NBC News journalist Dasha Burns’s Tuesday report on Democrat Senate candidate John Fetterman’s use of closed captioning that aided his interview with Burns was immediately counteracted and framed as speculative by the network following the report’s debut on NBC News’s nightly evening news.
The scathing report by Burns, an employee of NBC News for over six years, went unsupported by her network after she conducted an interview with the Pennsylvania Democrat which highlighted Fetterman’s need for closed captioning to understand the questions Burns asked.
Fetterman had a stroke in May and has not fully recovered. He appears to still struggle with auditory processing five months later.
On Wednesday morning, Burns appeared on NBC’s News morning show Today with Savannah Guthrie to speak about her interview with Fetterman. After Burns’ report, Guthrie’s followup question cast doubt on Burns’s reporting by suggesting Burns’s interview experience was an outlier among many others with the candidate.
“Since then, other journalists who also dealt with Fetterman came forward and said they had a different experience,” Guthrie charged Burns.
Burns defended her interview with Fetterman by revealing the candidate’s first live, in-person interview was with Burns and not over a remote video conference. Fetterman could use the crutch without much notice during remote interviews with reporters.
“We can only report our own [interview],” Burns justified her report. “According to the campaign itself, our team was the first to be in the room with Fetterman for an interview rather than via remote video conference.”
Burns added her entire interview team noticed that without closed captaining, Fetterman was unable properly process the conversation. “Myself, my producer, and our crew did find that small talk before that captioning was difficult because of the auditory processing issues I mentioned,” she said.
“Now stroke experts do say that this does not mean he has any cognitive impairment, doesn’t mean his memory or cognition is impaired and he can fully recover and fully recover from this,” Burns continued to justify her report. “And once the closed captioning was on, he was able to fully answer questions throughout that 25-minute interview, which we publish in full online later today.”
Pennsylvania Lt. Governor and Democratic Senate candidate John Fetterman sat down with @DashaBurns in an exclusive interview using closed captioning.
Fetterman discussed his recovery after suffering a stroke in the primaries and his race against Republican Dr. Mehmet Oz. pic.twitter.com/0fee1cKXgY
— NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt (@NBCNightlyNews) October 11, 2022
Guthrie’s Wednesday interview was not the only clean-up-session by NBC News. The night prior, MSNBC hosted Fetterman on The Last Word With Lawrence O’Donnell in the 10 PM hour. O’Donnell prefaced his interview of Fetterman by comparing the Senate candidate to former President Franklin Roosevelt in a wheelchair.
“Yes, kids, there once was a president who was elected four times in a row wheelchair,” O’Donnell said. “Franklin Roosevelt brought the country out of the worst economic depression in our history in that wheelchair and he went on to win WWII in that wheelchair.”
“That kind of empathy is the essence of the Fetterman Senate campaign in which John Fetterman, a lifetime resident of Pennsylvania, claims he knows Pennsylvania voters better than his Republican opponent Mehmet Oz,” O’Donnell added.
During O’Donnell’s interview, Fetterman’s eyes looked away from the camera to seemingly read closed captioning on a device to the lower right. The same visual pattern of Fetterman’s eyes appearing to read closed captioning was visible in the Burns interview.
“I’m going to be a lot better in January,” Fetterman promised when asked about his health five months after the stroke.
Neither NBC News’s Today show or MSNBC’s The Last Word With Lawrence O’Donnell respond to comment about not standing by its journalist’s report.
Donnell was not the only establishment media personality to defend the Democrat candidate. Kara Swisher, a contributing editor at New York, scolded Burns’s reporting as false “nonsense.”
“Sorry to say but I talked to @JohnFetterman for over an hour without stop or any aides and this is just nonsense. Maybe this reporter is just bad at small talk,” she said.
Adam Rogers with Business Insider slammed Burns for making up a storyline. “Any news outlets genuinely wondering about his health could send a health/medicine reporter,” he said. “Maybe don’t just invent a storyline.”
Throughout the Senate campaign, the recovering Fetterman has made numerous gaffes. “We knew that was gonna be a tight rice,” he said last week in Murrysville during a volunteer kickoff event.
Fetterman has defended his mental health and inability to properly function as a potential senator by attacking Oz. “Oz lies about my health…That’s the real here,” he told MSNBC’s Joy Reid last week. “Dr. Oz also has a very very big difference in what really matters here as Democrats here in Pennsylvania too,” Fetterman said another time.
National Republican Senatorial Committee spokesman Jonathan Turcotte told Breitbart News last week that Fetterman refuses to tell the truth a release his medical records. “Fetterman continues to mislead voters about his health. He should be transparent for once and release his medical records immediately.”