As the Senate race tightens in Pennsylvania, right-wing media are pushing falsehoods about Democratic nominee John Fetterman’s history and policy positions. Notably, Fox News has cobbled together a mixture of false claims and exaggerations to suggest that Fetterman supports the movement to “defund the police” — despite lacking any evidence of Fetterman advocating for that policy.
Fox News has heavily invested their news coverage on Fetterman and his GOP opponent, Mehmet Oz, as the race tightens in the polls. After choosing to side in the GOP primary with Oz, who was heavily favored by Fox prime-time host Sean Hannity, the network’s focus has lasered in on Fetterman. Fox News prime time mentions of Fetterman in September were more than double its mentions of Oz, and far surpassed mentions of candidates in any other close Senate race.
As Election Day approaches on November 8, Fox News' focus on Fetterman has tied into their efforts to incorrectly paint Democrats as soft on crime. In a recent Semafor interview, Fetterman said, “It was always absurd to defund the police.” In 2020, Fetterman advocated for police reform measures such as focusing on “de-escalation” strategies that he described as “pro-police,” and focused on building “more trust while making everyone safer.” During his first seven years as mayor of Braddock, Pennsylvania, his administration raised the police budget from around 18% to almost a quarter of the city’s budget.
Despite these facts, right-wing media are citing individual figures and groups that have campaigned with Fetterman to suggest that he is in favor of the defund movement through articles like “John Fetterman Says He Won’t Defund The Police. His Latest Campaign Partner Says Otherwise,” from right-wing outlet the Washington Free Beacon. A more disingenuous example came when the blog implied that Fetterman supported defunding the police due to a rally he held on 9/11 with the president of Planned Parenthood, who the article described as an “anti-cop activist.”
Conservatives also insist that Fetterman’s history of granting clemency is proof he supports defunding the police. As lieutenant governor and chair of the state’s Board of Pardons, he has granted clemency to several people serving life sentences, including those with second-degree murder convictions which rarely will result in a life sentence outside of Pennsylvania. As a result, Fetterman has been smeared as “pro-criminal," while other conservative media have grasped at straws to suggest that Fetterman has flip-flopped on his position.
Here are examples of Fox News personalities distorting Fetterman’s record on policing:
- Fox News anchor Harris Faulkner claimed Fetterman is doing a “revision of what he's saying,” claiming his support of defunding the police “is in every newspaper, it’s on every tape, it is everywhere,” despite not providing any evidence for her claim.
- Prior to the Semafor interview published on October 18, Fox News host Sean Hannity said on his radio show that Fetterman “refuses to say that he disagrees with defunding the police,” before baselessly adding, “We know he does support this.” Hannity later repeated that Fetterman supposedly “would not answer about defunding the police, which we know he supports.”
- Fox & Friends co-host Brian Kilmeade lamented that “the average voter who isn't zoned in as much as us” may not know that “Fetterman has changed his positions on all those things because now defunding the police and being pro-criminal no longer in vogue.”
- Fox News reporter Kevin Corke reported that Fetterman came out against defunding the police before comparing the defund movement to clemency: “As critics point out, Fetterman himself once championed the release of many felons from state prisons, including some with murder convictions.”
- Fox News contributor Charlie Hurt claimed without evidence that “Fetterman can lie about his record and claim that he has not been in favor of defunding the police. He has been in favor of defunding the police. Democrats have been in favor of defunding the police.” Hurt insisted that Fetterman “has a terrible record” of “deploying this kind of rhetoric that has made the situation even worse” without providing any examples, adding, “I’m glad to hear him say — to distance himself from his previous comments.”
- FoxNews.com published a September 13 piece titled “Fetterman campaigns with 'outstanding' council members who support calls to 'defund the police.'” The article focused on “three West Philadelphia council members [who] spoke out in favor of the 'defund the police' movement in 2020” and appeared in a tweet with Fetterman two years later focused on efforts to “turn out every vote here in Philly” and “support local Black-owned businesses.”