John Fetterman, Pennsylvania’s lieutenant governor and its Democratic nominee for U.S. Senate, suffered a stroke in May. Five months into his recovery, he still faces lingering difficulties processing spoken words. Specialists say this side effect does not “indicate any cognitive impairment” or impact his ability to be a senator, and there is recent precedent for stroke survivors serving in that body. Fetterman has adapted to his condition, like tens of millions of Americans, through a common workplace accommodation — in his case, he often communicates with staffers through text messages and has used closed captioning to conduct numerous press interviews.
Fox News hosts have leveraged an NBC News interview which aired on Tuesday and fixated on that accommodation to stoke fears about Fetterman’s condition. To bolster the campaign of Fetterman’s opponent, celebrity doctor Mehmet Oz, they’ve spent the last few days pushing conspiracy theories about the Democrat’s accommodation, claiming that he had been hiding his condition from voters, and suggesting that he is mentally incompetent.
Tucker Carlson, for example, speculated on Wednesday that Fetterman’s brain may have been taken over by computers.
“Where exactly does the software end and John Fetterman's consciousness begin?” the Fox host asked. “We don't know. We can't know.”
Carlson also postulated that Fetterman was “reading answers” — not questions — off the screen he used as an accommodation during his NBC interview.
Maria Bartiromo offered a similar conspiracy theory on her Fox Business show on Thursday morning, asking Oz, “There’s Fetterman in an interview reading the questions that she’s saying. Is somebody typing in the answers? What’s that all about?”
Sean Hannity said on Tuesday that Fetterman is “severely disabled” and “not mentally capable of debating.” The following night, talk radio host Clay Travis told Hannity’s audience that Fetterman lacks “the health status to be able to be a United States senator” because he “cannot speak.”
Fox correspondent Kevin Corke, meanwhile, falsely suggested on Thursday’s Fox & Friends that Fetterman had been dishonestly concealing his use of an accommodation from voters until the NBC News interview. In reality, “The Tribune-Review found 10 published stories, including ones from Pittsburgh publications and national outlets, that mention Fetterman informing reporters he needed closed captioning to help him understand their questions, including his first post-stroke interview on July 20.”
“A few months ago, he said, ‘Yeah, I'm fine, and good,’" Corke alleged. “OK, but we didn't know you needed electronic assistance to sort of make it through conversations, and I think that's really eye-opening for a number of folks in the commonwealth. And clearly questions about Fetterman’s health continued to swirl as concerns over his cognition also continue to grow.”
Fox hosts have frequently misrepresented Fetterman’s condition in recent months. Carlson claimed the candidate “is completely incapable of representing Pennsylvania in the United States Senate” because he is now an “incompetent husk,” while Hannity as described Fetterman’s stroke as “crippling.”
Fox chyrons have branded Fetterman a “giant walking vegetable” who “can barely utter a sentence.”