Right-wing outlets have weaponized their attacks on Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman’s disability and recent U.S. Senate debate performance in their continued crusade against early voting.
After suffering a stroke in May, Fetterman squared off this week against GOP Senate nominee Mehmet Oz in a heavily discussed debate. Largely delayed to allow for Fetterman to begin recovering from a stroke, the October 25 debate came nearly a month after early voting started in Pennsylvania.
Fetterman’s use of a closed captioning system to aid with his remaining difficulties in processing spoken words has fueled a full-bore smear campaign from the right suggesting he is no longer fit to hold office. This narrative was quickly picked up as a manufactured scandal by some in mainstream media focused on the optics of his recovery.
These narratives have played into a long-running campaign by some right-wing outlets to preemptively cry foul on the election outcome in Pennsylvania should Fetterman win. They are mimicking the election denier playbook from 2020, when many conservatives appeared on Fox News to delegitimize early voting and mail-in ballots, often focusing on Pennsylvania as a key swing state.
While right-wing and mainstream media have made sure to keep an outsized focus on Fetterman’s health in their post-debate coverage, some right-wing outlets are going the extra mile to bemoan the fact that early voting started before the debate or even suggesting that the debate schedule was part of a “cover-up” to hide the issue of Fetterman’s health.
Claiming early voters did not have the full picture of Fetterman’s health
- The Wall Street Journal’s Editorial Board asked the question, “Is the Fetterman-Oz Debate Too Late?” and lamented that Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and Georgia all provide no method for voters to change their ballots after debates.
- On America’s Newsroom, Fox anchor Dana Perino took the opportunity to malign Democrats who are “concerned about democracy” by teasing that “perhaps you shouldn't have early voting until the first debate. … Now, Democrats wish that Fetterman hadn’t debated at all.”
- Newsmax host Rob Finnerty said the debate happened too late since “in Pennsylvania 635,000 early votes have already been cast.” GOP activist Christopher Arps added, “I think it's time to stop this early voting. I think it's time that we should vote on Election Day, like it should — like we used to.” Finnerty agreed, saying, “You can’t pull that vote back.”
- While interviewing Oz, Fox prime-time host Sean Hannity said the “one problem” with the election is: “The media now has allowed this race to come down to 14 days before the election, early voting had already started, and all these issues — we’ve been scrolling his radical positions — they've never ever dug in and demanded answers.”
- Fox News anchor Neil Cavuto lamented, “We will not know exactly how that vote broke down, the early vote, but in Pennsylvania, those early voters didn't get a chance to weigh or measure Mr. Fetterman's performance, which by all accounts was, well, controversial.”
- The Washington Examiner published an article titled: “Fetterman could be saved by early voting despite debate disaster gift to Oz.”
Accusing Fetterman of trying to cover up his condition to sway voters
- Writing for The Wall Street Journal, columnist Daniel Henninger likened Fetterman’s debate performance to an “October Surprise” that “has likely ensured a GOP Senate win in Pennsylvania,” and claimed that the candidate and his team were “withholding crucial information about his health” from voters.
- Fox host Jesse Watters labeled Fetterman’s debate performance as “political and medical malpractice” before claiming that “Democrats already knew he wasn't up for the job, but they weren't straight with the people of Pennsylvania.” He went on to paint Fetterman’s candidacy as a “kind of blatant disrespect for the voters.”
- Speaking on The Five, Fox anchor Dana Perino accused Fetterman and his wife of lying about his health, stating that “he and his wife kept telling everybody, ‘He's fine, he's fine, he's fine,’ for about eight weeks.” She later said, “I think his team needs to get their story straight” about his debate performance.
- Fox News host Jeanine Pirro attacked early voting by suggesting that people would want to change their vote: “And there's no question, September 19, they started voting. And now he has the debate on October 25, whether it's 650,000 or a million who have already voted, they can't change that vote.”
- Fox News contributor Katie Pavlich criticized the timing of the debate, saying, “Early voting is already under way and so it's just an excuse for the continued cover-up the campaign continues to engage in, which is John Fetterman's health not being what they said it was as recently as last night.”