The campaign for Pennsylvania U.S. Senate candidate John Fetterman (D) blamed the captioning system used during Tuesday night’s debate for his widely criticized performance.
Fetterman has faced scrutiny over his fitness for office after he suffered a stroke earlier this year. He has demonstrated that he sometimes struggles to understand words and has difficulty speaking, often needing conversations transcribed to understand what is being said.
During the debate, Fetterman repeatedly stammered, had awkward pauses, seemed to be out of sync with what was being said, and even had outbursts which included shouting at opponent Dr. Mehmet Oz (R) during closing statements.
“We are thrilled with John’s performance. He did remarkably well tonight – especially when you consider that he’s still recovering from a stroke and was working off of delayed captions filled with errors,” Fetterman for Pennsylvania communications director Joe Calvello claimed. “John won countless exchanges, counter-punched aggressively, and pushed back on Oz’s cruelty and attacks.”
Nexstar’s Chief Communications Officer Gary Weitman responded to the claims from the Fetterman campaign by revealing that they agreed to use the system deployed during the debate and that they did not take full advantage of practice sessions.
“It is unfortunate that Mr. Fetterman is now criticizing the closed captioning process employed by Nexstar during tonight’s debate,” Weitman said. “Both candidates agreed to the technical set-up for the closed captioning process weeks ago, which was implemented at the request of the Fetterman campaign.”
“Both candidates were offered the opportunity for two full rehearsals with the same equipment used in tonight’s debate; Mr. Fetterman chose to do only one,” Weitman continued. “In fact, Nexstar’s production team went to extraordinary lengths to ensure the effectiveness of the closed captioning process, and to accommodate several last-minute requests of the Fetterman campaign. The closed captioning process functioned as expected during rehearsal and again during tonight’s debate. We regret that Mr. Fetterman and his campaign feel otherwise.”
The two nominees exchanged barbs on a variety of topics, from abortion and crime to fracking and inflation, as Fetterman resorted to defending himself by claiming that Oz was not being honest while Oz stuck to portraying Fetterman’s policy views as being radically leftist.
Oz, repeatedly raising examples of conversations he has shared with Pennsylvanians over the past several months, blasted Fetterman, who did not commit during the debate to releasing his medical records, and on his absence from the campaign. In turn, Fetterman criticized Oz for his longtime residence in New Jersey. Even with a closed captioning system positioned behind the moderators designed to aid his auditory processing, Fetterman struggled to remain coherent.
Discussion on the state of the economy quickly turned to energy. Oz pointed to fracking and natural gas production as mechanisms for expanding living standards in Pennsylvania, while Fetterman insisted that he has “always supported” fracking when confronted with his past statements opposing the practice.
Ben Zeisloft contributed to this report.