As criticism built against NBC for its framing of a recent interview with Pennsylvania Lt. Governor and Democratic senatorial candidate John Fetterman, its sister cable broadcaster invited former presenter Chris Matthews, who left the network amid allegations of mistreating women during his tenure.
The network and other journalists have been under increased scrutiny over its promotion of an interview with Fetterman conducted by correspondent Dasha Burns.
“Because of his stroke, Fetterman’s campaign required closed-captioning technology for this interview to essentially read our questions as we asked them,” Burns replied before claiming: “And Lester, in small talk before the interview without captioning, it wasn’t clear he was understanding our conversation.”
The interview was promoted as Fetterman’s “first in-person interview” since he suffered a stroke in May 2022. Fetterman is running against right-wing candidate Mehmet Oz (known popularly as television show host “Dr. Oz“) for a Pennsylvania Senate seat.
In promoting the interview, Burns told another presenter, Andrea Mitchell: “I’ve spoken to stroke experts; they say these are side effects that do not indicate any sort of cognitive impairment. It’s not that his decision-making or problem-solving or memory has been impacted and these symptoms are ones that he can fully recover from.”
However, Burns has not made that statement in promoting the interview on her own Twitter account. Instead, she wrote: “Unlike any political interview I’ve ever done. Unlike any race I’ve ever covered.”
Burns’ framing of the interview provoked responses from journalists both within and outside of her organization.
“I have a confession to make,” MNSBC host Lawrence O’Donnell wrote while posting a clip of his own interview with Fetterman on Twitter. “I used a teleprompter in this interview last night. The truth is I am not able to do my show without a teleprompter. (That’s true of every TV news host who is discussing the way John Fetterman does interviews.)”
Journalist and broadcaster Kara Swisher, whose own interview with Fetterman was published on October 10 2022, said, “Sorry to say but I talked to [Fetterman] for over an hour without stop or any aides and this is just nonsense. Maybe this reporter is just bad at small talk. Listen to the interview in which we did not edit the ums or ahs out as we typically do for everyone else. There were few slips — I had more — and at no moment did he seem distracted.”
Burns responded, “It’s possible for two different reporters to have two different experiences w a candidate. Our team was in the room w him & reported what happened in it, as journalists do. Before & after closed captioning was on.”
Matthews was featured in the discussion of the interview on another MSNBC program, “Morning Joe.”
The discussion of the interview on another MSNBC program, Morning Joe, featured Matthews.
“What’s your read on the state of this race?” co-host Willie Geist asked Matthews before adding, “Dr. Oz has been closing ground and how much the stroke suffered by John Fetterman might play into a voter in that intimacy of the voter booth saying, ‘Maybe I don’t love Dr. Oz but I do have concerns, maybe, about Fetterman’s health.'”
“You’re saying it the right way, Willie,” Matthews responded. “There’s no support for Dr. Oz — his [poll] numbers are in the low 30s; he’s a weak candidate; he comes from New Jersey … he’s not great but Dasha, her interview was wonderful technique. She was soft, she was reasonable, and she asked reasonable questions of a guy who cannot answer the question because he has to look at the monitor. This is a great question. If the Republicans were smart they’d say, How is a guy gonna debate for Pennsylvania on the Senate floor?“
Matthews’ whole modus operandi seems to be inviting smart women onto his show, flirting with them or otherwise making them uncomfortable before or while the camera rolls, asking them a question on air and then immediately interrupting them to tell them why they’re wrong. He repeated this playbook with Warren this week. The fact that this kind of behavior has not lost him his primetime cable-news show in the year 2020—even aside from his egregious “Bill Cosby pill” joke and the sexual-harassment allegation against him—speaks to how far the #MeToo movement still has to go to change the standards for what kind of attitudes toward women in the workplace are acceptable and even rewarded.
Matthews had re-appeared on MSNBC in June 2021, however, claiming that he took “complete ownership” over his behavior.
The day after his interview with Burns aired, Fetterman appeared on a livestream of a video-conference interview with the editorial board of the Harrisburg Patriot-News and noted that he was also using closed-captioning for that discussion.
“I would say that if there was anything that changed I absolutely would’ve stated that,” he said. “Other than the progress that I’ve made, it’s evident. I certainly wouldn’t have been able to sit in front of you in May or in June or July, because of the kind of recovery that I need to be getting better and better. The ultimate kind of transparency is to be in front of thousands of people on a stage not using a teleprompter. Most often politicians use a teleprompter but nobody wonders if he or she are able to do the job.”
We contacted both NBC News and MSNBC seeking comment on the interview but did not hear back.