The Infuriatingly Lazy Coverage of the Fetterman-Oz Debate
By defaulting to their worst instincts, the political press did the Oz Campaign's dirty works
The worst elements of American political journalism were on display Tuesday night during the highly anticipated debate between John Fetterman and Dr. Oz.
Fetterman, who has been very open about his recovery since suffering a stroke earlier this year, engaged in his first high-profile public appearance since returning to the trail. Debates are challenging even under the best of circumstances. For Fetterman, who relies on closed captioning due to auditory processing issues, struggles were inevitable.
The putatively objective political media logged onto Twitter to offer their hot and insulting takes on Fetterman’s performance. What transpired was an abomination.
The Pennsylvania Senate race is a big deal. Fetterman and Oz are two well-known individuals whose presence in the race determines their parties’ futures. It is likely control of the Senate will come down to Pennsylvania. Candidates deserve scrutiny. Voters deserve answers about Fetterman’s health just as they deserve answers about Oz’s financial grifts and puppy murders. Frankly, the omerta among Capitol Hill insiders about the fitness of some of the elderly members has done a disservice to the country. Some of the press scrutiny was well-intentioned, but very little of it was well executed. The media coverage of this debate reinforced that the lines between political journalism and cheap punditry have blurred beyond recognition.
Let me explain.
1. Chroniclers, Not Predictors
Journalism should tell people what happened, not predict what will happen. However, the bulk of the media commentary around Fetterman’s performance was not about what he said or how he said it. Instead, the media offered entirely unfounded views on how they thought Pennsylvania voters would react to Fetterman. First, predicting how voters will respond to campaign proceedings is not a reporter’s job. Second, even if it were their job, it’s not one they are equipped to handle. Most of the reporters offering their analysis/opinion did so from Washington, DC or New York. Few of them have been to Pennsylvania to cover this race, let alone spent enough time there to make a realistic assessment of Fetterman’s impact. Heck, most of them have never spoken to John Fetterman before or after the race.
Nate Silver said it well on Twitter on Wednesday morning:
After all the instability of American politics in the last decades, one would think that the chroniclers of events would have more humility about their ability to predict the future.
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