Last year, a minor journalism scandal emerged when Katie Couric revealed in her book she had selectively withheld comments made by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg in order to spare the justice some embarrassment with the left.

After reading a recent story from the New York Times on Pennsylvania Lt. Gov John Fetterman, we’re left with a strong sense of déjà vu.

In an 1,180-word story from June 28, Times journalist Blake Hounshell never uses a single contemporaneous quote from the Democratic nominee for Pennsylvania’s Senate seat up for grabs this fall.

That’s 25 days after the Fetterman campaign revealed he had suffered a stroke, and the stroke itself happened sometime before the May 17 primary. In the weeks that have passed since, Pennsylvanians have been waiting to see the fullness of his recovery.

Overall, the story is well sourced and informative, except for one fatal flaw: Hounshell never tells readers if the campaign refused a request for an interview. Given the serious concern around Fetterman’s condition, this kind of explicit detail from Hounshell should have been requirement number one.

The story also claims that Fetterman is driving his kids to school, walking to a local store for groceries, and the like. Yet the story is not datelined from anywhere in the commonwealth. Broad + Liberty asked Mr. Hounshell if he witnessed these activities himself, and if not, where did his information come from? He (and some of his editors) did not reply.

What’s clear is that Hounshell spoke to several Fetterman staffers. 

For example:

“Fetterman’s campaign has thought carefully about how to convey that he is on the road to recovery, while acknowledging that he is not 100 percent ready to return to the campaign trail. His aides are mindful that a major slip in his first outing could raise questions, perhaps even unfair ones, about his true condition.”

“Returning to the campaign trail” does not fully overlap with “speaking with reporters.” The latter should be the easier first step.

It’s absolutely true that every news story leaves something out — otherwise, every story would be infinitely long. But in this case, Mr. Hounshell does a disservice by not explicitly detailing if he asked for an interview, and if that request was denied.

As of this moment, Mr. Fetterman’s progress continues to be carefully updated via video clips that are sometimes edited. A video from July 9 shows him talking to a room of Democratic campaign volunteers. A Washington Post story from July 14 also carries a Zoom video where Fetterman and wife Gisele Baretto Fetterman address more volunteers.

In both cases his words were clear, a very encouraging sign.

On Monday, Fetterman did not cooperate with a Pennsylvania Senate State Government Committee hearing on the commonwealth’s laws detailing how power is transferred when either the governor or lieutenant governor is incapacitated.

“We did invite the lieutenant governor to appear today, or to suggest another date when he would be able to appear or to offer a written statement,” committee chairman Sen. David Argall said Monday. “He has not yet responded to our requests but we do hope that as he recovers he will be able to meet with us to discuss this important issue.” 

At the same hearing, Democratic State Senator Sharif Street said he had recently spoken with the lieutenant governor and that his recovery was coming along well.

Fetterman is slated to appear Thursday at an event with potential donors at Democratic Jewish Outreach Pennsylvania in Lower Merion. If his health is not good enough at that time, the news will be impossible to suppress, and Democrats will begin maneuvering. Perhaps that event will render most of this editorial moot.

None of this should imply we’re rooting against a Fetterman recovery — to the contrary. Health is the foremost of all blessings, and we hope Fetterman not only recovers but can become even healthier than before. And to make a sports analogy, if you’re lucky enough to make it to the final round of the playoffs, you want to test yourself against the very best at their healthiest. The same is true in politics.

Yet until Fetterman makes full public appearances or conducts a live, unedited interview with someone, reporters must be fully transparent about what the campaign would or would not allow them to do in regards to the candidate. The circumstances demand that the public should not be required to read between the lines.

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