Two months ago, these pages asked aloud whether the New York Times had dealt plainly and fairly with readers when reporting on Pennsylvania Democratic Senate candidate John Fetterman in late June, about six or seven weeks after he suffered a stroke.
Thanks to a candid moment from the Fetterman campaign, we now know the answer is “no.”
Last week, Fetterman released a statement saying, “As I recover from this stroke and improve my auditory processing and speech, I look forward to continuing to meet with the people of Pennsylvania.”
If we can assume that Fetterman’s recovery has been mostly steadily upwards, that means his auditory and speech processing were worse on June 28, when the Times published an 1,100-word story on the candidate.
READ MORE — The Editors: Pennsylvanians deserve to know Fetterman’s condition — and reporters must ask
The story makes clear that the Times reporter had access to Fetterman staffers.
“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,” journalist Blake Hounshell wrote.
The story was odd for the fact that it didn’t contain a single contemporary quote from the lieutenant governor. It did quote him from a press release weeks earlier that announced the stroke to the world.
(Broad+Liberty reached out to Hounshell and editors at the Times for previous stories on this question, and they did not respond.)
This fact pattern leaves only two possibilities.
First, the Fetterman team refused to give Hounshell access to the candidate, and Hounshell didn’t think that was worth putting in the story — a poor decision from a journalistic standpoint.
Or, that Hounshell had access to the candidate, could see for himself that Fetterman was having difficulties with auditory processing and speech, and decided not to put that in the story — journalistic malpractice.
Either Hounshell had access to a candidate who we now know is facing significant hurdles in his speech and processing, and did not put that in the Fetterman piece, or he was not granted access to the candidate, and also did not put that in his piece.
As we noted in our first editorial, it is true that every single news or opinion story ever written leaves something out. And sometimes, those “Bob Seger” choices — “what to leave in, what to leave out” — are among the most difficult a journalist faces when composing a complex story.
But in this case, the decision should not have been hard. The key question since Fetterman announced his stroke has been: How is he doing? How is he progressing?
When the Times story was published on June 28, Hounshell had at least part of the answer, but declined to share it.
Saying that the candidate was “not 100 percent” uses an absurd yardstick to hide the truth. The Times’s Walter Duranty would have been technically correct to say that Ukraine was not 100 percent well fed during the Holodomor. Such a truth would still have been a disservice to its readers.
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