October 12, 2022

In an eye-raising interview, Pennsylvania Democratic senatorial candidate John Fetterman talked with NBC News correspondent Dasha Burns — his first in-person interview since suffering a stroke earlier this year. Some of the interview aired on Tuesday’s “NBC Nightly News.” More will air on this morning’s “Today” show.

Fetterman, who is in a hotly contested race with Republican Mehmet Oz, said he still struggles to understand what he hears and struggles to speak clearly following his May stroke. For the interview, Fetterman read a computer with closed-captioning of Burns’ questions.

“I sometimes will hear things in a way that’s not perfectly clear,” Fetterman said. “So I use captioning so I’m able to see what you’re saying on the captioning.”

During the interview, Fetterman struggled at times to enunciate or find certain words. But he said it will not impact his ability to be a senator.

“I feel like I’m gonna get better and better — every day,” Fetterman said. “And by January, I’m going (to) be, you know, much better. And Dr. Oz is still going to be a fraud.”

Burns questioned Fetterman for not releasing his medical records. Fetterman said, “I feel like we have been very transparent in a lot of different ways. When our doctor has already given a letter saying that I’m able to serve and to be running. And then I think there’s — you can’t be any more transparent than standing up on a stage with 3,000 people and having a speech without a teleprompter and just being — and putting everything and yourself out there like that. I think that’s as transparent as everyone in Pennsylvania can see.”

Burns and Fetterman also talked about political topics, including abortion rights, crime and inflation, as well as how to tackle the opioid epidemic.

Not long after the interview aired on NBC, Axios’ Josh Kraushaar quoted Burns in a tweet: “NBC News’ Dasha Burns: ‘In small talk before my interview [with Fetterman], it wasn’t clear he understood what I was saying.’”

Podcaster Kara Swisher retweeted Kraushaar’s tweet and wrote, “Sorry to say but I talked to @JohnFetterman for over an hour without stop or any aides and this is just nonsense. Maybe this reporter is just bad at small talk.”

Swisher then linked to a recent podcast in which she interviewed Fetterman and tweeted, “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.”

Another big name out at CNN?

Is another big name about to get the ax at CNN?

News Cycle Media’s Jon Nicosia had this intriguing tweet on Tuesday: “Another ‘big name’ about to exit @CNN.”

He followed that up by quoting an unnamed Discovery executive as saying, “He does not have a place in the new CNN. He reminds us of the Zucker period we are looking to move far from. The only reason he is still on air was not to look like we were ‘cleaning house’ for political reasons right after the closing.”

The Zucker is, of course, former CNN boss Jeff Zucker.

Nicosia then tweeted, “I agreed not to report the name until the end of the week.”

This scoop, if it turns out to be true, comes in the wake of other high-profile CNN on-air personalities being pushed out of the network, including media reporter and “Reliable Sources” host Brian Stelter, White House correspondent John Harwood and legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin.

After Nicosia’s tweet went out, several names immediately started getting churned through the rumor mill. Instead of listing who it might be, let’s eliminate a couple of rumored names that it probably isn’t.

Two names caught up in the speculation were Jake Tapper and Don Lemon. But Tapper was just tabbed to, for the time being, host the 9 p.m. Eastern hour — Chris Cuomo’s old spot and one of the most sought-after spots in cable news. And Lemon was recently selected to co-host a revamped morning program, which hasn’t even debuted yet.

So it appears highly unlikely that it’s one of those two.

Speaking of Tapper filling it at 9 p.m., Variety’s Brian Steinberg has a new piece out: “Why CNN, MSNBC Are Battling For a Second-Place Finish at 9 P.M.” Steinberg writes about Tapper and Alex Wagner, who takes over for Rachel Maddow on MSNBC from Tuesdays through Fridays. (First place in cable news at 9 p.m. is dominated by Fox News and Sean Hannity.)

Steinberg wrote, “Both Tapper and Wagner are journalists who have tried, by and large, to stick to their knitting. Yes, Wagner has tried her hand at a host of unique activities, from editing a music magazine to hosting the Netflix reboot of ‘The Mole,’ and Tapper has gone viral after taut question-and-answer sessions with candidate Donald Trump and Trump White House adviser Stephen Miller. But both seem more wedded to the business of telling viewers what’s going on rather than telling them what to think, not necessarily the hallmark of a cable-news show at 9.”

Steinberg added, “The new choices at MSNBC and CNN seem like an attempt, perhaps, to take down the temperature. People familiar with Tapper’s primetime effort say it will not view stories through a partisan lens while displaying a ‘hypersensitivity’ to talking points, misinformation and nonsense.”

The big board

(Courtesy: NBC News)

Speaking of cable news prime time, NBC News and MSNBC national political correspondent Steve Kornacki is back with his big board. Starting this Friday, Kornacki will start counting down to the midterm elections with “The Kornacki Countdown.” It will air on four consecutive Fridays at 10 p.m. on MSNBC, and will focus on the balance of power in Congress and statehouses across the country.

The show also will include campaign experts and analysts to break down the key races that could shift the balance of power in the House and Senate.

I spoke to Kornacki earlier this year for a piece that ran in August: “Behind the scenes with MSNBC’s Steve Kornacki, who’s helping save democracy with that big map.”

Top-notch reporting

A major investigation from the Wall Street Journal’s Rebecca Ballhaus, Brody Mullins, Chad Day, John West, Joe Palazzolo and James V. Grimaldi: “Federal Officials Trade Stock in Companies Their Agencies Oversee.”

This is how it starts: “Thousands of officials across the government’s executive branch reported owning or trading stocks that stood to rise or fall with decisions their agencies made, a Wall Street Journal investigation has found. More than 2,600 officials at agencies from the Commerce Department to the Treasury Department, during both Republican and Democratic administrations, disclosed stock investments in companies while those same companies were lobbying their agencies for favorable policies. That amounts to more than one in five senior federal employees across 50 federal agencies reviewed by the Journal.”

Wow. This piece is long, but superb.

Notable Ukraine-Russia coverage

Here’s the latest recommended coverage of the war in Ukraine:

Offsides comment

ESPN’s new NFL analyst Troy Aikman said something dumb on “Monday Night Football.” It’s not the worst thing ever said on TV, and this isn’t a call for punishment. But it was a lousy thing to say.

In the game between the Kansas City Chiefs and Las Vegas Raiders, Chiefs defensive lineman Chris Jones was called for a roughing-the-passer penalty against Raiders quarterback Derek Carr. It was an obvious bad call. The only person on the planet who thought it was a penalty was the referee who made the call.

That call came a day after there was another horrendous roughing-the-passer in the game between Tampa Bay and Atlanta. Like many football fans and observers, Aikman, a former quarterback himself, is worried that the NFL is going overboard in protecting players. While no one wants to see anyone hurt, this is still tackle football.

In trying to get his point across, Aikman said, “My hope is the (NFL) competition committee looks at this in the next set of meetings and, you know, we take the dresses off.”

The implication there, of course, is anyone who wears a dress is weak or soft.

Again, I think Aikman is a terrific announcer, but there’s a way to get a point across about lousy calls without being misogynistic.

So far, ESPN and Aikman have not commented.

The ratings game

By the way, “Monday Night Football” continues to draw big numbers. Nearly 16 million watched Monday’s Raiders-Chiefs game. The 15.9 million viewers was the best week five audience since 2011.

Remembering a legend

Angela Lansbury at the 1992 Golden Globe Awards. (Ralph Dominguez/MediaPunch /IPX.)

Some believe that the murder capital of the world is Cabot Cove, Maine.

OK, to be clear, Cabot Cove is not a real place and no one was really murdered there. Cabot Cove is the fictional town in the old show “Murder, She Wrote,” which aired on CBS from 1984 to 1996. It starred Angela Lansbury as mystery writer and amateur detective Jessica Fletcher, who spent 265 episodes (and four movies) solving murders in the quaint and scenic town.

I bring this up today because Lansbury died Tuesday just five days shy of her 97th birthday.

Lansbury is probably best known for “Murder, She Wrote” — a show in which she was nominated for 12 Emmy Awards. But she also starred on the big screen and stage. She was nominated for three Academy Awards for her film work and was given a special honorary Oscar in 2013. Her films included “Gaslight,” “The Picture of Dorian Gray” and “The Manchurian Candidate,” as well as playing the voice of Mrs. Potts in 1991’s “Beauty and the Beast.”

She also was a big star on Broadway, winning five Tony Awards.

Check out this excellent obit in The New York Times from Daniel Lewis and this appreciation from Los Angeles Times theater critic Charles McNulty, who wrote, “Lansbury’s great gift was her ability to enter into a storybook reality, regardless of medium, and place her talents at the service of narrative.”

The Last Word

And, The New York Times put out this video — “The Last Word” — which the Times agreed to not publish until Lansbury’s death. Watch it. It’s absolutely terrific.

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Tom Jones is Poynter’s senior media writer for He was previously part of the Tampa Bay Times family during three stints over some 30…
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