New York Times Can’t Handle Fetterman’s Rightward Shift: ‘Caustic…Hostile’

News & Politics

On the front page of Sunday’s New York Times, congressional correspondent Annie Karni sympathized with recent criticism of Pennsylvania’s freshman Democratic senior, John Fetterman – once mocked in Republican circles for his Senate floor fashion sense but now reviled by the left for his support of Israel and other iconoclastic positions – in “Fetterman, Flashing a Sharper Edge, Keeps Picking Fights With the Left.”

Karni led off with an anecdote to make the left’s case of Fetterman, a Democratic mental health hero turned cranky troglodyte:

Senator John Fetterman was hard to miss, lumbering down an empty hallway in a Senate office building dressed in his signature baggy gym shorts and a black hoodie. So when Stevie O’Hanlon, an environmentalist and organizer from Chester County, Pa., spotted him recently, she took the opportunity to question her home-state senator about a pipeline in her community.

Mr. Fetterman’s reaction was surprisingly hostile. Raising his phone to capture the confrontation on video, the senator began ridiculing her.

“I didn’t expect this!” Mr. Fetterman said, feigning excitement. “Oh my gosh!”

As Ms. O’Hanlon politely pressed him on what she called his “change of heart” on the issue of the local pipeline, which he had previously opposed, Mr. Fetterman pulled faces of faux concern until he stepped onto an elevator and let the closing door end the interaction.

Ms. O’Hanlon, a co-founder of the progressive Sunrise Movement, was stunned.

“I’ve talked to Republicans who are much friendlier than that,” she said in an interview, after a clip of the interaction circulated widely on social media. “The person that we voted for is not the person who mocks constituents when they bring up concerns.”

What kind of monster is this?

Ms. O’Hanlon is not the only one wondering who Mr. Fetterman has become. Since last fall, the first-term Democratic senator from Pennsylvania has undergone a significant change in political persona. He routinely takes aim at the left wing of his party that he once courted — and appears to enjoy the spasms of anger he produces because of it, as well as the strange new respect he commands from right-wing media outlets that once dismissed him as a vegetable and lobbed sexist attacks at his wife.

Mr. Fetterman’s sharpest break with the left has been on the Israel-Hamas War. A firm backer of Israel before the war, he decided early in the conflict that he would offer unconditional support for Israel and its prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. He has relentlessly hewed to that stance, at times provocatively.

Fetterman was fine until he started leaning rightward, apparently. The hostile characterizations continued:

But those who have observed his recent transformation also describe a shift in demeanor by Mr. Fetterman, who has begun to express himself in more caustic, sometimes hostile ways.

She blamed Fox News and the New York Post for creating this Frankenstein Fetterman:

Former staff members and supporters suggest there is more at play, both personally and politically. Mr. Fetterman, who swore off social media, and news in general, after his hospitalization for depression, for a time relied on staff to curate a package of clips that kept him up to speed on what he needed to know. But his return to work and sharp break with the left has coincided with a distinct shift to the right in his media diet; he sometimes appears sucked into a vortex dominated by social media, The New York Post and Fox News, where for the first time in his political career, he is receiving approving coverage.

Karni admitted Fetterman’s “repudiation of the left” has helped him in Pennsylvania polling. But now that he supports Benjamin Netanyahu’s “far right government” in Israel, it’s suddenly important that Times readers know “he lacks a deep familiarity with the region.” (This after the Times fiercely defended Fetterman from Republican attacks on his mental capability after his hospitalization for depression.)

Karni was far more supportive of Fetterman in 2023, when “hard-right” Republicans targeted him for his slobby attire on the Senate floor in defiance of Senate rules.

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