‘Gross Fear Mongering’: How Dr. Oz is Distorting John Fetterman’s Record to Scare Voters

FILE - Mehmet Oz, Republican candidate for U.S. Senate (AP Photo/Ted Shaffrey, File)

By Keya Vakil

September 26, 2022

In an effort to distract from their candidate’s unpopularity, the Oz campaign and its Republican allies have run a barrage of misleading ads against Democrat John Fetterman, trying to depict Fetterman—a man who has tattoos on his arm to honor murder victims—as being soft on crime.

Every Pennsylvanian wants their family to be safe, secure, and free from the dangers of violent crime—it’s a basic value shared by all. Politicians and their strategists know this, and they know fear-mongering about crime can be a potent weapon. 

To be clear, crime is an issue in Pennsylvania, as murders and other violent crimes increased during the pandemic. But they increased everywhere, all across the country, in Democratic- and Republican-led states alike—a fact conveniently ignored by Republican Senate candidate Dr. Mehmet Oz and his allies.

Instead, they’ve run a barrage of misleading ads against Oz’s Democratic opponent, Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, distorting his record on criminal justice and crime. These ads, along with Oz’s remarks in interviews, have sought to depict Fetterman—a man who has tattoos on his arm to honor and remember murder victims—as being soft on crime. Oz and his backers have also tried to argue that Fetterman’s belief in second chances for some incarcerated individuals—an idea embraced by Democratic and Republican presidents alike—is directly responsible for the increase in crime in Pennsylvania. 

In reality, Fetterman, a parent of three children, has said that he wants to “make sure that serious crimes receive serious punishment” and that “law enforcement has the resources necessary to do their job.” 

Naturally, those stances have not made it into any of Oz’s ads. 

“Dr. Oz is desperate and, unsurprisingly, is lying about John’s record,” Fetterman campaign spokesperson Emilia Winter Rowland said in a statement. “Oz lives in a mansion on a hill, what does he know about confronting crime? John Fetterman has actually done it, and done it successfully. So he’s not going to be taking pointers from a guy who just moved here and has absolutely no understanding of the problems facing Pennsylvania.”

The Fetterman campaign touted his stint as the mayor of Braddock, during which time he worked “hand-in-hand with the police” as the community of roughly 1,800 people went more than five years without a murder.

Fetterman has also been vocal about his belief that Pennsylvania’s laws lead to over-incarceration and overly punitive life sentences. Under current law, individuals can be charged with with second degree murder in Pennsylvania even if they didn’t actually kill anybody. 

“If you did not take a life, Pennsylvania should not take yours by incarceration,” Fetterman wrote in a 2019 tweet. “Justice should allow for redemption.”

Fetterman has attempted to redress some of these wrongs through his role as lieutenant governor, which allows him to chair the state Pardons Board, a body that can expunge the records of already-released individuals and shorten the length of sentences for those still in prison.

Fetterman also supports criminal justice reforms, diversion programs for nonviolent offenders, and releasing older or sick inmates, but it’s his role on the Pardons Board that has drawn the most criticism and been exploited by Oz and conservative media. To hear them tell it, Fetterman’s actions on the board have single-handedly turned Pennsylvania into a modern-day Sodom and Gomorrah. 

The Fetterman campaign hit back at Oz, blasting him for misrepresenting the Democrat’s record.

“[Fetterman] took a fair-minded approach to clemency cases, voting to give second chances to the wrongfully convicted and deserving, but also voting to deny hundreds of applications where he felt clemency wasn’t merited,” Winter Rowland said. “All Dr. Oz and his team are engaging in is gross fear mongering.”

Oz’s misrepresentation of Fetterman’s record and stances are especially absurd because Oz claims to support the First Step Act, the criminal justice reform law passed under the Trump administration that aimed to shorten excessive and unjust federal prison sentences and allow judges to bypass mandatory minimum sentences, which devastated communities across the country.

According to his campaign, Oz “believes that we can go further in analyzing federal penalties that are unfair, and reform our system of justice to make sure equal protection under the law is upheld.”

And yet Oz has hammered Fetterman on the campaign trail for embracing virtually the same idea. This tactic—which is being echoed by Republicans in states across the country—preys on people’s fears and distracts from the issues where Republicans’ stances are toxic—from abortion rights to education to climate change to tax giveaways to the rich.

Every violent crime is a tragedy, and all Pennsylvanians want their families and communities to be safe. But rather than actually addressing the issue in a serious manner, Oz is using it as a political weapon, resorting to fear-mongering tactics designed to scare suburban Pennsylvanians out of voting for Fetterman. 

In November, voters will render a verdict on that effort and decide whether they believe Oz—who moved to Pennsylvania solely to run for office—is the right candidate to keep them safe and address the multitude of other issues facing the state, or if Fetterman is.


  • Keya Vakil

    Keya Vakil is the deputy political editor at COURIER. He previously worked as a researcher in the film industry and dabbled in the political world.

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