Fact-checking misleading claims from the Fetterman-Oz debate

Over the course of an hour, Oz and Fetterman sparred over a range of topics including fracking, crime, and social security. Here's a look at the facts.

Dr. Mehmet Oz (left) and Lt. Gov. John Fetterman.

Dr. Mehmet Oz (left) and Lt. Gov. John Fetterman. (Nate Smallwood/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

This story originally appeared on WITF.

Tuesday’s debate in Pennsylvania’s U.S. Senate race featured multiple claims from Democrat John Fetterman and Republican Mehmet Oz that don’t align with the facts.

Over the course of an hour, both candidates in the closely watched race sparred over a range of topics including fracking, crime, and social security.

Accusations of dodging the press

Oz took shots at Fetterman’s health, just five months after he suffered a stroke in May following his primary victory in April.

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“You haven’t answered questions from media once on the campaign trail,” Oz said. “Just to show… that you can do it.”

This isn’t entirely true.

Fetterman doesn’t take questions from the media at his campaign events, because of lingering auditory processing issues from his stroke, a campaign spokesman told CNN.

He has participated in scheduled interviews and meetings with various editorial boards. During interviews, he uses closed captioning technology to read the questions, which he also used during the debate.

“[Fetterman’s] been transparent in talking openly about his health with local and national media,” a spokesman told CNN. “While also showing voters how this closed-caption technology helps him communicate more effectively.”

Fetterman and felony murder

Oz claimed that Fetterman wants to release all people convicted of second-degree murder, also known as felony murder.

“John Fetterman, during this crime wave, has been trying to get as many murderers convicted and sentenced to life in prison out of jail as possible,” he said.

This is false.

Oz is referring to an out-of-context clip of Fetterman talking to a criminal justice advocacy group in 2020 about two specific inmates.

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“The Horton brothers were called the two finest inmates in our state prison system, the two you know? I have made getting them out of prison, like the most, you know, critical thing I’ll ever do,” he said. “There isn’t anything that I won’t do within the limits of the law and my office, to make sure that they are free.”

The Horton brothers were convicted of felony murder in 1993, after picking up a friend in their car who they were unaware had just committed a murder. The police arrested all three men and charged the brothers with 2nd degree felony murder, a mandatory life sentence in Pa. Fetterman advocated for their release after they served 27 years in prison, which they were granted last year.

Audio from that clip has been used in attack ads paid for by the Senate Leadership Fund, which supports Republican candidates.

Fetterman has never advocated for freeing everybody convicted of felony murder.

He’s said he wants to end mandatory life-without-parole sentences for felony murder convictions for defendants who are accessories in a killing, like the Horton brothers accidentally were. He’d like to give judges discretion in sentencing.

Pennsylvanians can be charged with felony murder when police believe someone committed a felony that led to death, even if they didn’t commit the murder themselves. Pennsylvania is one of nine states in which felony murder convictions carry mandatory life-without-parole sentences.

Both have changed their minds about fracking

When asked by the moderators about his history of flip-flopping on fracking, Fetterman said he’s always supported it.

“I do support fracking,” he said. “I support fracking, and I stand, and I do support fracking.”

This appears to be a change in his stance, since he opposed it during an interview in 2018.

“I don’t support fracking and I never have,” he told the progressive YouTube channel Real Progress in Action.

He did discuss his support for two Allegheny County mills responsible for thousands of jobs.

“My opposition to something does not outweigh your right to earn and to provide food, shelter and a living that takes care of you and your family,” he said during the interview.

Moderators also pressed Oz on his history of opposing fracking.

Oz wrote a column in 2014 calling for Pennsylvania to stop fracking until the health effects were better understood.

He didn’t directly acknowledge that in his response.

“I’ve been very consistent,” he said. “Fracking has been demonstrated, it’s a very old technology, to be safe. It is a lifeline for this commonwealth to be able to build wealth.”

Fetterman doesn’t want to legalize all drugs

Oz also made false claims about Fetterman, claiming he would exacerbate Pennsylvania’s high rate of opioid addiction.

“He wants to legalize all hard drugs, including narcotics,” Oz said.

This is false.

Fetterman has never said he wants to legalize all drugs. He supports decriminalizing some drugs, which means the legal system would no longer incarcerate a person for carrying less than a certain amount.

He has advocated for treatment for addiction over incarceration for people suffering with substance abuse problems. Fetterman supports “harm reduction” approaches, including needle-exchange programs.

Fetterman supports legalizing marijuana, but opposes decriminalizing heroin, methamphetamines, and other hard drugs.

Oz says he won’t touch Social Security

Fetterman claimed that Oz wants to slash federal programs.

“We need to make sure that Dr. Oz and the Republicans [who] believe in cutting Medicare and Social Security,” he said. “I believe they have to protect and expand Social Security.”

Oz has never expressly supported ending Social Security and/or Medicare.

He vaguely praised a plan from Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL) which would’ve ended funding for all federal programs in five years without Congressional action.

But Oz has not expressed support for doing that. His campaign website says he wants to strengthen Social Security without taking away benefits.

Election Day is November 8th.

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