New "scandal" emerges in PA Senate race as Oz hammers Fetterman on crime

New "scandal" emerges in PA Senate race as Oz hammers Fetterman on crime
AP Photo/Mary Altaffer

There’s really not much of a scandal at all here, but I’ve seen a lot of media outlets breathlessly report that Dr. Mehmet Oz somehow “misled the public” by not identifying a woman who participated in a roundtable campaign event as one of his campaign staffers. Here’s how the Independent tried to spin this into something nefarious, for example.

Dr Oz spoke with Sheila Armstrong inside a Black church as she broke down recounting how her brother and nephew were killed in Philadelphia at his campaign event on 19 September. Ms Armstrong held a handmade sign which read “gone but not forgotten” for her dead relatives.

The emotional meeting between the gun violence survivor and the Republican candidate was highlighted by the Associated Press through a feature story this week, that described the event as “chairs arranged a bit like [Dr Oz’s] former daytime TV show set”.

“Later, he gave her a hug, and said, ‘How do you cope’,” the Associated Press wrote.

After the publication of the story, Brendan McPhillips, the campaign manager for Dr Oz’s opponent John Fetterman, complained on Twitter that the news agency failed to note that Ms Armstrong was a paid member of the Republican candidate’s campaign.

Mr McPhillips posted a screenshot of a business card Ms Armstrong had shared on her public Instagram account in June, where she identified herself as the “Philadelphia County Coordinator” for Dr Oz’s campaign.

According to the Federal Election Commission records, Ms Armstrong was on the campaign’s payroll and earned over $2,000 at the end of June, The Intercept reported.

Her Instagram account also features campaign events in Philadelphia and photos of her with the candidate that were posted between the months of June and September.

While media outlets initially failed to mention Ms Armstrong’s ties with the candiadate, the Associated Press and the Philadelphia Inquirer later updated their story.

“As soon as AP learned of Armstrong’s campaign affiliation and confirmed it, we updated our story,” a spokesperson for the news agency told The Intercept.

Ryan Collerd, a freelance photojournalist who took the photograph of Dr Oz with Ms Armstrong for AP, said he had no idea she was affiliated with the campaign.

“She was not presented, in my recollection, as anything other than a grieving family member,” Mr Collerd said.

The allegation comes less than a month prior to the elections, which could determine control of the senate.

Why does this matter? No one has accused Armstrong of making up the deaths of her brother and nephew or fabricating details of their murders in any way. Her pain is presumably genuine, and she was one of just many attendees at the roundtable, which was one of just several similar events the campaign has held in the Philadelphia area, including one on Thursday.

Thursday’s hourlong discussion was mostly dedicated to highlighting the ongoing suffering in the city. Clarice Schillinger, a former GOP candidate for lieutenant governor and a prominent school choice advocate, said one of the Philadelphia SWAT officers shot this week is a friend and security guard. Community activist Ikey Raw, who was also at Oz’s September roundtable on gun violence, said it was easier to buy fentanyl than baby formula during periods of the pandemic, and a Kensington resident who was also with Oz when he visited the neighborhood last month said human feces is everywhere there.

… The event on Thursday included several Democrats turned Republicans frustrated by gun violence who shrugged off Oz’s anti-gun-control stances.

“The problem is the ghost guns, the illegal guns. They’re already illegal, so it’s how do we stop that?” said Carnel Harley, a Republican ward leader in Nicetown who left the Democratic Party six years ago. Harley said he didn’t mind that Oz came to the discussion without a lot of answers.

“One thing I liked about him is, he didn’t say what he could do. He asked what do I need him to do for our community.”

Should Oz have said something about Armstrong working for his campaign? Sure. Does it change her experience at all or make their discussion tainted in any way? Nope, and I suspect that for the Pennsylvania voters who are most concerned about violent crime the real scandal here is going to be the Fetterman campaign’s callous attempt to minimize Armstrong’s personal experience with violence in order to help their troubled candidate down the home stretch.  Fetterman’s made a big deal out of supposedly caring so much about the victims of crime, and yet his campaign is basically victim shaming Sheila Armstrong for sharing her pain without disclosing her affiliation with the Oz campaign. It’s not only despicable, it looks desperate, and I can’t help but wonder what Fetterman’s own internal polls are showing as public surveys have Oz within striking distance ahead of their October 25th televised debate.