Black woman Dr. Oz comforted at campaign event reportedly an aide

The Associated Press brought the emotional encounter to national attention in an article about the competition for Black voters in the Pennsylvania Senate race.

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A woman who Dr. Mehmet Oz consoled at a community event as she sobbed and recounted the tragic shootings of her brother and nephew turns out to be a campaign aide to the Pennsylvania Republican running for the U.S. Senate.

According to The Intercept, Sheila Armstrong attended the invitation-only discussion on Sept. 19 carrying a handmade sign referring to her lost loved ones that read, “Gone but not forgotten.” Her suffering because of gun violence in America is not being questioned, but reporters who covered the event found out three weeks later that the Oz campaign had misled them by neglecting to reveal her connection to the candidate.

The Associated Press brought the emotional encounter to national attention in a feature article about the competition for Black voters in the Pennsylvania Senate race between Oz and his Democratic opponent, John Fetterman, the state’s lieutenant governor.

Sheila Armstrong (left) and Mehmet Oz (center) appear together at the Philadelphia gun violence event last month where at one point the Pennsylvania Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate consoled the grieving woman. At the time, reporters were not aware that Armstrong is an Oz campaign aide. (AP Photo/Ryan Collerd, File)

News sites that subscribe to AP’s wire service received and distributed the report once the AP posted it to its website. The connection between Armstrong and Oz, however, wasn’t made public until Brendan McPhillips — Fetterman’s campaign manager — complained on Twitter that the AP had failed to reveal that Armstrong is a paid employee of the Oz campaign team rather than a regular voter.

McPhillips supplied a screenshot of a business card Armstrong had shared in June on her Instagram page identifying herself as the Oz campaign’s “Philadelphia County Coordinator” alongside a “doctorozforsenate.com” email address. There was also a photo of Armstrong with Oz and the two of them at additional campaign events in Philadelphia. 

According to documents submitted to the Federal Election Commission in June, Armstrong received two payments from the ‘Doctor Oz for Senate’ campaign classified as “payroll.”

AP updated its article to include a reference to Armstrong’s role in the Oz campaign after it was initially published. “As soon as AP learned of Armstrong’s campaign affiliation and confirmed it, we updated our story,” a spokesperson for the news service wrote in an email to The Intercept.

Ryan Collerd, the AP freelance photojournalist who captured the image of Oz consoling Armstrong, added that he was unaware of her connection to the campaign at the time, believing that she was solely a bereaved family member.

Cory Clark, a photojournalist and writer who covered the event for Philadelphia’s daily The Local, said the campaign kept Armstrong’s connection a secret from reporters. 

In an update to its article, The Intercept reported that Julia Terruso — The Philadelphia Inquirer reporter who covered the event — said the Oz campaign confirmed this week that Armstrong serves as the organization’s regional director for Philadelphia and is responsible for its outreach to African Americans.

Neither Armstrong nor Brittany Yanick — the campaign’s communications director— addressed questions about whether the Oz campaign intentionally concealed the aide’s involvement from journalists.

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