An Open Letter to MSNBC

As a volunteer for an organization that advocates for people with vocal conditions, I was disappointed to hear Chuck Todd’s comments about RFK Jr’s voice on the Andrea Mitchell Reports show on May 16, 2024. Kennedy suffers from Spasmodic Dysphonia (SD,) as do an estimated 50,000 other Americans. 

SD is a life-altering condition which impacts singers, teachers, reporters, attorneys and our neighbors across the spectrum of society, including politicians and other public figures. There is no cure for it. 

While I don’t believe Mr. Todd’s comments were malicious, the suggestion that someone’s disability should be used for political advantage is misguided and offensive. 

Most people have never heard of SD and researchers are still trying to unlock the mysteries of what causes the condition. This would provide answers to patients who want to be heard, both literally and figuratively.

Imagine not being able to read aloud to your child or to say the words “I love you,” so they’re heard by someone you care about. Sometimes speaking up is physically impossible. 

I hope you’ll use this opportunity to educate Mr. Todd, other employees and your viewers about the challenges of not being heard. As a network, you sometimes give voice to the voiceless. This would seem to be the perfect opportunity to do just that.

Dysphonia International serves as a clearinghouse for patients looking for causes, treatments, doctors and speech language pathologists.  It’s also a reputable source of credible information for a range of vocal disorders. 

There are a number of people with SD who would be willing to share their stories of how the condition has impacted their lives and careers.

I know all too well the impact of vocal conditions.  After nearly 30 years as a radio reporter at WCBS Newsradio 880 in NYC, I was forced to give up a career I loved because of SD.  I’m finding my voice, metaphorically of course, but I would hope there would be a greater understanding and empathy for people who struggle to be heard.


Peter Haskell

Dysphonia International Volunteer