Press outlets across the nation have been using the COVID-19 pandemic to fill the ever-hungry news cycle. For more than two years, chyrons with death counts, hospitalizations, and case numbers have headlined a significant number of regular shows and breaking reports. But now that blue states have begun to walk back on coronavirus restrictions, it seems the golden goose is dead, and the denizens of the media world are not happy.
New Jersey, Delaware, Oregon, and Connecticut have all signaled that they will begin the process of scaling back state restrictions regarding masks and vaccine passes, an area in which red states have been somewhat ahead of the curve. The media has spent the last 12 months lambasting these Republican governors for putting politics over saving lives. Now that blue state leaders are following suit, the Fourth Estate is left in an unenviable position: to continue the narrative of a callous GOP or admit that – to some extent – the decision to lift restrictions has a political element.
MSNBC host Mehdi Hasan reacted to the news by tweeting, “The daily average for COVID deaths in this country is still above 2 and a half *thousand.* 2.5k Americans a day. A day. And yet some say it’s time to move on from the pandemic. It’s ‘peaked.’ Back to normal. Off ramps. Etc.” His incredulity was echoed by fellow contributor Dr. Vin Gupta, who wrote simply, “Not yet. Here on Feb. 8, not yet.”
Anchor Stephanie Ruhle made her position clear by saying “Do you think it’s time for school mask mandates to end nationwide? I live with kids who are more than willing to wear their mask, and it’s my parents who complain about my children having to wear masks. So my kids don’t mind it.”
This concerted backlash against the recent blue-state decisions suggests that for MSNBC, the COVID battle is not yet over.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis spoke forcefully on Tuesday, Feb. 8, regarding what he sees as an entirely political move by Democrats. As part of a recorded “round table,” he said:
“When you start to see them [the Democrats] kind of re-evaluate or say all this, just understand this: the science didn’t change – well, the medical science didn’t change – the political science changed. They feel the heat. They know that voters have been tired of perpetual lockdown policies. They know that they have basically offered no off-ramp, and they know they’re fixing to get whupped at the polls. And so that’s what’s causing the epiphany.
“The fact of the matter is that if they had looked at the actual science from the beginning, they would have known that this was something that Florida was right on.”
The governor’s accusation may well have some truth to it should we examine recent statements by White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki.
Fox News reporter Jacqui Heinrich on Feb. 7 pointed out to the press secretary, “We got announcements that in Delaware and New Jersey, the governors are going to be ending mask mandates coming up pretty soon.” She then asked Psaki, “What is the White House view on these kinds of announcements, given that in Virginia, Governor Youngkin faced a lot of pushback from Democrats for making similar changes to the mask policy?”
Psaki was visibly aggrieved at the comparison and insisted that the rollbacks “weren’t actually that similar,” despite the end result being the same. It seems that at the White House, politics is taking precedence over science.
So What’s the Media To Do?
On the one hand, the Fourth Estate has invested itself in the notion that one party is the party of science and empathy and that opposition to COVID restrictions and mandates is a dangerous game. On the other hand, criticizing the Biden administration or Democrat leaders could undo all the work done over the last five years to make the GOP appear deranged and unelectable.
As the notable poet and playwright Walter Scott once said, “Oh, what a tangled web we weave … when first we practice to deceive.”
~ Read more from Mark Angelides.