By Frederick M. Hess for RealClearPolicy
Last week, a number of Democratic governors in states like New Jersey, Connecticut, and Oregon announced they’d be joining the 30-odd states that had already ended school mask mandates. They were greeted by measured, upbeat news stories that credited them with a thoughtful recognition that COVID has become endemic.
The coverage was generous. One video compilation captured the mood: a CNN anchor declaring that the Democrat governors’ decisions “seem to be decisions driven by science not politics” and another praising New Jersey governor Philip Murphy’s announcement as a sign “the country is pushing to get back to normal.”
It’s good to be a Democratic governor. Just a few weeks ago, when Glenn Youngkin, Virginia’s newly-elected Republican governor, issued an executive order that made masking in schools optional, the coverage looked very different. “COVID politics make a lot of governors stupid,” declared an MSNBC commentator, while other MSNBC talking heads labelled Youngkin a “mega-red” “Trump-in-training” whose decision was an example of “Republican rage.”
What’s going on? Why did Youngkin’s announcement occasion such media scorn, while Murphy’s was greeted as far-sighted and statesmanlike?
The discrepancy could be that Youngkin, who issued his order a few weeks before Murphy et al., moved too quickly in the face of omicron. That justification would be more compelling, though, if we’d seen plaudits for governors who relaxed masking restrictions last fall (when infection rates had plunged to levels far lower than they were last week) or some modest effort to explain what changed so markedly in the three weeks between Youngkin and Murphy’s announcements.
The issue could be that Youngkin would let every family decide on masks while Murphy et al. would still let local school boards impose mandates. That nuance would be more credible, of course, if after two years, the benefits of masking students were a matter of settled science.
But Youngkin’s directive, which took care to discuss the science, reflected the views of numerous health authorities. Education Week has noted that the CDC, WHO, and European Center for Disease Prevention and Control all have different guidance on masking in schools and that the research cited by the CDC for universal school masking “has come under sharp criticism.” The argument that the science no longer justifies school mask mandates has been made at some length (see, for instance, here, here, here, and here).
In other words, while Youngkin’s order may or may not have been “right”, it was entirely reasonable and wholly consistent with due regard for the science.
And yet, when reading the coverage of Youngkin’s supposed recklessness, one would’ve never known it. Take the Washington Post editorial board’s critique of Youngkin’s order: “The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) strongly recommend continued mask-wearing for children in schools . . . They are the health experts; they should be heeded by responsible school officials.”
At the end of the day, it appears that the men and women at the Washington Post and MSNBC just don’t believe that Republican officials are actually willing or able to judge the science. When a Democratic governor, like Colorado’s Jared Polis, led in relaxing pandemic policies, media types prone to embrace the catastrophic were leery but stipulated that he probably meant well.
But when Youngkin moves to let families decide on school masks, those same reporters, editorial writers, and talking heads seemingly find it tough to imagine that it’s anything more than an irresponsible sop to anti-vax, MAGA diehards.
Never mind that Youngkin owes his election to huge gains among Biden-voting suburban moms and that Virginia’s Democratic senate has endorsed his stance — the presumption is he can’t be doing anything but channeling right-wing wackiness.
Of course, when Murphy makes roughly the same decision, within a matter of weeks, he’s not putting the public weal at risk. He’s simply responding to science, sanity, and the changing facts on the ground.
At this point, it’s just not that hard to understand why so few on the right trust the legacy media.
Syndicated with permission from Real Clear Wire.
Frederick M. Hess is the director of education policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute.
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