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Responsibility and Tribalism

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

In February and early March, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the surgeon general, the experts on television and others were adamant that only sick people need to wear masks. It would do the public no good to have a run on masks, and if they did, first responders would be deprived of masks.

The claim continued until it did not. When experts shifted their opinions, the media failed to fully explain why the information had changed, how it had changed and what was different. Instead, the press decided to shame those who would not wear masks, shame the President for not mandating masks and yell about the need for masks.

A little humility from the press on this issue could have gone a long way. Instead, they took an issue for which there had been conflicting medical advice and made it a tribal, partisan issue. When people began protesting in April to reopen, members of the press and pundits shamed the protestors and blamed them for a projected spread of the virus that did not come. Some progressive first responders took to the streets to block the paths of these protestors and shame them.

The virus not only did not spread; it declined.

At the end of May, protestors and rioters took to the streets to demand justice for George Floyd. Many in the media who had vigorously denounced small business owners protesting suddenly defended the protestors and the right to protest. The mayor of New York City locked Jews out of synagogues and playgrounds but let the protestors and rioters run loose in the street. Healthcare workers who shamed the April protestors cheered on the May and June protestors. The virus began to spread again. In fact, there is more of a link to Memorial Day and the George Floyd protestors spreading the virus than states reopening and April protests about reopening.

Masks should not be controversial, but they have become so, in large part because of how the American press corps has chosen to cover various events through partisan framing. People should wear masks. We should be mindful that large protests can spread the virus. But we should also exercise a great deal more grace than many of us do.

We have 50 states and 50 governors, all of whom are dealing with different situations in different ways as data changes rapidly and science advances. I think in hindsight we will see that some behaved badly and some behaved well.

The various governors are doing what they can to keep their residents safe. They are facing a virus that has no cure, spreads more easily than the flu and kills more people than the flu. They have constantly-changing expert opinions; they must balance the concerns of an economy with the health of citizens and the limited resources of hospitals; and they must consider school reopenings, workforce reopenings and more to avoid overwhelming their systems.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo did make obvious mistakes well after he should have known better, and the press gave him a pass. But Cuomo, too, had to deal with New York bureaucracy that was still telling people to go out and celebrate Chinese New Year even as the virus was spreading.

But these ladies and gentlemen have reacted at times when the science was unclear, the advice was mixed and the messages were muddy. And now, having reopened, they are forced to govern over people who think that masks are ineffective but a major American company is engaging in human trafficking through the sale of cabinets -- because they read both these things on the internet. Governors cannot keep their citizens from behaving irresponsibly except by forcing them to stay home.

We have 50 laboratories of democracy, and one of them is going to find the right way to fight COVID-19. We should be cheering on all 50 governors, who have no easy task in uneasy times. We should be praying for them, not condemning them for doing what they think is right -- even if it deviates from your preferred expert who tells you exactly what you want to hear and know to be true, even if it isn't.

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