The New York Times continues to bend over backward to excuse the behavior of Republican governors who have undermined COVID-19 vaccinations, depicting them as almost passive observers in their states’ rising caseloads amid a partisan culture war over public health measures — rather than acknowledging that their policies are part of the problem.
The Times is repeating the mistakes of other mainstream media outlets in depicting Republican governors’ intransigence on public health as if it were mainly just a political narrative — and thus granting a false equivalence to the side opposing safety measures — rather than as an ongoing disaster with real consequences for people in their states. And at a time when right-wing media is waging an active propaganda campaign to back up this kind of malfeasance, mainstream outlets are failing their readers with a baseless both-sides narrative.
Over the weekend, the Times ran an article titled “What Went Wrong With the Pandemic in Florida,” claiming in the sub-headline: “Even a large state that emphasized vaccinations in combating the coronavirus can be crushed by the Delta variant when no other measures are put in place.”
The Times’ characterization of Florida as having “emphasized vaccinations” was blatantly false. In fact, the state has passed a law to forbid private businesses from requiring vaccinations for prospective customers, which is now being fought in the courts. (And the Times reporters obviously know about this, because one of the three reporters sharing the new story’s byline, Patricia Mazzei, also previously co-wrote the Times’ article on Gov. Ron DeSantis’ initial executive order back in April.)
The fifth paragraph further characterized Florida as “a state that made a major push for vaccinations,” before explaining that it ranked in 21st place among the 50 states and the District of Columbia — which would only put it nearly in the middle of the state rankings.
Furthermore, while the article said early on that Florida had “refused lockdowns and mask orders,” it was not until the 12th paragraph that the Times actually explained any of the extent to which DeSantis had actively “sought to steer away from measures that could curtail infections,” such as by “banning strict mask mandates in public schools.”
Oddly enough, a separate Times article on Tuesday was much more clear-eyed, explaining how multiple Republican governors have catered to a right-wing political base opposed to public health measures and noting, “Skepticism about masks, vaccines and the rules governing them is increasingly intertwined with the cultural issues that dominate the modern Republican Party.” For example, the article mentioned that DeSantis has been selling campaign merchandise labeled “Don’t Fauci My Florida,” and is now even withholding state money from school districts that require masks.
Even then, this article only mentioned the restrictions on private businesses in the most oblique manner, by quoting Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan as he decried mandates “that businesses can’t make their own decisions about vaccines” — but without specifically mentioning any Republican governors who have actually done this.
And then on Wednesday, the Times ran yet another piece on a Republican governor, Arizona’s Doug Ducey, who was purportedly “moving to the front of the volatile new battle over personal freedoms, children’s health and the politicization of pandemic relief money,” to describe his crackdown against masking requirements in schools even as pediatric COVID-19 hospitalizations in the state have doubled. For this, the article said, Ducey had been “battered from all political sides” by both Democrats and “the right wing of Arizona’s splintered Republican Party.”
The article twice characterized Ducey as being a “vocal supporter” of vaccinations, but failed to mention anything he might have done in support of vaccines — or the fact that he has banned local governments from instituting vaccine requirements. (A separate bill, which would have copied Florida in punishing businesses that wanted to require vaccines, failed by a one-vote margin in the state Senate, demonstrating that the Arizona GOP might not be so widely “splintered” after all.)