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A new focus of news coverage: Are there double standards for Covid protocols?


By Brian Stelter, CNN Business

A version of this article first appeared in the “Reliable Sources” newsletter. You can sign up for free right here.

Monday was a day full of pandemic dissonance. Tuesday probably will be, too.

On the same day we learned about a major step forward for public health — Pfizer saying that its Covid-19 vaccine is safe for kids — we also heard about a horrible mile marker of death. “Despite all the scientific and medical advances of the past 103 years,” CNN’s Holly Yan wrote, this pandemic “has now killed more Americans than the 1918 flu pandemic did.”

Other news outlets published similar stories when the Johns Hopkins dashboard surpassed the 675,000-dead mark. Some sites illustrated the news with historical photos from 1918.

When the authorities say the US is averaging roughly 2,000 Covid deaths a day, yet the same sources affirm that fully vaccinated Americans are well protected from severe illness, we wind up in a daily state of pandemic dissonance. It’s a peculiar sort of tension that exists when pictures of jam-packed stadiums appear in social media feeds next to accounts of overwhelmed hospitals. I see it on my feed when a breakthrough like the Pfizer news happens: People who have been “back to normal” for months can’t believe others are still taking stringent precautions — and visa versa.

This tension is particularly acute when we don’t have the proper context or data to evaluate the circumstances we’re in. Try this: Look up your own community’s Covid data dashboard. Try to find out how many recent hospitalizations and deaths are among vaccinated adults versus unvaxxed. I tried this for my neighborhood and failed.

From time to time, federal and state officials provide snapshots that show the vast majority of the suffering and dying is happening among the unvaxxed, i.e. adults who have chosen not to protect themselves. But the data is not available in a consistent, searchable way. It’s piecemeal at best. So we’re left assuming, left guessing, left making risk assessments without reliable data, and that leads to even more pandemic dissonance…

Follow the rules or change the rules

Double-standard-style behavior by Democratic politicians and vaguely defined members of “the elite” is a daily theme of right-wing media coverage. Here’s an example from Monday’s Daily Caller homepage: “Elites attend galas and award shows unmasked while servants have to cover their faces.”

I understand all the context for these scenes, but the photos still make me squeamish. This should not just be a “right-wing media” issue. It’s an “everybody with common sense” issue. CNN’s Brianna Keilar, to her credit, called out an example of hypocrisy on Monday’s “New Day.” She showed the video of SF mayor London Breed partying, maskless, with a fully vaccinated crowd. “The mayor of a major American city isn’t complying with her own health department’s health guidance,” Keilar said.

Breed, on defense, told reporters “we don’t need the fun police” to “micromanage” mask wearing as long as the population is vaccinated. I happen to agree — but that’s not the city’s position or the CDC’s position. These politicians should follow the rules or change the rules. If they don’t have the authority, they should pressure those who do. If it’s too complicated, they should push to make it simpler. Restrictions, rules and recommendations in this phase of the pandemic shouldn’t be one-size-fits-all. They should be customized to specific locales and positivity rates and tolerance levels. But they are not. As the “rules” make less and less sense, and they’re not enforced equally or at all, they’ll be followed less and less, if at all…

LA County says Emmys didn’t violate mask mandate

Oliver Darcy writes: “There has been a lot of discussion over the past 24 hours over whether those who attended the Emmy Awards violated LA County’s mask mandate, which requires everyone, regardless of vaccination status, to don a face covering. Well, the short answer is, no, it apparently did not. A spokesperson for the LA County of Public Health told me that ‘exceptions are made for film, television, and music productions’ since ‘additional safety modifications’ are made for such events. The department explained that everyone at the Emmys was considered a performer and that ‘all persons appearing on or in the audience of the Emmy Award Show were fully vaccinated against COVID-19.’ And the department added that the Emmys reached out ‘in advance to share their safety protocols,’ which they said ‘exceeded the baseline requirements.’ Read the full statement here…”

The right’s narratives

There is, of course, an unhinged right-wing media that has no interest in context. Take this banner on Tucker Carlson’s show on Monday: “CELEBRITIES ARE APPARENTLY EXEMPTED FROM ALL RULES.” There’s also this headline on the American Thinker website: “COVID has turned leftists into child-abusers” due to mask mandates for toddlers. Some of the commentary about vaccine mandates has been similarly kooky.

But there are more persuasive arguments being advanced in other corners. I noticed Washington Examiner editor Seth Mandel tweet about “watching 4 year old kids play soccer in masks,” and I thought, well that makes no sense. My 4 year old went to soccer class on Saturday and there was not a mask in sight. The virus threat is roughly the same in both of our towns. So, who’s making these differing decisions and why? It’s easy to see how so much social trust has been lost throughout this ordeal. And if we ignore that reality, even more trust will be lost…

Notes and quotes about the vaccine wars

— Two children who recently lost their 45-year-old father to Covid-19 spoke out on CNN’s “New Day” and blamed Tucker Carlson for some of the vaccine misinfo he believed… (Mediaite)

— Carlson’s newest rant, sure to be absorbed throughout the GOP, is about the US military’s get-vaxxed policy: “The point of mandatory vaccination is to identify the sincere Christians in the ranks, the freethinkers, the men with high testosterone levels, and anybody else who doesn’t love Joe Biden and make them leave immediately. It’s a takeover of the U.S. military!” (Twitter)

— Shawn Boburg and Jon Swaine write about Thomas Renz, a “once little-known attorney” whose rise “shows how vaccine misinformation can fuel fundraising and far-right celebrity…” (WaPo)

— Along the same lines, Kiera Butler reports on how “a wildly popular app for churches is now an anti-vax hotbed…” (Mother Jones)

— Matt Gertz writes about how far-right Breitbart writer John Nolte is “trying to get his readers vaccinated” through a “wrong and crazy” argument… (MMFA)

— “Anti-vax hypocrite Eric Clapton breaks own vow, plays venue with vaccine mandate…” (Rolling Stone)

Six rules…

Katherine J. Wu, Ed Yong, and Sarah Zhang’s newest story for The Atlantic is titled “Six rules that will define our second pandemic winter.” One of the many standout quotes: “The more unvaccinated people are concentrated, the more easily the virus can find its next victim…”

CNN’s RTO update

Oliver Darcy writes: “No surprise here. CNN on Monday became the latest company to push its full return-to-office date back to 2022. Network boss Jeff Zucker announced the news to employees in a memo, saying execs had ‘come to the conclusion that a full return to the office in October does not feel right.’ Zucker, who mentioned the Delta variant’s rise in Atlanta where CNN HQ is, said the new target date is January 10. But he encouraged employees to start coming into the office now, something that many staffers have already been doing. ‘I think you’ll find … it is actually pretty great,’ Zucker said, adding, ‘The transition does not begin in January. It begins now…'”

>> This piece in The Atlantic is an important reminder that “work from home” is not the norm: Only 13.4% of Americans “worked from home” in August…

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