Unmasking Mask Hypocrisy at the New York Times and Time Magazine

May 23rd, 2020 1:50 PM

New York Times reporter Annie Karni followed President Trump on his tour of a Ford plant in Michigan and adopted a judgmental tone when Trump refused to wear a protective mask in front of reporters:

Mr. Trump toured the factory without wearing a face mask, despite the plant’s guidelines that required anyone on the site to have a face covering to protect from the spread of the coronavirus....the latest sign that Mr. Trump is more concerned about the optics of wearing a face mask than with following the recommendation of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to wear one when in proximity to other people.

On May 10, Times reporters Matthew Rosenberg and Jim Rutenberg's hit job on right-wing coronavirus commentators included this crack at Scott Jensen, a Republican state senator in Minnesota:

Last week, he plugged into a remote State Senate hearing on easing restrictions on telemedicine for addiction disorders while playing a round of golf, without a mask.

(A golf course is about as safe as it gets.)

The paper also went after Mike Pence for his mask faux pas at the Mayo Clinic.

But just how consistent have the New York Times and other print outlets been in moralizing over wearing masks in public?

Check this print headline from March 17, over a round-up of coping tips: “Here to Help; Cope With the Coronavirus: Masks, No. Groceries, Yes.” (The article has since been updated, after the Centers for Disease Control changed its mask guidelines in early April.)

One of newsletter editor David Leonhardt’s tips from March 10 read:

Don’t stockpile masks. They’re needed for hospital workers and other caregivers. “Masks are only useful if you have a respiratory infection already and want to minimize the risk of spread to others, or if you’re caring for someone who is sick or working in a hospital in direct contact with people who have respiratory illnesses,” writes Julia Belluz of Vox.

(Vox also confidently informed everyone the coronavirus wasn’t going to become a deadly pandemic.)

Mandy Oaklander’s anti-mask adamance for Time March 4 aged badly:

Seeing people around you wearing masks when you’re not can also heighten anxiety about coronavirus and make it seem like the virus is nearby and spreading, even if it’s not, Bufka says....Seeing celebrities post masked selfies on social media -- as Gwyneth Paltrow, Bella Hadid and others recently did -- also can reinforce the idea that this is a beneficial thing to do....

That story also carried a CDC-inspired update.

Meanwhile, the China-coddling World Health Organization, still respected by the press, was discouraging the wearing of masks by non-health-care workers at least into late April.

The coronavirus pandemic is a novel, still-evolving story, and inevitably new information pushes out outdated advice. Some speculate discredited mask advice was left to linger as a sort of “noble lie” to preserve access to medical-grade masks for health workers.

Still perhaps some humility is in order.when the newly converted press lashes out at Republicans for not wearing masks.