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Delivering this Sunday’s morning update like a disappointed dad, Meet the Press’ Chuck Todd conveyed distressing news about how America is split down the middle over Covid, causing cultural and political fissures.
“The U.S. enters this Labor Day weekend suffering from two viruses: Covid and polarization,” the host lamented. “Covid has become an MRI of America's soul. Who would have imagined that masks -- wearing or refusing them -- would become such a political statement?”
This week’s MTP episode was built around the “divided” theme, with Covid being a prism used to view it. “It is not an exaggeration to say that we are more divided than at any time perhaps since the 1960s, and frankly, maybe since the Civil War,” Todd announced.
Except that premise is false and it reflects a misguided brand of Both Sides journalism. Instead of the country being “divided” over Covid, including whether to get vaccinated and wear masks, 75 percent of eligible Americans have received at least one shot, and 70 percent support mask mandates in schools. Just “17 percent of adults say they probably or definitely will not get vaccinated,” according to a recent ABC-Washington Post survey.
Meanwhile, a strong majority of Americans support requiring proof of vaccination to travel by airplane, according to Gallup. (39 percent oppose.) And the percentage of parents who plan on vaccinating their kids has climbed to nearly 70 percent.
If there’s an actual Covid divide, it’s among conservatives themselves — 45 percent of Republicans support a universal vaccine mandate. Roughly the same percentage oppose.
Make no mistake, there is a loud and dangerous right-wing minority in this country building roadblocks and creating havoc as we try to put the pandemic behind us. They often stage noisy and demented protests at local school board meetings, leveling unhinged attacks on local officials who are trying to keep children and teachers safe. (In Tucson, police were called when protesters threatened to make a citizen's arrest on a school principal and zip tie her.) The media’s constant desire to portray them as representing half the country is lazy and inaccurate.
Instead of portraying the dangerous zealots accurately, the media downplay the threat by presenting anti-vaccine and anti-mask fanatics as being the mirror opposite of Democrats and progressives who embrace science and common sense. If there’s a “divide,” that means there are two equal, opposing forces, right? The press much prefers to tell the tale of Both Sides facing off over Covid, instead of detailing a deranged and radical minority waging war on mainstream America.
The country as a whole is not divided over Covid in any traditional sense, so how and why does the press keep pushing that narrative? One way journalists pull it off is by using fuzzy math. They do it by pointing to polling data that shows Democrats and Republicans on polar opposite ends of the issue and loudly announcing that America suffers from an incurable political and cultural rift.
“Seventy-nine percent of Democrats favor a vaccine requirement,” Todd reported on Sunday. “Seventy-five percent of Republicans oppose it.”
In reality though, there are three self-identifying political parties in America — Democratic, Republican and Independent, with Independents siding with Democrats on key issues. Independents though, tend to get erased by the media, so journalists can hyperventilate about American being “divided,” pretending we’re a 50-50 nation.
We are not. The recent ABC-Washington Post poll found that, “9 in 10 Democrats and more than 6 in 10 independents support school mask requirements, while nearly 6 in 10 Republicans oppose them.” There’s no way those results suggest a large “divide” on the issue — it’s basically two-against-one.
Not only are there three major parties, but the number of voters who identify as Republican has been steadily shrinking for years. The ABC-Washington Post poll, in order to get what it considered to be an accurate reflection of the U.S. electorate, conducted its survey where the makeup of respondents was 30 percent Democratic, 24 percent Republican, and 36 percent Independent.
So when the media breathlessly hypes polls that show 70 percent of Republicans oppose mask mandates, that doesn’t mean 70 percent of one half of the country opposes the rule. It means 70 percent of a shrinking minority party in this country stand opposed. (i.e. Roughly 20 percent of the total U.S. population contests mask requirements for schools today.)
We’re only truly “divided” when it comes to the Covid carnage in this country. In blue states in the Northeast the pandemic remains essentially over. That’s where low case, death, and hospitalization numbers remain the norm. In Florida and Texas, the virus is claiming victims at will, as Republican governors do everything in their power to put citizens at risk. Soon, the number of Covid deaths in both Florida and Texas could surpass the number of Americans who died in the Vietnam War.
The press ought to focus on that divide, and detail how the Republican Party and its leaders have made a conscious decision to prolong a deadly pandemic, even though a free and effective vaccine is available to stop it. It represents a stunning chapter in American history. Instead of focusing its attention on a conservative movement that is quite clearly killing its own, the press wallows in the shallow confines of its Divided narrative.
💻 GOOD STUFF:
The Washington Post’s Perry Bacon weighs in with a interesting look at Politico’s legacy. (I think it’s only going to get worse.)
Trump becoming president only exacerbated these media problems. The constant infighting in his administration and Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation were two stories that provided constant fodder for juicy insider stories. It seemed like the perfect match: a press corps of politicos had the ultimate Politico story. But the Trump story really wasn’t a Politico story. Looking back on Trump’s four years, the defining quality of his administration was not how it changed as various staffers got hired or fired but how it didn’t change: Trump pushed White identity politics with anti-democratic tactics from the moment he entered office to the moment he left.
🎸 FUN STUFF — BECAUSE WE ALL NEED A BREAK
Lucy Dacus, “Brando”
I’m such a Dacus fan — she becomes the first artist that I’ve featured three separate times at PRESS RUN. She’s a brilliant songwriter, especially when she’s excavating relationships, and her songs are all powered by a simmering Brooklyn vibe.
“Brando” comes from her new album, the irresistible Home Video, and it features one of my favorite lyrics of the year:
You called me "cerebral"
I didn't know what you meant
But now I do, would it have killed you
To call me pretty instead?
🎙 Click here to listen to the music that’s been featured on PRESS RUN, via a Spotify playlist.
Click hereto listen via Apple Music.