Who cares if Biden wears a mask?

A media non-story

  
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After a reporter last week asked President Joe Biden, yet again, why he still sometimes wears a mask while being fully vaccinated, CNN's Jake Tapper highlighted the question during Sunday's "State of the Union." "Is it really necessary for a fully vaccinated person to wear a mask at a limited indoor gathering, if everyone there is vaccinated?" he asked White House advisor Jeffery Zients.

Then Tapper asked again: "Why does President Biden, in a room full of vaccinated journalists, with everybody in that room vaccinated, why does he need to wear a mask?"

One month earlier, Tapper pressed White House advisor Anita Dunn on the same topic, stressing that Biden "doesn't seem to be following" CDC guidelines on masks.

It's slightly jarring that in the wake of the Trump presidency, when Americans were urged to inject bleach as a way to combat Covid-19, that Biden sometimes wearing a cloth facial covering is treated as a pressing news story by the Beltway media. And the recent emphasis isn't just on Biden. More journalists are setting their judgmental sights on those vaccinated liberals who remain cautious and continue to wear masks, dubbing them "pandemic addicts," "irrational" and "odd."  

The focus is absurd. I live in what's considered to be a liberal community, and the idea that vaccinated residents here categorically refuse to part ways with their masks is preposterous. It's simply not a thing, yet journalists seem obsessed with the idea that it's a widespread phenomenon among stubborn progressives.

Also, wearing a mask while being fully vaccinated is a personal choice, and it's a choice that has no effective downside, so why is the press so focused on the topic?

As one Twitter follower of mine wrote after I raised concerns about the media's weird mask coverage, "So many of us lost love ones this past year or got really sick and they act like there is something nefarious to being cautious for a little while longer."

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Make no mistake, the media mask fixation comes straight from Fox News, which pressed Biden on his mask wearing practices just hours after he was sworn into office. Tucker Carlson has since declared,  “the only people who wear masks outside are zealots and neurotics.”

The ongoing mask coverage comes with an unmistakable whiff of Both Sides journalism, as journalists insist both liberals and conservatives “ignore the science” during the pandemic. But like most media Both Sides equations, this one is comically imbalanced — vaccinated liberals who keep wearing a mask cause no harm to anybody, whereas conservatives who refused to wear a mask during the pandemic helped spread a deadly virus that claimed more than 600,000 American lives.

The most aggressive example of the media finger pointing came from a recent piece in The Atlantic headlined, "The Liberals Who Can’t Quit Lockdown." Painting progressive as detached from reality in 2021, and weirdly committed to living their lives by pandemic era protocols, The Atlantic insisted, “diligence against COVID-19 remains an expression of political identity."

And this:

Even as scientific knowledge of COVID-19 has increased, some progressives have continued to embrace policies and behaviors that aren’t supported by evidence, such as banning access to playgrounds, closing beaches, and refusing to reopen schools for in-person learning. 

Yet the anecdotal examples The Atlantic linked to in that paragraph — closing beaches, banning access to playgrounds — were events that took place last year.

Meanwhile, the supposed news hook for the Biden mask fixation is the idea that by occasionally wearing one he's causing people not to get vaccinated because he's signaling there's no light at the end of the tunnel, or that the vaccine doesn't work. The evidence is overwhelming that the people who refuse to get vaccinated are made up largely of white, conservative, Trump supporters who have treated the pandemic as a partisan issue and who refused to wear masks last year.

Taking their cues from Trump who spent much of 2020 mocking people who wore masks as being "politically correct," they lean towards thinking the virus was a hoax. The idea that those entrenched Republicans are now looking to a president they uniformly dislike for guidance on the pandemic, and that if he sometimes wears a mask it will deter them from getting vaccinated, defies logic.

Instead, the Biden mask coverage seems to be driven by a silly gotcha premise: The CDC says fully vaccinated people don't have to wear masks, so why's he wearing mask? It's like when reporters kept asking why Biden was flying to Delaware to be with his family on the weekends at a time when the CDC was urging people to avoid airplane travel. (Spoiler: Biden doesn't have to pass through a crowded airport while flying on Air Force One.)

Note that there is a smart, interesting way to cover the story of vaccinated people who still prefer to wear masks, without the drenching the coverage in judgment. A recent piece in The Guardian noted the mask-wearing trend, "has nothing to do with being pro-science or anti-science, liberal or conservative, they said. Instead, it’s about the fact that there are more things that can hurt them than viruses, including the aggressive or unwelcome attention of other people – or even any attention at all."

In other words, the once-in-a-century pandemic has altered how we live in so many ways, and some people choosing to wear a mask while vaccinated is just one small example.

It ought to be obvious for the media that the pressing pandemic story today is not about Americans who choose to still wear a mask, it's about Trump loyalists who refuse to get vaccinated.

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(Photo: Alex Wang/Getty Images)

GOOD STUFF:

Pushing back on the Beltway narrative about masks is Boston Globe columnist Renée Graham and her excellent piece, “I’m Fully Vaccinated. I’m Still Wearing a Mask Outdoors”:

My own mask caution is also informed by sorrow. As a Black woman, I have seen my community devastated by the pandemic. Because of the racial inequities baked into this nation and its institutions, Black people have suffered disproportionately higher rates of infection, hospitalization, and death than white people. And more because of access than hesitancy, they are now getting vaccinated at a significantly slower pace.

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FUN STUFF — BECAUSE WE ALL NEED A BREAK

Dinosaur Jr., “I Ran Away”

The pride of Amherst, Mass., J. Mascis’ Dino Jr. just keeps putting out great records, decade after decade.

Co-produced by Kurt Vile, who also plays the 12-string guitar here, “I Ran Away” features the band’s signature indie rock sound with a $100 hook and lyrics that remain eternally baffling.

Keep it now and keep the sound
All the pieces that you found
Fit together just to reach you
Hold up outta town
In the head's a jumbled mess
Like to sort this out instead
I can't hold on just to meet you
Push out all the rest

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