The New York Times attempts to shift blame for America's Covid-19 disaster onto governors

The New York Times attempts to shift blame for America's Covid-19 disaster onto governors
Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer addresses reporters.

On Sunday, The New York Times reported that "it is clear many governors underestimated the coronavirus and rushed to reopen before their states were ready." That story ran under the headline, "After Asking Americans to Sacrifice in Shutdown, Leaders Failed to Control Virus." (If "leaders" strikes you as a bit too generic considering the circumstances, you aren't alone.)


"There was 'real hubris' on the part of public health officials at the very start," according to the piece. It acknowledges that expectations that the lockdowns would end quickly and bring a swift return to normality were "reinforced by President Trump, who has downplayed the severity of the crisis, refused to wear a mask and began calling for states to open even as the virus was surging."

A lack of federal leadership also meant that states lacked a unified approach. With no clear message from the top, states went their own ways. A number of them failed to use the shutdown to fully prepare to reopen in a careful manner. As Americans bought precious time trying to keep the virus at bay, experts advised that states urgently needed to establish a robust system for tracking and containing any new cases — through testing, monitoring and contact tracing. Without this, the pandemic would simply come roaring back.

Clearly, a number of governors have managed the pandemic just as poorly as Donald Trump. Outbreaks in Florida and Texas are on the verge of spiraling out of control.  We can debate how much blame should be apportioned to governors given that we haven't had a coherent national strategy to contain the outbreak at any point.

We might also forgive The New York Times for not mentioning that Trump demanded governors that say nice things about him in order to get disaster assistance, or that states had to compete for vitally needed personal protection equipment, only to see it seized by the federal government on a number of occasions.

We might even overlook the fact that Trump tried to shift blame for the economic fallout from the pandemic onto governors by demanding that states re-open even before his own lockdown "recommendation" had expired.

What is truly unforgivable, and really amounts to media malpractice by the "paper of record" is that this piece does not mention that Trump and his party have steadfastly refused to include aid to state and local governments in the $3.6 trillion in Covid-19 relief funds doled out by the federal government to date.

The lockdowns have decimated state revenues even as their healthcare and other safety-net costs spiked. States are limited in their ability to borrow, so they've faced intense pressure to try to get their economies moving again to avoid massive layoffs that economists say would turn a crippling recession into another Great Depression.

This is not a both-sides thing. Last month, the Democratically-controlled House passed a relief bill with $1 trillion for aid to state and local governments, which the White House and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell firmly rejected.

As I noted in April, McConnell's "blue state bailout" rhetoric, parroted by the conservative media, was nonsense. The GOP enjoys unified control over 21 states, while the Democrats enjoy governing “trifectas” in just 15. Republicans also hold more governorships–26 to the Dems’ 24. Almost all states are facing budget shortfalls as a result of the pandemic.

So why were they so vehement about not helping state governments? The answer is simple: Trump and his party had concluded that his best hope for re-election was to act as if the pandemic was over and re-open the economy, and denying aid to state governments was both a means of coercing states to do so over the objections of public health experts and a way of spreading around the blame if it caused a (predictable) spike in infections.

Now that we are in fact seeing major new outbreaks in more than half of the states, The New York Times, with its short memory and "view from nowhere" reporting, appears intent on assisting them in that project, even if doing so leaves their readers less informed. That's unforgivable.

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