The New York Times Assumes a Scientific Consensus on School Mask Mandates That Its Own Reporting Shows Does Not Exist
The Department of Education this week announced investigations of five states that have told public schools they may not force students to wear face masks as a safeguard against COVID-19. Because the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has recommended “universal masking” in K–12 schools, Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona says, those states may be violating federal laws that ban discrimination against people with disabilities. Among other things, that argument assumes a nonexistent scientific consensus that mask mandates in schools are a minimum requirement for resuming in-person instruction.
If you are a regular reader of The New York Times, you could be forgiven for thinking that resistance to mask mandates is irrational at best and crassly partisan at worst, sacrificing the safety of children to score cheap political points. “Many states have urged localities to return to in-person schooling while promoting policies that conflict with the goal of educating young people in safety,” the paper lamented in a recent editorial. “As of early August, only 29 states had recommended that students wear masks—down from the 44 states that did so last fall—and nine states had banned masking requirements.” The Times commended President Joe Biden for taking “the right approach” by using the Education Department’s “broad authority” to “deter the states from barring universal masking in classrooms.”
Times columnist Jamelle Bouie cites opposition to school mask mandates by Republicans such as Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott as evidence that Republicans do not “actually want the pandemic to end.” In a Times opinion piece published earlier this month, Duke University pediatrician Kanecia Zimmerman and
The Times even ran an essay in which University of Louisville research psychologist Judith Danovitch took it for granted that all sensible, scientifically informed people recognize that mask mandates are necessary, then proceeded to argue that such requirements have secondary, character-building benefits. They instill self-discipline, she argued, and deter kids from biting their nails or picking their noses.
The pro-mandate position also pervades news coverage of the issue in the Times. Here is the opening sentence of a story published today: “As a new coronavirus wave accelerated by the Delta variant spreads across the United States, many Republican governors have taken sweeping action to combat what they see as an even more urgent danger posed by the pandemic: the threat to personal freedom.” That is a pretty glib way to dismiss the substantial burdens imposed by mask mandates, which add daylong discomfort and anxiety to an environment that was not exactly fun to begin with, distract teachers and students who must enforce and comply with the rule, and interfere with learning, communication, and social interaction.
To its credit, the Times also has made room for dissenting voices,
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