The Media Are Telling Americans To Mask Again. Why Would Anyone Listen to Them?

Portrait of man wearing surgical mask at home. Covid-19, coronavirus and quarantine concept.
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September 7, 2023

Mainstream media are pushing masks again in response to a rise in COVID-19 cases.

The media’s renewed advocacy comes in the face of mounting evidence that suggests masks do nothing to stop the spread of COVID-19—and without any real reckoning over the politicized reporting on masks during the pandemic.

What they're saying: "Experts say" exactly what they did in 2020.

USA Today: "The good news is, all the same protection measures that have existed since earlier in the pandemic will still work to avoid infection today, Long said. Those include:

"Wearing a high-quality, well-fitting respirator

"Avoiding crowds and people who are sick."

CNN: "Precautions like masking and staying up-to-date on vaccinations are especially important as this rise in Covid-19 carries into the broader respiratory virus season, experts say."

NPR: "The U.S. is seeing a late-summer spike in COVID cases, prompting some schools, hospitals and businesses to encourage—or even require—people to start masking up again. ...

"[Dr. Stephen Thomas, an infectious disease physician and professor at Upstate Medical University in Syracuse] says the combination of those factors prompted the decision to mandate masks—and it already appears to be helping."

OK, but: Few news outlets feel obliged to mention that, as the author of the gold-standard systematic review on the efficacy of masks put it earlier this year, "There is just no evidence that they make any difference. Full stop."

Nor are journalists rushing to revisit the downsides of masking, especially for children.

Flashback: The media probably got it right on masking the first time, albeit for the wrong reasons. Early in the pandemic, they parroted experts' proclamations that masks don't work.

But then experts started urging masking—with Dr. Anthony Fauci, the former White House health adviser and top masking scold, admitting he initially sought to prevent a run on then-scarce prophylactics—and Democratic politicians started mandating the practice. The media quickly embraced the role of partisan enforcer.

Flash forward: The latest round of masking coverage isn't as zealous as the first one, perhaps in part because experts' and Democrats' hearts don't seem to be in the fight.

Fauci has retreated to the position that "masks work at the margins" or "at the level of individual infections." And President Joe Biden, whose wife, Jill Biden, has COVID-19, joked with reporters on Wednesday about his flouting of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance on masks.

Biden, 80, going maskless while awarding the Medal of Honor to an 81-year-old Vietnam veteran on Tuesday was covered with a similarly light tone.

Associated Press: "To Mask or Not To Mask? Biden Goes Both Ways After First Lady Tests Positive for COVID-19":

Biden was at Tuesday’s Medal of Honor event for less than 15 minutes. CDC officials have used 15 minutes as a rough guideline for how long casual contact between two people can be for COVID-19 to spread, although it is possible for the virus to spread in less time.

The AP in late 2020 when then-President Donald Trump went maskless on the job?: "Trump, Still Infectious, Back at White House—Without Mask":

President Donald Trump staged a dramatic return to the White House Monday night after leaving the military hospital where he was receiving an unprecedented level of care for COVID-19. He immediately ignited a new controversy by declaring that despite his illness the nation should not fear the virus that has killed more than 210,000 Americans—and then he entered the White House without a protective mask.