Jones’s central claim is nothing less dramatic than that she has uncovered a massive conspiracy in the third most populous state in the nation, and that, having done so, she has been ruthlessly persecuted by the governor and his “Gestapo.” Specifically, Jones claims that, while she was working at the FDOH last year, she was instructed by her superiors to alter the “raw” data so that Florida’s COVID response would look better, and that, having refused, she was fired. Were this charge true, it would reflect one of the most breathtaking political scandals in all of American history.
But it’s not true. Indeed, it’s nonsense from start to finish. Jones isn’t a martyr; she’s a myth-peddler. She isn’t a scientist; she’s a fabulist. She’s not a whistleblower; she’s a good old-fashioned confidence trickster. And, like any confidence trickster, she understands her marks better than they understand themselves. On Twitter, on cable news, in Cosmopolitan, and beyond, Jones knows exactly which buttons to push in order to rally the gullible and get out her message. Sober Democrats have tried to inform their party about her: “You may see a conspiracy theory and you want it to be true and you believe it to be true and you forward it to try to make it be true, but that doesn’t make it true,” warns Jared Moskowitz, the progressive Democrat who has led Florida’s fight against COVID. But his warnings have fallen on deaf ears. Since she first made her claims a little under a year ago, Jones has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars through multiple GoFundMe accounts (and, once she realized that she was losing a percentage to credit-card fees, through paper checks); she has become a darling of the online Left; and, by pointing to her own, privately run dashboard, which shows numbers that make Florida’s COVID response look worse than it has been, she has caused millions of people to believe quite sincerely that the state’s many successes during the pandemic have been built atop fraud. Stephen Glass, the famous writer-turned-liar who spent years inventing stories but got caught when he pushed it too far, could only have dreamed of such a result.
Critics argue that masking has become a form of virtue signaling. Mr. Biden reinforced that claim with his appeals to patriotism, which began during last year’s campaign as a rebuttal to the mask-resistant President Trump. But if wearing a mask conveys a political message, mandating it is constitutionally suspect. “No official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein,” Justice Robert Jackson wrote in West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette (1943), which held that forcing schoolchildren to salute the flag and recite the Pledge of Allegiance violated their freedom of speech.
To wear a mask in public is to affirm a viewpoint no less powerful than the Pledge of Allegiance: that Covid poses a crisis so dire as to demand unprecedented government control of our lives and a transformation of the norms of interpersonal behavior. Ubiquitous mask mandates make assent impossible to avoid except by breaking the law or staying home.
Officials would argue that they are regulating conduct, not expression, and that they are doing so to protect public health. A few months ago that defense almost certainly would have prevailed. The pandemic’s severity, coupled with the lack of effective means to control it, would have persuaded most judges to defer to the government’s contention that the danger of infection outweighed the right to dissent or any other rights (such as bodily autonomy) that plaintiffs might assert.
Now the facts have changed. The pandemic has receded rapidly, with the number of daily U.S. infections down 88% since its January peak and still declining. Since mid-April vaccines have been available free of charge to any adult in America. Almost 124 million Americans—including more than 47% of adults and nearly 73% of the vulnerable 65-and-over population—have been vaccinated fully. The CDC acknowledges implicitly with its latest guidance that vaccinated people are at trivial risk of contracting the virus or transmitting it to others.
Appearing on Good Morning America on Tuesday, Dr. Anthony Fauci admitted that his post-vaccination mask-wearing was meant to serve as a “signal” — rather than a genuine attempt to stem the spread of COVID-19. The admission came just weeks after Fauci scolded Senator Rand Paul for suggesting that his insistence on wearing a mask, despite being at virtually no risk of contracting or spreading COVID, constituted public health “theater.”
This was a different kind of fear to that felt by the public: fear not of the illness itself, but of its political fall-out. Politicians were terrified of failing in any step which might later be found to have saved lives. The virus might not represent a deadly threat to the vast majority of British people, but it could certainly be lethal to their own prospects for electoral success.
An insider tells Dodsworth that ministers fear ‘they’ll get hauled through the press for their own mistakes and that’s worse for them than ruining people’s businesses.’
This spectre still stalks Whitehall. I’m told that from March 2020 onwards, any Civil Servant minded to reject tough restrictions has simply been asked, ‘what will you tell the Inquiry?’ Few are brave enough to resist that threat. Yet it only works one way – deaths and suffering from Covid-19 may bring retribution. Deaths and suffering caused by restrictions are so unimportant to the decision-makers that they have not even bothered to consider whether the harm of measures may outweigh the benefits. Recovery has been campaigning since its launch for the coming Covid-19 inquiry to be comprehensive, investigating the full impact of the measures taken, positive and negative: this is why it’s so important.
(DBx: See today’s Quotation of the Day.)
When the pandemic hit, it was this sentiment that fuelled the widely agreed-upon notion that whatever Donald Trump wanted to do, the right, morally correct, caring thing was to do the opposite. If Trump wanted to close the borders to travellers from China, we wanted to keep them open (and suggest that closing them was racist.) If Trump wanted to reopen schools, we wanted to keep them closed (and, yes, suggest that reopening them was racist.) A with-us-or-against-us mentality emerged, making dissent dangerous; as one parent confided to a reporter, “If we say anything about wanting our kids to return to school, we’re painted as Trumpers.”
And if Trump disliked pandemic safety measures like lockdowns, distancing, and, most especially, masks? Then we were all for these things. The more Trump or his supporters railed against them, the more we dug in. Masks were good. Masks were great. And most importantly, masks were political: a symbol of tribal affiliation that was literally all over your face.
But when vaccinated people won’t remove their masks, they send the opposite message: that getting the vaccine changes nothing. Combined with visuals like this one — in which Kamala Harris wears a mask on a Zoom call, in a socially-distanced room where everyone present has been vaccinated — the impression being created by our political leadership and our media influencers is that the vaccines don’t work.
For a coalition that prides itself on caring about other people, the Left-wing pro-mask-even-after-vaccination folks are remarkably unconcerned that they might be discouraging their fellow Americans from participating in our most important life-saving public health measure. Instead, public responses to the vaccine-hesitant (including a video public service announcement that aired on the Jimmy Kimmel show) have been mainly centred on mocking them, an approach that does plenty to stoke existing tensions but very little to move us toward herd immunity.
At the end of a recent 800-meter race in Oregon, a high school runner named Maggie Williams got dizzy, passed out, and landed face-first just beyond the finish line. She and her coach blamed her collapse on a deficit of oxygen due to the mask she’d been forced to wear, and state officials responded to the public outcry by easing their requirements for masks during athletic events. But long before the pandemic began, scientists had repeatedly found that wearing a mask could lead to oxygen deprivation. Why had this risk been ignored?
One reason is that a new breed of censors has been stifling scientific debate about masks on social media platforms. When Scott Atlas, a member of the White House’s coronavirus task force, questioned the efficacy of masks last year, Twitter removed his tweet. When eminent scientists from Stanford and Harvard recently told Florida governor Ron DeSantis that children should not be forced to wear masks, YouTube removed their video discussion from its platform. These acts of censorship were widely denounced, but the social media science police remain undeterred, as I discovered when I recently wrote about the harms to children from wearing masks.
Facebook promptly slapped a label on the article: “Partly False Information. Checked by independent fact-checkers.” City Journal appealed the ruling, a process that turned out to be both futile and revealing. Facebook refused to remove the label, which still appears whenever the article is shared, but at least we got an inside look at the tactics that social media companies and progressive groups use to distort science and public policy.
The “independent fact-checkers” of my article are affiliated with a nonprofit group called Science Feedback, which has partnered with Facebook in what it calls a “fight against misinformation.” The group describes itself as “nonpartisan,” a claim that I would label “Mostly False” after studying dozens of its fact-checks enforcing progressive orthodoxy on climate change and public health. I didn’t see anything that would have displeased the journalists and officials promoting lockdowns and mask mandates. Nor did I see anything that would have displeased a Democrat, particularly during the last presidential campaign. In October, when Donald Trump was predicting that a vaccine was imminent, the group labeled that prediction “Inaccurate” and proclaimed that “widespread Covid-19 vaccination is not expected before mid-2021.” (Fact check: The vaccine rollout began in December.)
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