Americans are a cynical lot these days. There is likely no single cause or explanation. However, there are plenty of examples in the news over the past two years which undoubtedly promoted darkness and mistrust, at least as it relates to government officials, increasingly so at the state level, and the mainstream media.
Much of the cynicism towards the media predates the pandemic. Consider two stories from the same month—January 2019. Recall Covington Catholic High student Nick Sandmann who nervously stared at a Native American man who taunted him after a pro-life march in Washington D.C. The media mob jumped on the fact that Sandmann and his white classmates were wearing red MAGA hats. They were summarily convicted in the press of bigotry.
Zack Beauchamp of left-leaning Vox admitted, “the Covington videos are kind of Rorschach test, showing each side seeing what it wants to in a way that’s more revealing about their own worldviews than the actual incident. The left, which sees white supremacy as one of its fundamental enemies, was… too quick to identify Sandmann and his classmates as villains.” He added, “Would this event have gone viral if the Covington boys weren’t wearing MAGA hats? My guess: There’s a decent chance the answer is no.”
Left with egg on their faces one would have hoped the media would have learned from this. But just eleven days later the media lapped up black actor Jussie Smollett’s story that he was attacked by masked men in MAGA hats. But again, within days, we all learned Smollett staged the whole thing. Surely the media was chastened and shamed by their coverage of both you would think? Hardly.
Fast forward to summer 2020 for another pair of incidents that occurred within days of each other. First there was the rioting and looting that began in Minneapolis after George Floyd’s shooting. The media mob took great pains to frequently use the term “peaceful protests” to describe what was happening. Ali Velshi of MSNBC News famously said this while live on the air with buildings burning behind him: “I want to be clear on how I characterize this. This is mostly a protest. It is not, generally speaking, unruly.” In other words, don’t believe your lying eyes.
Then came the NASCAR driver Bubba Wallace’s noose incident that wasn’t. In traditional fashion, the media mob proclaimed the mostly white male sport had a problem before the FBI determined Wallace, who is black, was not the victim of a hate crime. The pull rope in question had been on a garage door at Talladega Superspeedway up to almost a year before Wallace was even assigned the space.
The latter two instances took place during the 2020 Coronavirus global pandemic. Understandably there was angst all year, and Americans turned not just to the media for information but to elected officials and scientific experts. It would be right to be somewhat forgiving, as little was known in the early weeks. Nonetheless the mask fiasco is likely where cynicism was bred. Experts dismissed and even implored us not to wear or even to buy masks, telling us they were only necessary for front line workers. We quickly learned that experts really meant to discourage panic buying when a shortage loomed.
This was followed by a series of actions, most notably in so-called “blue states” from Democrat governors, to severely curb freedoms in the name of safety. But so many of the early regulations failed the most basic laugh tests, yet they were seriously and strictly enforced. A single paddleboarder getting exercise was pursued by law enforcement on jet skis in southern California early on in the pandemic. Florida was among the first to fully reopen beaches and encourage folks to enjoy recreation. California opened beaches later but of course, with caveats. No stopping. No sitting on a towel. Walking or running only.
An early absurd rule change from TSA waived the 3.4 ounce rule for hand sanitizer, but that liquid only. Not shampoo. Not contact lens solution. This led Dan Kois of slate.com to ask, “If people are now allowed to bring 12-ounce bottles of hand sanitizer onto planes, won’t the planes blow up?”
The continued school closures in the fall flew in the face of all science, of course, yet many governors and mayors, including in New York state and New York City, could not have cared less. Better to make a deal with teachers’ unions, a powerful Democrat constituency. The Los Angeles Teacher’s Union demanded these before even considering going back to the classroom: a moratorium on private schools, defunding the police, higher taxes on the wealthy, Medicare for all, and passage of the HEROES Act. The latter was a massive far-left bill that embarrassed even moderate Democrats with its call for stimulus checks to illegal aliens.
The lunacy continued even in the waning weeks of 2020. California’s draconian and misguided policy on all restaurants essentially put padlocks on them all, though exemptions were carved out for Hollywood elites. In New York, a curious new rule in November required you order an appetizer if you wanted a cocktail. Still other states put odd time controls on establishments, as if Coronavirus stopped at 10:01 pm.
This is but a smattering of examples of media coverage and government actions that have sewn cynicism. You could easily add the Russia hoax, prolonged impeachment, and many more. As for coronavirus restrictions, Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-TX) said it best: “For laws to be respected they must be respectable.” So many were not, and so many still shamefully persist.
Jeff Szymanski works in political communications for AMAC, a senior benefits organization with over 2.3 million members.