Media outlets uncritically repeat Biden remark that GOP governors are 'banning masks in school'

Media top headlines August 19

In media news today, Biden faces intense backlash for avoiding questions on Afghanistan following address, Biden says ongoing ‘chaos’ in the country was ‘priced’ into the withdrawal decision, and an MSNBC opinion piece compares Republicans to the Taliban

Multiple media outlets have repeated a misleading talking point from the Biden White House that some Republican governors are “banning masks” in schools, when they’ve only banned mask “mandates.”

Some governors like Florida’s Ron DeSantis, Arizona’s Doug Ducey, and Texas’ Greg Abbott have signed bans on school districts mandating masks, but students are still free to wear the face-coverings if they choose. 

However, President Joe Biden blurred the lines with his remarks Wednesday on mitigation efforts against COVID-19.

“We need to make sure children are wearing masks in school,” he said. “Unfortunately, as we’ve seen throughout this pandemic, some politicians are trying to turn public safety measures, that is children wearing masks in school, into political disputes for their own political gain. Some are even trying to take power away from local educators by banning masks in school. They’re setting a dangerous tone.”

A White House official told Fox News that Biden had not misspoken but instead used “shorthand” for governors who’d banned mask mandates. But the framing that Republicans are outright banning masks has been amplified by numerous outlets in headlines and tweets.

A New York Times headline Thursday stated, “The Biden administration will use a federal civil rights office to deter states from banning masks in classrooms.” The text of the story correctly noted, however, the fight was over Republicans preventing “local school districts from requiring masks to protect against the coronavirus.”

Other headlines pushing the misleading framing include Axios (“Biden directs Education Department to discourage states from banning masks”) and a USA Today opinion piece, (“Banning masks is dangerous – for kids, in-person schooling and grandstanding politicians”), although both also noted in their texts that the fight is about mandates.

Left-wing radio host and MSNBC opinion writer Dean Obeidallah accused DeSantis of “MANSLAUGHTER” and wondered why he hadn’t been “charged with crimes for BANNING masks at schools.”

CNBC anchor Kelly Evans recapped Biden’s speech Thursday night as, “President Biden called out Republican governors for banning masks in schools.” A CNN chyron on Anderson Cooper’s primetime program Thursday uncritically repeated, “Biden: Politicians banning masks in school are ‘setting a dangerous tone,'” and CNN Politics also failed to correct his comment in a tweet about his address. 

DeSantis’ office balked at Biden’s comments.

“It’s disinformation. They’re telling a lie on purpose to advance their political agenda,” DeSantis Press Secretary Christina Pushaw told Fox News. “We’ve corrected that many times. They’re aware it’s a lie.”

It hasn’t stopped with news outlets either. Teachers union president Randi Weingarten also framed the issue as governors “banning masks.”

The language has caught the attention of some reporters and media watchdogs.

Some school districts have received national attention for defying mask mandate bans in states like Texas and Florida, at the risk of losing state funding.

The Centers for Disease and Control and Prevention and other public health experts have recommended universal mask-wearing in schools, but debate still rages about their overall effectiveness, as well as the negative side effects for children and potential impairment of their social development.

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