Here’s how local reporter Eric Ayres began his front-page article on the anti-maskers in Marshall County:
Scores of parents gathered in Moundsville on Friday night in the wake of the Marshall County Board of Education’s decision to require mask-wearing in school starting Monday — and none of them seemed to be happy about the new guidelines.
Ayres further explained:
The school board held an emergency meeting Thursday and voted to implement the new mask mandate. The district began the school year with a mask-optional policy in place, but the rising numbers of COVID-19 cases — and revised guidelines from the West Virginia Board of Education regarding contact tracing quarantines — prompted the board to strengthen the district’s stance. School officials in Marshall County this week said in light of these new guidelines, universal indoor masking procedures seemed to be the only means to maintain in-person learning through the lingering health crisis.
Concerned parents who gathered Friday night oppose these procedures, but were reluctant to speak out publicly.
Ayres, however, found a married couple who were willing to speak on the record. The rest of the article explains their point of view. This could have been a good article in which a reporter allows a point-of-view to be heard while making sure critical questions are asked of it. Sadly, Ayres skips the reporting to play the familiar role of Intelligencer stenographer who never asks a tough question nor asks for proof for any assertion. For example:
Amanda Bonar said there is little logic to the fact that students have to wear their mask on the bus, in the halls and during class, but not at lunch, on the playground or at the football games.
Here, Ayres could have provided context on what is known about the differences between how the virus spreads inside vs. outside or that eating is probably easier with the mask off. He could have asked Bonar about this but he apparently didn’t.
Additionally, Bonar twice asserts that masks are often “dirty” and consequently not effective. Ayres again lets it go unchallenged; he asks no follow-up questions, nor does he explain that other school districts provide clean masks when needed. (For example, off the bus and again, after cafeteria.)
Most importantly, Ayres never challenges Bonar’s conclusion that their “freedom” not to wear a mask gets to override everything else including other students’ and their families’ health. In the 6th paragraph, for example:
“If you want your kid to wear a mask, then let them, but don’t make our kids wear masks,” John Bonar said. “Give us the choice to do that. That’s our opinion.”
Two paragraphs later, Amanda tells us:
“If you feel your child is safer with a mask, then you deserve that right to be able to send your child to school wearing that mask. But if I feel that it’s not safe for my child, then I should be allowed the same right.”
Sadly, Ayres lets them both go unchallenged. I checked and here are today’s numbers for Marshall County:
56 new cases in one week for ages 5 to 15 in Marshall County – a number that is easily the largest of any of the age groupings. A reader can’t look at the statistics and not conclude that the virus is spreading quickly in these age groups. This increase did not start today – it has been getting worse since the schools reopened. Couldn’t Ayres have asked just one critical question of these anti-maskers: how would you slow this epidemic in school-age children? Unfortunately, the Intelligencer asked no tough questions of those who may be part of the problem.
The largest article in yesterday’s paper wasn’t about 9/11 or about the worsening coronavirus conditions in West Virginia. No, it was 1260 words devoted to uncritical coverage of coronavirus masks.
Look, I think it is important to understand why some West Virginian’s continue to oppose masks and are unwilling to take the coronavirus vaccine despite all the scientific evidence that encourages their use. I’m glad that the News-Register made the effort to publish something on why some oppose masks. However, interviewing such proponents ought not to be without at least some pushback. Unfortunately, the News-Register left all of the anti-mask assertions unchallenged. Once again, the locals sent a stenographer instead a reporter.