Commentary: Green and Van Huss Unmasked as Disinformation Purveyors

Tennessee House of Representatives Chambers (Photo: Tennessee Secretary of State)
Tennessee House of Representatives Chambers (Photo: Tennessee Secretary of State)

As June drew to a close two Tennessee Republicans, one congressman and one state legislator, unmasked themselves as purveyors of pandemic misinformation mixed with unhealthy doses of blather.

On Friday, June 26, Congressman Mark Green led a Republican refuse-to-wear-masks revolt at an in-person oversight subcommittee hearing.  Green represents Tennessee’s 7th District.  He formerly served in the Tennessee Senate, is a retired Army major, and a physician.

Green bloviated at the meeting that he could “cite many other professionals” who advised against protective face coverings, but he did not cite any such professionals.  No doubt he could scour the online world to find a contrarian or two to quote, maybe even a doctor (Stangelove? Moreau? Feelgood?).   Those who specialize in summarizing the best available scientific research disagree.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends wearing face masks in public.  The World Health Organization estimates mask wearing could reduce viral transmission by as much as 85 percent.

U.S. Rep. Mark Green (Photo: Wikipedia)
U.S. Rep. Mark Green (Photo: Wikipedia)

Subcommittee chair James Clyburn was having none of Green’s nonsense.  Clyburn threatened to go to online meetings if members go unmasked.  He implored his colleagues to adhere to the mask guidance of the congressional attending physician.  Green never put on a mask during the hearing, and said he would continue to tell his Tennessee constituents not to wear masks unless they were in a high-risk group.  As the pandemic gets worse across the U. S. South and West, we’d be better advised that the primary benefit of masks is to others—reducing transmission from asymptomatic (often unknowing) carriers to vulnerable persons in a circle of family, friends, and work associates.

In Nashville, our chagrin comes from State Representative James “Micah” Van Huss (R-Jonesborough).  One June 18, as our legislature rushed to adjournment, Van Huss got his colleagues to vote, 55 to 19, for a resolution (HR 340) bashing the media for supposed mask and distancing hypocrisy.

The Van Huss screed asserts that “the mainstream media have been consumed by pandemic reporting almost exclusively for months.”  Nope, it’s a huge event, but reports can be found on the flailing economy, Attorney General Bill Barr’s machinations to vindicate Trump, police reform protests, campaign polling, and a host of developments.

Green never put on a mask during the hearing, and said he would continue to tell his Tennessee constituents not to wear masks unless they were in a high-risk group. 

Van Huss then claims “the media shamed and criticized those who wanted to re-open their businesses, gather at the beach, or to be in church services,” but did not do so in reporting on “protests and riots would require the media to frankly criticize the same groups they have consistently sought to promote.”  It took a long series of torturous assertions and observational bias before Van Huss gets to his media duplicity conclusion.

Apparently, he did not see the many reporters consistently wearing masks as they covered field stories on all topics, nor did he take note of the numerous peaceful protests where people wore masks and tried to maintain social distance.  He did not hear the live commentary on whether all types of gatherings could yield virus spreading, and Van Huss certainly did not distinguish between the threats in closed indoor events and outdoor protests.

Rep. Micah Van Huss (Official photo: Tennessee General Assembly)
Rep. Micah Van Huss (Official photo: Tennessee General Assembly)

Van Huss then congratulated the people of Tennessee “for clearly seeing that the mainstream media has sensationalized the reporting on COVID-19 in the service of a political agenda.”  The verb should be “have.”  Media are plural, but Van Huss wants us to view the whole thing singularly and simplistically.

During discussion, Rep. Jason Zachary (R-Farragut) congratulated Van Huss on removing specific “fake news” slams on CNN and the Washington Post, then he gleefully joined the GOP supermajority in passing the item—with no one taking note of the growing number of Tennessee COVID-19 cases, something foreshadowed by news coverage of the rush to re-open, and lax attitudes toward masks and distancing.

Freelance photographer Linda Tirado in Minneapolis was shot by a something she believes was a rubber bullet, and was blinded in her left eye.  A television reporter in Louisville, Kentucky, was struck by a police pepper ball while live on the air.  CNN audiences watched live as reporter Omar Jimenez was detained by police even as he collaborated with police location requests.  The next day he noted that a cameraman and his producer were struck by rubber bullets.  None of them need or deserve any carping from Van Huss (from the safety and comfort of home or legislative chamber) about how to do their jobs.

Perhaps we should craft our own resolution.  Whereas, Representative Micah Van Huss and 54 of his colleagues prefer blame-the-messenger distractions to solid public policy on pandemic precautions.  Therefore, be it resolved by thoughtful readers that Tennessee needs to elect much better legislators, and soon.