Gov. Kim Reynolds was not too happy with a question from the Associated Press’ David Pitt on Tuesday.
Reynolds has ordered school districts in Iowa to instruct students in-person at least 50% of the school time when students return this fall. Some districts in Iowa are contemplating whether to defy that order.
Pitt told the governor he had listened to the concerns of those board members. He said they were concerned about students getting sick, or the prospect that teachers could die as a result of having in-person classes. He asked, “Is it inevitable, do you think, that we’re going to see a child get sick, a teacher, perhaps pass away … from this? And is it worth it?”
Reynolds responded, “This is part of the problem, the scare tactics that’s being laid out by the media.”
The reporter interjected that it wasn’t a fair comment for her to make. She eventually apologized, and gave this plea to the media: “I just, I want the media to give the numbers in context. … Help us, because I think you’re a part of the solution.”
Context is vital in journalism. But getting context isn’t always easy, particularly from the Reynolds’ administration. And the media can’t let the stonewalling from Reynolds hold up reporting on the COVID-19 pandemic. If stories are really without context like she claims, then she should place a higher emphasis on answering press inquiries.
The media, for months, has pleaded with this administration to be more transparent. In some cases, it’s to hold her administration accountable or to ensure what they say is being done is in fact being done. They insist they are being very transparent, a statement with minimal supporting evidence.
Many times, the media was hoping to gain additional context for their stories only to be stonewalled, ignored or dodged. (See Tuesday’s Ottumwa Courier for a rundown of the challenges media have faced from Reynolds in reporting on this pandemic.)
Let’s also remember the media isn’t a cheerleader. We must report this pandemic in a fair and honest way, but the media isn’t going to sugar-coat the numbers. Just because it isn’t framed in a way positive to the Reynolds administration doesn’t mean there’s a lacking of context.
The prospect of in-person instruction this fall is scary. There are mental health considerations for students. There are concerns with the health and safety of students if we do not return to in-person instruction. There are the hardships on families who would have to provide expensive and elusive care for their children outside of school. And of course, virtual learning is not a substitute, and continuing on that path could further jeopardize the quality of education of those in school.
But, the reporter’s question was fair. More than likely, mandating in-person instruction will lead to a lot of cases of the virus in the state, which will lead to more cases in each community. And while those cases will be mild or asymptomatic 80% of the time or more, there will be cases that lead to death. There’s nothing out of context about that.