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Opinion: L.A. has a COVID-19 messaging crisis

Medical professionals work to revive a COVID-19 patient at Providence Holy Cross Medical Center in L.A.'s Mission Hills.
An EMT performs chest compressions on a COVID-19 patient at Providence Holy Cross Medical Center in Mission Hills.
(Jae C. Hong / Associated Press)

Good morning. I’m Paul Thornton, and it is Saturday, Dec. 5, 2020. You read that right: We’re in the 12th month of the year 2020. Let’s take a look back at the week in Opinion.

The reason 2020 feels like a blur in its closing weeks is because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and sadly we’re finishing the fourth quarter of the year much like we ended the first: at the precipice of a public health crisis that promises to bring about untold death and suffering. Nine months after many of us were sent home from work and told to hunker down for one or two months — three, max — how is it that the darkest days of the pandemic are still ahead of us?

Not being a health or scientific expert of any kind, I am in no position to pinpoint where our pandemic response went wrong (although I feel confident enough to say that having a presidential administration minimize the danger and instead hope for a “miracle” didn’t help). But as the L.A. Times editor responsible for considering and publishing letters from our readers, I can make educated guesses about the public’s mood at various points over the pandemic. And, to be frank, right now readers are expressing skepticism and outright hostility over guidelines and closures at the worst possible moment.

As the L.A. Times Editorial Board notes, it’s important for members of the public to heed stay-at-home and business closure orders at a time when coronavirus cases are setting new records. The state’s guidelines may be confusing, says the board, but they are grounded in science. Perhaps it would help if we had national leadership that encouraged Americans to follow public health guidance; in that regard, Jan. 20 cannot come soon enough.

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So, what’s the president doing before then? Lying about the election (hey, it’s as if the theme of this newsletter is 2020 ending how it began). Tempting as it may be, we cannot dismiss Trump’s conspiracy theorizing as the paranoid ramblings of a flailing, failed president. Columnist Nicholas Goldberg warns that Trump’s insistence the election was rigged follows the fascist playbook of unceasingly denying the truth to create an alternate “truth,” to the point that, in the words of George Orwell, the “very concept of objective truth is fading out of the world.” L.A. Times

Trump isn’t doing this alone; he has help from lawyers, and they’re abusing the courts. It’s one thing for politicians to indulge the president’s fantasies of rigged elections and overturning the vote; it’s another thing for his lawyers, who are officers of the court, to present cases to judges that have exactly no evidence. Those lawyers are breaking ethical rules, and it’s past time for them to be sanctioned, writes columnist and former U.S. Atty. Harry Litman. L.A. Times

Really, what were these California Democrats thinking? Back to the issue of COVID-19 messaging, the public’s growing unease with new lockdowns and restaurant closures may have something to do with the spate of prominent Democrats caught dining out even as they warned of the dangers of getting together with people outside their own households. To those who say it’s unfair to expect elected officials to model perfect behavior, editorial writer Mariel Garza has this to say: “Things aren’t fair for anyone right now. So, too bad.” L.A. Times

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Rep. Katie Porter does it again. Irvine’s newly reelected Democratic lawmaker, who’s become something of a social media darling for her straightforward and sometimes merciless questioning of stone-cold bureaucrats and hack Republicans, may have had her best performance yet with Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin. He invited the smackdown he deserved when he smugly asked the Harvard Law School graduate and current UC Irvine law professor, “Are you a lawyer?” Vanity Fair

Trying to end homelessness is good; trying for force homeless people off the streets isn’t. Housed residents of neighborhoods in Los Angeles with large encampments of homeless people are understandably frustrated, but the solution isn’t to force people into shelters they would rather not be in, says the editorial board: “Instead of concentrating on how to clear the sidewalks, the city should be concentrating on creating the kind of shelter people will stay in.” L.A. Times

Stay in touch.

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As always, you can share your feedback by emailing me at paul.thornton@latimes.com.


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