Editorial: Hey, politicians, if you make a rule you’ve got to follow it too

Gov. Gavin Newsom  in Los Angeles County Monday.
Gov. Gavin Newsom answered questions at a press conference in Los Angeles County Monday about the photos in which he was maskless at SoFi Stadium the day before.
(Carolyn Cole/Los Angeles Times)

Widespread anger over Gov. Gavin Newsom’s maskless night out at the French Laundry in the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic should have been a lesson absorbed by politicians throughout California: People expect government officials to follow the rules they make.

Really, it’s nothing new that elected officials are held to a higher standard. After all, they are making decisions that affect our lives and livelihoods. But the feeling has become heightened during the pandemic, as officials at every level of government asked people to make personal sacrifices to control the spread of the virus, yet seemed to have a hard time doing the same.

So there was understandable outrage when Newsom, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and San Francisco Mayor London Breed were photographed without masks during Sunday’s NFC championship game at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood. The three Democrats have championed some of the nation’s most restrictive COVID-19 mitigation measures — good rules that have undoubtedly saved lives. Among those state and local rules are requirements that spectators mask up at events with large crowds, such as the football game — except when “actively eating or drinking.”


Yet, in many photos taken during Sunday’s game, Newsom, Garcetti and Breed were seen posing with NBA legend Earvin “Magic” Johnson and other VIPs without a mask.

Newsom and Garcetti say they removed their masks only for photos, which is impossible to verify. And we have to ask, in all seriousness, what were they thinking?

Surely they knew that these images would strike Californians as hypocritical and make them question whether they should stop wearing masks themselves. The images are already being used in the debate, with Los Angeles County Supervisor Kathryn Barger pointing them out to make the case for scrapping mask rules — a call that may grow louder.

Newsom was unapologetic during a news conference Monday. “I was trying to be gracious and took the mask off for a brief second.”

The group was attending the game that saw the Los Angeles Rams defeat the San Francisco 49ers to advance to the Super Bowl.

Jan. 31, 2022

He stopped short of calling it a mistake, saying half the word (“I made a mis—”) before refining his message. His first inclination was correct. It was a mistake to take off his mask at the game. Perhaps not as damaging as his dinner at the French Laundry (which very likely factored into the qualification of a recall the following year), but still harmful to his credibility and the efforts of public health officials to get people to observe infection control measures.


Garcetti apparently made the same miscalculation. His spokesperson, Alex Comisar, told an editorial writer that the mayor “was wearing the mask the entire time and took it off for a few photos.” Garcetti was holding a mask in the photo Johnson posted on Twitter.

Two years into this nightmarish pandemic, we are all tired of covering our faces. Images from the game Sunday showed very few fans wearing masks. But Newsom and Garcetti are among the government leaders saying that masks are necessary in crowded settings. If they expect people to follow the rule, they must show that they’re following it too.