The Resistance Is Cohering. And the Media is Part of It.

by James A. Bacon

I think Donald Trump might have enjoyed a longer honeymoon with the media than Governor Glenn Youngkin and Attorney General Jason Miyares. No, upon reflection, that’s not quite true. The media went into attack mode the day after Trump’s inauguration over the crowd-size controversy (a meaningless issue that Trump largely brought upon himself by his silly insistence that the crowd was bigger than it actually was). By contrast, the media waited three or four days to take out the knives for Youngkin and Miyares.

Hopefully, we can put at least one ginned-up media controversy to bed — the paranoid and ill-informed speculation that Miyares fired University of Virginia’s university counsel Tim Heaphy as a form of retribution for taking a leave of absence to work on the investigation into the Jan. 6 Capitol riots. There was never a shred of evidence to support the allegation and plenty of reason to believe otherwise, not the least of which was the denial of Miyares’ spokesperson at the time. Now Miyares himself has said emphatically on television (see the video clip above) that Heaphy’s involvement in the Jan. 6 investigation had “zero” role in the decision to cashier him. Got that? Zero! In case you missed it… zero!

As I review today’s news clips. The Washington Post, New York Times, Associated Press and other tentacles of the giant killer squid collectively known as the mainstream media appear to have dropped the story. No retractions, of course. No walk-backs. No apologies. But the giant killer squid has moved on to other prey, primarily Youngkin’s executive order making it optional for students to wear masks in schools.

Kerry Dougherty and Jim Sherlock have addressed the masking issue in other columns on Bacon’s Rebellion, so I won’t dwell on the merits here. My main interest is exploring what the controversy tells us about how the media will cover the Youngkin administration going forward.

After eight years of governance by Democratic governors Terry McAuliffe and Ralph Northam, Virginians have gotten accustomed to a complacent media. That’s not to say that the media were never critical. McAuliffe caught plenty of flak for his Greentech electric-vehicle imbroglio, and the media have covered important stories during the Northam administration such as the unemployment-insurance breakdown and parole-board excesses. And who can forget the media reaction over Northam’s blackface revelations (and how quickly it dropped the issue and conferred forgiveness)? So, no, I’m not saying the media were never critical of Democratic governors. But it didn’t go out of its way to fabricate controversies. To the contrary, it buried a lot of issues (covered by Bacon’s Rebellion) that turned out to be pivotal in getting him elected.

I certainly recall nothing like the furious reaction to a Northam policy initiative comparable to what we’re seeing with Youngkin’s executive school-masking order. As always, The Washington Post was the most aggressively one-sided in the framing of the issue. But it was hardly alone. Let’s review the headlines compiled in today’s edition of VA News:

Washington Post (news): “Seven school boards sue to stop Gov. Youngkin’s mask-optional order on the day it takes effect.” Wrote Hannah Natanson and Nicole Asbury: “Monday dawned full of chaos for Virginia schools as seven school boards sued to stop the mask-optional order by Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R)….”

Washington Post (editorial): “Mr. Youngkin puts education at risk.”

Washington Post (editorial): “We’re already seeing what a mistake Virginia’s voters made.”

Associated Press: “Youngkin faces new lawsuit as Virginia mask order kicks in.”

Virginia Mercury: “Youngkin’s mask order sparks lawsuits confusion and contention.”

Richmond Times-Dispatch: “Richmond among seven Virginia school boards suing Youngkin over order on masks in schools.”

Daily Press: “Hampton joins 6 Virginia school districts in lawsuit over Youngkin’s mask order.”

WTOP: “‘I’m a parent too’ — Va. Democrats, parents blast Youngkin’s order lifting mask mandates.”

WTOP: “‘It’s a balance’: Va. health commissioner on new COVID-19 guidance for schools.”

WTOP: “Fairfax Co. school officials say students without masks to be excluded from in-person learning.”

WTOP: “Masks off for some Loudoun Co. students.”

Richmond Times-Dispatch: “Hanover School Board unanimously votes to follow Youngkin’s mask-optional order.”

WCVE-FM: “Local teachers unions ask school districts to step up support for teacher and student safety.”

Virginian-Pilot: “Chesapeake teachers’ union organizes protest over masks, votes no confidence on school board.”

Roanoke Times: “Optional or not: Mask decisions continue among regional school divisions.”

WSLS-TV: “Botetourt County schools keep mask mandate until executive order is upheld in Virginia Supreme Court.”

You get the idea. Now, I will certainly concede that in the context of today’s politics, in which masking in schools has become a national issue, it is unsurprising that the media would focus on the issue. I have no problem with that. I will also note that the media has been covering the masking-in-schools issue since Youngkin announced his directive and that today’s headlines reflect the fresh angle on the ongoing story that several school boards have filed suit.

But notice how the issue has been framed: Youngkin is responsible for the controversy for having initiated the no-mandate order — not the local school districts that ordered the mandates in the first place. This formulation puts Youngkin on the defensive against attacks from Democrats, progressive school boards, teacher unions and the like.

Governing is a lot harder than campaigning, Youngkin is quickly finding. Since his victory, he had garnered a phenomenal amount of national media attention. Suddenly, Virginia is regarded as a bellwether for culture-war issues nationally. From the perspective of the Left, that makes Youngkin dangerous. Which means he must be contested at every turn. The Post, which has abandoned any pretense of objectivity and has fully embraced its role as a catalyst for systemic social change, will lead the charge. I expect Virginia Public Radio will follow in the same vein, though perhaps not as aggressively. Downstate newspapers, which still have a few old hands who strive for impartiality, will express their biases less consistently and forcefully but still follow the Post’s lead. (Television news seems more independent-minded — perhaps because its audience differs demographically from the educated elites who favor the Post and VPM.)

The Resistance is forming. The media is part of the resistance. Team Younkin had better get used to it. This is the new normal.