I’ve been pleased recently to see that the fact-checkers at The Associated Press, who never refuted so many statements and with such apparent glee as they did during the Trump presidency, have not let their enthusiasm for exposing exaggerations and falsities go flaccid in the Biden era.
Which is not to say the media organization is quite finished with the erstwhile resident of the White House. It’s as if the AP, after more than four years of mining unparalleled riches, refuses to stop digging for new offshoots from the glittering vein that was the Trump administration.
Although not even the most naive observer of political journalism could believe that the media have been as aggressive in covering Biden as they were with Trump, the AP’s fact check following Biden’s address to Congress last month was to me refreshingly blunt.
Biden, for instance, in talking about immigration, touted his efforts as vice president during Barack Obama’s presidency, saying “The plan was working, but the last administration decided it was not worth it.”
Anyone who’s not a mindless Biden acolyte recognizes how vapid that claim is.
And the AP, to its credit, didn’t equivocate.
“That’s wrong,” was the AP’s assessment.
The fact-checkers bolstered that by noting that the Trump administration sent similar amounts of financial aid to Central America as the Obama administration did, yet the number of unaccompanied children crossing the U.S. border from Mexico in March 2021 was the highest on record.
The AP also challenged Biden’s claim that his economic plan, including spending $2.3 trillion on “infrastructure” (a term that, as the Biden administration defines it, apparently includes money to build a garage on my property), is supported by a “broad consensus of economics — left, right, center — and they agree that what I’m proposing will help create millions of jobs and generate historic economic growth.”
The reality, the AP concluded, is that Biden is “glossing over the naysayers.”
Those include Larry Summers, who was Obama’s top economic and treasury secretary during Bill Clinton’s presidency. Summers, the AP pointed out, has “warned that Biden’s relief package risks rates of inflation not seen in a generation.”
Yet even as the AP was subjecting Biden’s claims to the unflattering mirror of reality, its fact-checkers also got in a few digs, albeit indirectly, at Trump.
The story, though it focused on Biden’s speech, took on a couple statements from Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina, who gave the Republican response.
(A tradition, by the way, which ought to be scrapped. One partisan speech per evening should be the legal limit.)
Scott credited the Trump administration for contributing to the rapid development of COVID-19 vaccines, noting that “our country is flooded with safe and effective vaccines.”
The AP, reverting to its previous curious standard when it comes to any statement that praises Trump, deemed Scott’s claim “a real stretch.”
But the AP’s support for that conclusion — and I’m being charitable — is sketchy.
The fact-checkers could hardly ignore the fact that vaccines exist, and that the Trump administration’s Operation Warp Speed helped to make that possible.
But the AP was not deterred by the absence of a compelling counterclaim to Scott.
Instead, the fact-checkers’ tepid response was that “several state governors were complaining about jumbled signals from Trump’s team” regarding vaccine availability during the last month of his presidency.
The AP doesn’t name any of the governors, but it seems likely that the list would include Oregon Gov. Kate Brown. Trouble is, she was complaining about the Trump administration even while Oregon had stockpiles of thousands of doses of vaccine it apparently was incapable of distributing.
The fact-checkers conclude with what, given the subject of Scott’s statement, qualifies as a non sequitur: “Trump was focused on his campaign to overturn the election results and did not devote much public attention to the pandemic as his term came to an end.”
That’s a reasonably fair assessment.
What it has to do with Scott pointing out that the country is “flooded with safe and effective vaccines,” is another matter.
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The purveyors of consumer products, perhaps the keenest observers of contemporary culture, have gone all in on the pandemic.
In the hypercompetitive marketplace, the most agile players tend to thrive, of course, while the plodders fail. And certain companies have pursued the unique opportunities that COVID-19 has presented like so many cheetahs latching onto a hapless wildebeest.
Some of these gambits are so obvious that they hardly require an MBA to recognize.
We’ve all seen the proliferation across all media in advertisements for face masks, for instance, a product previously of interest mainly to the relatively few among us who work regularly with caustic chemicals or paint a lot of cars.
But the virus has also created profit niches that aren’t so predictable.
The other day I watched a TV ad for what at a cursory glance seemed to be a typical swiveling office chair.
Except the typical swiveling office chair, at least in my experience with the breed, is not capable of massaging your lower back and warming your kidneys while you’re sitting in it, tapping away at a keyboard or giggling at YouTube videos of people trying to skateboard down flights of concrete stairs.
The target audience for this chair isn’t an office drone or an executive, however, but rather workers who have sought, or have been required, to hunker at home to keep clear of COVID-19.
The chair, besides its ability to knead your knotted muscles and keep your internal organs toasty, boasts several other features — I don’t recall the details — designed to appeal to homebound employees.
My initial reaction to the ad was a grudging admiration for whoever decided that tinkering with a simple piece of furniture could tempt people who didn’t realize they needed an office chair to sign up for the easy payment plan.
But as I watched the actor relax in the chair and participate in a Zoom (or at least Zoom-like) meeting with a beatific smile that was about as convincing as the woodgrain in a 1974 Pinto, my appreciation for the marketing savvy was replaced by dismay.
It struck me that the scenario that plays out in the commercial might not be so temporary after all — that employees padding around in pajamas rather than business casual might remain commonplace even after we’ve banished the pandemic to history.
This isn’t wholly negative, to be sure.
COVID-19 has ravaged our economy, but the damage certainly would have been worse if not for modern communication technology — some of which wasn’t available as recently as a decade or so ago — that kept certain sectors running even as offices closed.
Yet the possibility that the trend precipitated by the worst pandemic in a century could insinuate itself into society on a more permanent basis seems to me the grimmest of prospects.
I don’t believe we will prosper, in the long run, from making murky the formerly distinct boundary between home and work.
When our homes cease to be refuges — the places where we can relax after the travails of the workday, and recognize them as trivial compared with the joys of family — then I fear we will have lost something that can’t be replaced.
Jayson Jacoby is editor of the Baker City Herald.