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Shocked, shocked to find hypocrisy in humans | COMMENTARY

In this March 9, 2017, file photo, is the French Laundry restaurant in Yountville, Calif. California Gov. Gavin Newsom said in a statement Friday, Nov. 13, 2020, that he should not have attended a birthday dinner with a dozen people at the posh French Laundry restaurant, saying that he should have set a better example for a virus-fatigued state that is seeing steep increases in coronavirus cases. Newsom’s decision to attend was made as he’s been telling others to not mingle with others outside their households. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg, File)
In this March 9, 2017, file photo, is the French Laundry restaurant in Yountville, Calif. California Gov. Gavin Newsom said in a statement Friday, Nov. 13, 2020, that he should not have attended a birthday dinner with a dozen people at the posh French Laundry restaurant, saying that he should have set a better example for a virus-fatigued state that is seeing steep increases in coronavirus cases. Newsom’s decision to attend was made as he’s been telling others to not mingle with others outside their households. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg, File) (Eric Risberg/AP)

No precise estimate is available, but after watching an excess of cable television programming lately (call it my personal penance for living through the COVID-19 pandemic), I would say at least 40% of current news shows are composed of what I call “Hypocrisy Watch.” Someone somewhere has failed to live up to their moral code and an intrepid reporter is there to say, “Gotcha.”

One day it’s the governor of California sitting maskless at a fancy restaurant with people from multiple households close together, when he’s told his constituents to do none of those things (well, he didn’t lecture against eating pricey food, but you get the idea). The next it’s the mayor of Austin, Texas, posting a warning on Facebook against travel since this is “not the time to relax” — as he was vacationing in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was caught in a hair salon, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser traveled to Delaware to attend a Joe Biden rally, and Maryland dining even got some free publicity when a photo of Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney eating at the Chesapeake Inn Restaurant in Chesapeake City was posted on social media in late August.

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As journalism, this is cheap stuff. It used to be your transgression had to be pretty serious to warrant big headlines and excited, on-the-street TV stand-ups. The local minister getting caught in an affair? An oncologist sneaking a cigarette down the hall? A Weight Watchers counselor with love handles? No, no, no. Breathless coverage was reserved for famous people who truly abused their position, like televangelist Kenneth Copeland, who begs for money for his ministry but gave his wife a $200,000 Lamborghini SUV and owns three private jets.

But the COVID-19 pandemic appears to have changed all that. A lot of folks deeply resent stay-at-home orders, lockdowns, restrictions, suggestions, whatever you want to call them,” and they are looking for villains. Find anyone preaching restrictions but not following them? Well, that’s not just unacceptable, for many, that’s a deal-breaker. Why should I have to take coronavirus precautions when — fill in name here — doesn’t do that?” Although to be fair, the question is usually laced with a lot more colorful expletives. You probably haven’t heard about Rev. Copeland’s jets, but I bet you know about Gov. Gavin Newsom’s lavish dining. Thanks, Fox News.

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I’m not here to defend any of this behavior. Frankly, I resent anyone who can afford a $350-a-plate meal at the French Laundry no matter what their political affiliation or day job is. Give me some time, and I could probably get huffy about it, too. But I also have to be honest and recognize that I’m human. I have tried to do the right thing during the pandemic. I don’t do in-person restaurant dining. I wear a mask where it’s appropriate. My social life is pretty non-existent beyond my laptop. But am I perfect? Should I have visited Bethany Beach in October with my spouse? Do I replace my mask frequently enough? Should I have invited the neighbors to sit on my front porch? I’m doing the best I can with these strange circumstances. But is that enough?

I’ve been pondering this since the weekend, when word came out that Dr. Deborah Birx, coordinator of the White House coronavirus response, was revealed to have visited a Delaware beach resort, too. Only she did it the day after Thanksgiving (allegedly to ready the Fenwick Island property for sale), with three generations from two households, and it seems to be something of a pattern. As The Associated Press reported, she also regularly visits her home in Potomac, where her parents and daughter live. This is not ax murdering, but it doesn’t exactly square with best COVID-19 practices either. And so, she’s getting blasted on social media. On Tuesday, the 64-year-old told an interviewer from the website Newsy she will be happy to help the Biden transition “in any role that people think I can be helpful in” but will then retire from government service.

Is Dr. Birx the greatest public health practitioner on the planet? This I don’t know. I have heard quite a few doctors say she should have been much more outspoken months ago when President Donald Trump was making some misleading and harmful statements about the virus and its prospects for disappearing. Still, I just can’t get that worked up by the thought she counseled one set of behaviors for all Americans and then chose a slightly different one for herself. She made some wrong choices. It’s what we humans do from time to time. It doesn’t mean the rest of us should give up on doing our best to slow the spread of a virus that has taken hundreds of thousands of lives in this country. What I’d prefer to see is a little less holier-than-thou pontification — unless, of course, it extends to billionaire media barons like Rupert Murdoch getting a COVID-19 shot while misinformation about the vaccine is spread on his TV network. That I would probably enjoy.

Peter Jensen is an editorial writer at The Sun; he can be reached at pejensen@baltsun.com.

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