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Messenger: Missouri’s governor navigates a sea of COVID-19 troubles

Messenger: Missouri’s governor navigates a sea of COVID-19 troubles

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Pardon me while I butcher Shakespeare.

I come here today not to bury Gov. Mike Parson, but to praise him. You might have heard that this past week, as the delta variant of COVID-19 raged through Missouri, particularly in the southwest part of the state where Parson grew up and still lives, the governor announced a new $10,000 incentive program to encourage folks to get vaccinated.

Missouri has one of the lowest vaccination rates in the country, and has since the vaccination process started last year. That is contributing to the surge of COVID-19 cases, in which Missouri again ranks among the worst states in the country.

If you saw Parson’s announcement, you might have also seen his statement that referred to three publications in the state — the Post-Dispatch, the Kansas City Star, and the Missouri Independent — as propaganda. Folks who work in the mainstream media don’t usually take kindly to such deceit from the governor. But if the goal is encouraging vaccination among the sorts of folks who listen to Parson, then I’ll tolerate it.

Let me explain.

Many years ago, I attended a political event in Barry County, in far southwest Missouri, while Congressman Roy Blunt was running for the U.S. Senate. It was early in my tenure at the Post-Dispatch. Blunt, in his opening remarks, made a joke at my expense, about the big-city St. Louis reporter following him around. Be nice to him, Blunt said, pointing at me. Everybody laughed.

In southwest Missouri, the sorts of folks who aren’t getting vaccinated don’t read the Post-Dispatch. Fact is, there are a lot of places in rural Missouri that used to get the Post-Dispatch, or the Star, or the Springfield News-Leader, that don’t anymore. The declining economics of print newspapers reduced each of those newspapers’ footprints in Missouri more than a decade ago.

There was a time when my family would visit Ozark County, where my wife grew up, when I could head down to the J-Mart and buy all three newspapers. Now I’m lucky to find an early edition of the News-Leader on Sunday.

In her book “Ghosting the News,” journalist Margaret Sullivan wrote about how the decline of the newspaper industry coincided with the rise of extremism in democracy, as the institutions that used to hold communities together got smaller and smaller, or closed, and folks outside the country’s major cities turned to other places for news, be it Fox News, or Newsmax or the proliferation of conservative talk radio outlets.

Sullivan, of course, used to work for The New York Times and now works for The Washington Post. The sorts of folks who aren’t getting vaccinated in Missouri, and who tend to listen to Parson, don’t read her, either.

My point is that the goal here is to increase vaccination among the unvaccinated, no matter what it takes. Parson says he didn’t want to impose an incentive program, but he is because Missouri is in desperate straits. Well, I don’t want journalists who are using the state’s own data to be derided as propagandists.

But if Parson’s trashing me and my colleagues helps people who live in southwest Missouri feel better about getting a vaccine, then I can live with it. Go to Cole, Taney, Webster, Miller and Greene counties, all in the top 10 counties in the nation for rising COVID-19 cases (according to the propaganda rag known as The New York Times). Tell them that despite what they have been hearing from the “lamestream” media, there is still time to get the vaccination, and that time is now. And, hey, they might win $10,000 by doing it.

If it helps Missouri navigate its current sea of troubles, Parson can send slings and arrows my way.

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