Gov. Mike Parson asked me a question.
Well, it wasn’t to me, personally, but the media, in general.
It came Tuesday during one of his daily coronavirus pandemic updates. Parson, a Republican, was asked by a television reporter whether he felt “any personal responsibility for the people who have been infected and don’t recover after you chose to reopen the state?”
It was a good question, the same sort of question that’s been asked to governors, and mayors and county executives and, most famously, President Donald Trump, as deaths from COVID-19 in the U.S. have passed 120,000 — far more than any country in the world.
Here was Trump’s answer when he was asked a version of that question in March about the country’s failure to ramp up early testing:
“I don’t take any responsibility at all.”
When reporters asked follow-up questions, he blamed one of them, Yamiche Alcindor from PBS, for asking a “nasty question.”
Parson, apparently, got the Trumpian memo. Here was his answer the other day:
“I don’t even know where you come up with that question of personal responsibility as governor of the state of Missouri when you’re talking about a virus. That’s no different than the flu virus or do I feel guilty because we have car accidents and people die every day. No, I don’t feel guilty about that,” Parson said. “I don’t know that any one person’s responsible for that no more than anyone else standing out here in this hallway. I can say the same thing for the media. Maybe you don’t do a good enough job really telling people the facts. Do you feel responsible for that?”
The answer is yes.
I can’t speak for other members of the media, only myself, but, yes, every single day, I feel responsible as a human and as a journalist for the deaths that surround us.
Since March, I’ve written more than a dozen coronavirus columns, and every time I write a new one during this unprecedented time, I ask myself: Did I do enough?
Apparently not. My first coronavirus column was about the ridiculousness and danger of comparing COVID-19 to the flu, something Parson is still doing.
One of the columns I wrote was about balancing the hope and fear between taking first steps to reopen the economy after months of isolation, to slowly return to whatever the new normal is. This weekend, my son’s baseball team is playing tournaments in Jefferson and Franklin counties, and every time I step around somebody to try to get to my socially distanced chair, I will ask myself: Am I doing the right thing? For my son? For my family? For the elderly couple on the other side of the ballfield rooting for their grandson?
I don’t know the answer. But I know that we in the media take our personal responsibility seriously. Sometimes, we make mistakes. Last month, in fact, I made three mistakes in one column, each one corrected in the newspaper as the details became clear. Those of us in the press, the folks Trump refers to as the “enemy of the people” and as “fake news” cringe every time we make a mistake. But we make them, and we correct them, because personal responsibility demands it.
I suspect most Americans feel similarly about their personal and professional responsibilities.
The day Parson was asked that question, the Joplin area, not far from where Parson grew up (Wheatland) and where he now lives and farms (Bolivar), was statistically the nation’s No. 1 hotspot for growth of coronavirus cases. There are bigger hot spots by population in Florida, Texas, Arizona and California. The country bent the curve, but not enough, and now cases are rising again, even before an expected second wave come fall.
The kind of life Parson has lived, as a farmer and sheriff, as a veteran and family man, suggests he has the sort of empathy and sense of personal responsibility that would prepare him to hit the answer to that softball of a question out of the park.
Instead he chose to channel his inner Trump and blame the media.
Fine, governor. I’ll take your challenge. As Missouri approaches 1,000 deaths, I go to work each day praying that I find the words to save just one life. To persuade one neighbor to wear a mask. To persuade one skeptic to take the spread of COVID-19 seriously. To persuade one governor to let one dying 78-year-old innocent man out of prison. And if I don’t?
That’s on me.