News Story

Glowing New York Times Portrait Of Whitmer In Epidemic Paints Incomplete Picture

Relevant facts that challenge newspaper’s narrative left out

The New York Times released a glowing 7,000-plus word article on Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and how she has handled the COVID-19 pandemic.

Many of the statements contained in the article are disputable, and this is the first of several Michigan Capitol Confidential reports that will challenge what the New York Times reported.

In its story, the New York Times characterizes Whitmer as having adopted a strategic, practical mindset on the state’s response to the pandemic, eschewing rhetoric. But this portrayal is rebutted by many passages and remarks from the governor’s own press releases and press conferences.

The New York Times reported: "Whitmer is not naturally introspective. Recounting the almost incomprehensibly consequential decisions she was making on a daily basis, she rarely lingered on how she felt or the magnitude of the moment. She was more inclined to review events and discuss strategy, approaching it all with the same practical mind-set and vocabulary she brought to more manageable governmental challenges like fixing potholes. The effect wasn’t necessarily stirring — there was no soaring rhetoric about the need to rise to this historic challenge  [emphasis added]— but it was oddly reassuring; she was channeling panic into process."

Here are some of the governor’s statements that don’t support that narrative.

At an April 20 press conference: “President Trump called this a war, and it is exactly that, so let’s act like it. In World War II, there weren’t people lining up at the Capitol to protest the fact that they had to drop everything they were doing, and build planes, or tanks, or to ration food. They rolled up their sleeves, and they got to work. We were all in this together, and it wasn’t indefinite. It was until we’d beaten the enemy. No state shined more in those days in the state of Michigan, we are called to act again. It is our time to shine, to put aside our political differences, to come together, and defeat our common enemy, which is COVID-19. This is our moment to show the rest of the country the unbeatable determination and character, the strength, and fearlessness, and pride of the citizens of Michigan.”

An April 30 press release included this: “COVID-19 is an enemy that has taken the lives of more Michiganders than we lost during the Vietnam War.”

From Whitmer’s Coronavirus Emergency Executive Order No. 66, issued April 30: “These statewide measures have been effective, but the need for them—like the unprecedented crisis posed by this global pandemic—is far from over. Though its pace of growth has showed signs of slowing, the virus remains aggressive and persistent.”

“During this crisis, Michigan has often processed more unemployment claims in a single day than in the most painful week of the Great Recession, and the state has already reached its highest unemployment rate since the Great Depression.”

At a May 1 press conference, Whitmer said: “Our brave soldiers fought to keep the union intact during the civil war. We came together as the arsenal of democracy to defeat the Nazis because we were united against a common enemy. Now we must channel that same energy against our common enemy, which is COVID-19.”

From an April 6 press conference: “That’s why every one of us has to do our part. Every one of us has to do it for the loved one that we’re worried about, the grandparent in a nursing home, the child or siblings on the front lines at a nearby hospital, the coworker who helps you get through the long days, who’s at higher risk because they have a chronic illness, or the neighbor who works at the checkout at the grocery store or at the pharmacy. It’s on every one of us to do our part to protect them.”

“This is an unprecedented time in our history and we’ve got to do everything we can to help each other get through it. We will get through this.”

From Whitmer’s Executive Order No. 42, issued April 9: “This virus is both aggressive and persistent. ... To win this fight, and to protect the health and safety of our state and each other, we must be just as aggressive and persistent. Though we have all made sacrifices, we must be steadfast.”

At an April 13 press conference: “This COVID-19 can render a lot of people sick, can render a lot of people unable to beat COVID-19. That means a lot of death. It threatened the very fabric of our healthcare system. Our trajectory is looking as though it’s starting to flatten. That means all of these incredible measures we’ve taken may really be starting to work. We know that’s the goal. That’s precisely why we’ve done everything that we can. As governor, I got to use every lever at my disposal to protect people. I don’t enjoy using these levers, but the fact of the matter is this virus is an incredible opponent that we all have to wage the war against.”

“I know I’ve said it before, but I think that it’s important for perspective for people to understand this is a challenge unlike we’ve ever confronted.”