News Media Should Be Adding Civil Liberties to the Coronavirus Death Toll — Especially in California
For weeks now, we have all been obsessed with the latest statistics regarding the enormous medical impact the coronavirus has had on the United States and the world. The news media has been predictably fixated on two data points in particular, “new confirmed cases” and “deaths” (though oddly, not “hospitalizations,” which is probably the most reliable metric for how bad the situation really is).
In order to provide a more balanced picture of this incredibly difficult and complex cost/benefit analysis we are all now forced to contemplate, however, some other numbers related to the medical damage being done here should also start to be highlighted. Among them are: suicides, episodes of domestic violence, major surgeries postponed, depression victims, and relapsed drug and alcohol abusers.
While there has been a focus on the money lost in the stock market and the explosion in the unemployment rate, there is at least one non-medical measurement which is being dangerously ignored, but which also deserves at least some respectful media attention. That is the number of times our most basic civil liberties are suddenly being routinely discarded, all in the name of doing everything possible to fight the virus.
As life-long libertarian who lives in the extremely progressive “Peoples Republic of California,” what has happened in less than a month has been truly shocking, totally outrageous, and extremely depressing. To fully understand just how morally offensive the state’s crackdown on civil liberties has been, you first need to realize that much of California is not currently facing a serious coronavirus crisis (my many critics will scream that this is because of the extreme measures being taken, but most of the statistics to this date, which thanks to delays in testing can easily take from two to four weeks to catch up to reality, are from cases that originated before the state officially shut down via King Gavin Newsom’s edict on March 19).
Across the vast state, there are still counties that have not had one hospitalization (confirmed or suspected) due to the coronavirus. In Ventura County, where I live just outside of Los Angeles, we have had a total of only 45 people hospitalized — out of at least 850,000 residents — at some point in the last month.
Despite the current situation appearing manageable, it seems that no state had been more “liberal” about taking away basic freedoms than California. I am well aware that things are officially projected to get worse here after the shutdown takes full effect, but they are not supposed to get anywhere near catastrophic, or even beyond the capabilities of our medical resources.
Despite this fortunate reality, law enforcement has arrested and heavily fined a single surfer in Manhattan Beach, and a paddle-boarder in Malibu (both apprehensions required not only significant public resources but, ironically, clear violations of “social distancing” guidelines). In San Diego, another area with limited impact so far from the virus, they have been routinely fining people for walking on the beach and the sheriff there issued a Twitter statement that might make the most ardent communists in China blush.
In my county, all public walking paths, even those in remote areas, have been closed, as have tennis courts, running tracks, park playgrounds, and all pools (even at private clubs). As a father of two young and very bored children, these restrictions have been troublesome (and my wife, a lifelong Californian, is now demanding that we move), but the most constitutionally egregious example I have heard of so far hit even closer to home for me personally.
As an avid golfer, my only refuge from the recent insanity has been that the private club of which I am member had gone to extraordinary lengths to allow us to continue to walk the course, if only for the purpose of getting fresh air and exercise. In order to do this safely, the club shut down every commercial aspect of their operations and eliminated anything, including carts and sand-trap rakes, which might be touched by multiple golfers.
For all intents and purposes, all that was happening was that owners of private land were allowing members of their club (freedom of association) to walk, while maintaining “social distancing,” on their private property. Until this past weekend, there were no issues, and the small city where the course is located has had all of one confirmed case of the virus, and that was from several weeks ago.
But then, on Saturday, while many people were enjoying a few harmless moments of much needed escape from the craziness of our current world, on private property, the Ventura County Sheriff’s office shut down, via threat of heavy fines, both our course and another private club nearby. Based on my subsequent conversations with several officials from the department (my requests for an on-the-record statement have yet to be granted), it appears that this decision was made mostly out of legal ignorance and a alarmingly inflated sense of their newfound power to restrict the lives of their citizens — especially if it looks like someone might actually be having a little bit of fun.
I would like to believe that this absurd action was a result of law enforcement wrongly thinking they were shutting down a “non-essential business.” But there was absolutely no business being run here, and the most recent decree from the unelected head of the county health department made no mention of golf now being an illegal activity.
I am aware that because golf is wrongly considered to be an elitist game played by rich, white men, that most of the public will have little sympathy for our plight here (which is probably why the county thought they could get away with this direct infringement of civil rights), but that is short-sighted. This is an issue fundamental to our private property rights, and what any of us is allowed to do our own land, or the land of those who invite us there.
Private property rights are under attack throughout the country in the midst of the panic of the coronavirus pandemic, but again most dramatically here in California. The state is taking over, at tax-payer expense, many hotels to house the homeless during the pandemic (what will happen when someone finally decides the pandemic is over, or if they never do?!), and the state is essentially telling renters there is no need to pay their landlords for the foreseeable future, which means that owners of rental properties — like myself — may be forced to allow their renters to live on their private property, at least temporarily, free of charge.
The scariest part of all of this is that the public, like a flock of sheep being led to slaughter, seems generally fine with what is happening, and no one with power is incentivized to push back against this assault on our basic rights. The American Civil Liberties Union is now a toothless pawn of the Democratic Party. The “conservative” media, which would be going bananas over these issues if Hillary Clinton was president, is neutered by their confusion over which direction their king, President Trump, is going to go on any particular day. The mainstream media, especially since most of them are in New York City, is in lockstep with the “defeat the virus at ALL costs!” narrative.
No one is denying the terrifying aspect of the pandemic, but it is time to acknowledge that, in the long run, laying the foundation for government-enforced tyranny in this country, once founded on liberty, should be very frightening in its own right.
John Ziegler is a senior columnist for Mediaite. He hosts a weekly podcast focusing on news media issues and is documentary filmmaker. You can follow him on Twitter at @ZigManFreud or email him at [email protected]
This is an opinion piece. The views expressed in this article are those of just the author.