Until a few days ago television stations in Connecticut were broadcasting a commercial showing a Black woman who says she is a doctor and wants to persuade â€śpeople who look like meâ€ť that COVID-19 vaccine is safe, adding emphatically, â€śbecause it is.â€ť
Or does the woman just play a doctor on TV? She doesnâ€™t identify herself, which may be lucky for her now, since last week blood clots were reported among some people who recently had gotten one of the vaccines widely in use in Connecticut, and the federal government recommended that its use be temporarily suspended.
Whereupon the commercial with the Black woman doctor seemed to disappear.
This doesnâ€™t mean that any of the vaccines are unsafe in a general sense. It means only that suddenly the government is unsure about one of them. This shouldnâ€™t be so surprising, since, despite extensive testing, all the COVID-19 vaccines are new and so cannot have passed the ultimate test, time.
But many people, including Governor Lamont, quickly realized how damaging the suspension of this vaccine was to the credibility of government and establishment medicine. Until last week they and their agents were proclaiming the vaccineâ€™s safety. Now the government is proclaiming doubt, and the â€śpeople who look like me,â€ť many of them already skeptical, have another reason not to trust them.
This disaster could have been prevented with candor and honesty. The Black woman who plays a doctor on TV could have been scripted to say:
â€śAll vaccines carry some risk, mainly because a few people may have bad reactions to them. Of course we donâ€™t have long history with the COVID-19 vaccines. But they quickly have proven extremely effective at preventing the disease and reducing its severity, and thus they are likely to save hundreds of thousands of lives for every one they might impair. As with other vaccines, benefit far outweighs risk, especially for the most vulnerable populations, including people who look like me. So please consider getting vaccinated, as I have been.â€ť
But Connecticut Attorney General William Tong is handling the challenge differently. Instead of candor and honesty, in an essay in the Washington Post last week Tong wrote that social media companies Facebook and Twitter should censor people who provide â€śdisinformationâ€ť about vaccines. And who should determine what constitutes â€śdisinformationâ€ť?
Presumably government officials like Tong himself - officials who have the business regulatory power to intimidate social media companies.
How ironic that any politician should urge censorship of â€śdisinformation,â€ť as if politics itself isnâ€™t full of it and â€śdisinformationâ€ť wonâ€™t always be something disagreeable to the government.
Will Tong investigate the woman who plays a doctor on TV and was telling â€śpeople who look like meâ€ť that the vaccines are safe just hours before one of them was shelved for safety reasons? What about that disinformation?
The Constitution doesnâ€™t guarantee only accurate and fair expression. It guarantees free expression, and it leaves the people themselves responsible for discerning the truth. Lies are bad but censorship is worse.
* * *
UCONN, BAILOUT CHAMPION: Maybe now that the University of Connecticutâ€™s basketball teams have failed to win this yearâ€™s national championships, Governor Lamont and the General Assembly will examine the university critically for once.
The universityâ€™s health center in Farmington is seeking an extra $174 million over three years to cover what it calls â€śunsustainableâ€ť fringe benefit costs for its employees. But UConn has no plan to control those costs. They are to be sustainable after all.
While the health center has lost revenue during the virus epidemic, its deficits and excessive employee costs have been problems for years and the university keeps getting bailouts.
Last week the state auditors reported that UConn incurred a $30 million overrun for construction of its new downtown Hartford campus, from an estimate of $87 million to final cost of $117 million, on account of 283 changes in the construction plan and 24 contract revisions.
UConn says that the $30 million is no big deal, and it will remain no big deal while the governor and legislature keep letting the university get away with anything.
Chris Powell is a columnist for the Journal Inquirer in Manchester.