A Winters Tale: Cancel culture comes to town

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When I read the title of a letter to the editor last week, “Do not get COVID Information from a Columnist,” I immediately took notice.

It was written by Debbie Hemenway, former librarian and a longtime fixture in Winters. 

The letter was dripping with anger, directed at my colleague Richard Casavecchia, whose work she called, “exceptionally simplistic, misleading, vapid, and irresponsible.”

I’m not sure why Ms. Hemenway used the word vapid, which means dull and uninteresting; Richard’s column was anything but that.

The proof is that it stirred her sufficiently to write to the paper. 

Whether the other adjectives fit is certainly worth exploring, but it was her final paragraph which makes the letter important, crucial really to our democracy, or what’s left of it these days.

“I know the paper needs to fill space,” she writes, “but it doesn’t have to give space to inflammatory and counterfactual material, whether it is labeled as opinion or not.”

Or in other words, if Mr. Casavecchia’s opinions are not Ms. Hemenway’s opinions, or words she perceives to be “counterfactual,” they have no place in the paper.

This is a perfect example of what’s come to be known as “cancel culture,” a practice I detest.

In the past Ms. Hemenway also worked as a journalist for the Express, which makes her wish to silence opposing opinions all the more distressing, but not surprising.

There are very few places in today’s media in which space is given to those who attempt to analyze the COVID case numbers, or who dare question the wisdom of the shutdowns, curfews and other restrictions.

Most reporters, indeed like Ms. Hemenway, simply recite and repeat the raw data which without context is not helpful.  

Mr. Casavecchia knows this. He analyzes medical industry numbers for a living, and has applied his expertise.  

Of that raw data, Ms. Hemenway chose to cite the 265,000 dead, which is frightening.

But citing the same numbers, Mr. Casavecchia wrote, “unless you are 49 or older and have cancer, heart conditions, obesity, COPD, asthma, hypertension, dementia, are immunocompromised, or any combination of the above, your risk of death or serious illness is 0 – 0.08 percent, depending on age.”  

Also true, just not as frightening.

Ms. Hemenway commits another journalistic sin by, as they say in legal circles, “introducing facts not in evidence.”

She writes that the number of dead “is predicted to double in the next six to eight weeks.”

Four hundred thousand dead Americans by February?  

The only study showing that was written by “experts” at the University of Washington, which was then criticized by other “experts” for being unreliable.  

Hardly an undisputed fact, but great headline material for CNN.

Ms. Hemenway writes that victims “are of all ages, including children and many adults in their 20’s and 30’s.“

This shades the truth. Yes, the young are susceptible, but using the word “many” is not fair.

As Mr. Casavecchia noted, it’s far less common for the young to contract the virus.

Ms. Hemenway was right to criticize the Governor for his French Laundry adventure, but she adds, “this does not disqualify him from leadership.”

That is her opinion, and is certainly not universally accepted.

She also presents as fact the ”grift and mismanagement in DC,” an obvious criticism of the President.  

There are 74 million American voters who might consider that “counterfactual.”

Finally, she accused Mr. Casavecchia of promoting lawlessness when stating that restaurants could ignore health laws.

She is correct to use the word lawless, but Americans do have a history of civil disobedience in the face of government abuse.

It was, in fact, another famous doctor (more famous than even Dr. Fauci) who taught us that lesson during the civil rights movement.  

Dr. Martin Luther King was not a doctor of medicine, but of theology, a field equally needed, if not more so today.

By reputation Debbie Hemenway certainly adheres to what I call the holy trinity of Winters values — she is a nice person, works hard, gives back.

But so does Mr. Casavecchia.

Both have opinions of equal value.  

And fear is no excuse for cancelling out those with whom you disagree.

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