On Texas TV Outlets, Rep. Gohmert Claimed Mask Caused His Illness

Louie Gohmert

Rep. Louie Gohmert

Photo by Gage Skidmore / CC BY 2.0

Reprinted with permission from MediaMatters

Republican Rep. Louie Gohmert, who represents the 1st Congressional District in Texas, tested positive for the novel coronavirus on Wednesday. Gohmert has regularly failed to wear a protective face mask, and after he absurdly blamed his infection on the times he did wear a mask, TV news coverage from outlets in his district failed to correct his dangerous misinformation, potentially misleading viewers -- Gohmert's own constituents -- about the necessity of wearing masks to protect themselves and others.

Gohmert was tested during mandatory coronavirus screening before a planned trip with President Donald Trump to Texas, which he did not participate in. CNN reported that the news of his positive diagnosis caused issues on Capitol Hill because of his flagrant disregard for coronavirus safety measures. Many staffers and other congressional members isolated themselves and got tested, and the news led House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) to require masks on the House floor and in congressional office buildings. ABC News congressional reporter Katherine Faulders wrote on Twitter that Gohmert returned to his office to tell his staff in person of his diagnosis, potentially exposing them to the virus. Politico's Jake Sherman reported that Gohmert routinely endangered his staffers by requiring them to work in the office and discouraging them from wearing protective face masks.

After news of his diagnosis spread on Wednesday, Gohmert gave an interview to television station KETK, an NBC affiliate serving his congressional district in Tyler and Longview, Texas. During the interview he irresponsibly blamed the few times he wore a face mask for his infection, saying: "I can't help but think that if I hadn't been wearing a mask so much in the last 10 days or so, I really wonder if I would have gotten it. But I know, you know, moving the mask around, getting it just right, I'm bound to put some virus on the mask that I sucked in." The reporter noted that "health experts are saying you should wear [face masks] even if you do not" have coronavirus.

Sadly, most news reports from this and other stations in Gohmert's district covering his positive diagnosis in the 24 hours following this interview failed to mention recommendations from health experts on using face masks.

A search of the Kinetiq video database revealed a total of 20 news reports from television stations airing in Gohmert's congressional district over this time period. Thirteen of the reports, or 65 percent, did cover Gohmert's refusal to routinely wear a protective face mask while on the House floor. But only one station, CBS/CW affiliate KYTX -- which aired four of the reports, or 20 percent -- mentioned that health experts recommend wearing a mask to protect yourself and others. None of the coverage from Fox affiliate KFXK, ABC affiliate KLTV, or later coverage from KETK included this important context. And KYTX mentioned it in only four out of its seven reports covering Gohmert's diagnosis, or 57 percent of its coverage.

As for coverage of Gohmert's dangerous misinformation -- blaming his face mask as a likely source for his coronavirus infection -- KETK's later coverage and KYTX failed to cover this at all. KFXK covered or aired video of Gohmert blaming his mask in two out of its four segments, and KLTV aired it just once -- and neither of those stations included any pushback to his irresponsible claim, which could mislead their viewers into believing that wearing a face mask is more dangerous than not wearing one.

Giving the public accurate health information during a pandemic that has killed more than 150,000 Americans has to be the priority in any news coverage of the coronavirus. But the television news coverage of Gohmert's positive coronavirus test result in his district largely failed to do this. In contrast, when the Austin American-Statesman wrote about Gohmert's diagnosis and his blame on a mask, it reported that "his remarks defy scientific research, which has found that masks prevent people from spreading the virus to others and might even protect those wearing them." The Washington Post reported that Gohmert "used his platform to spread false information about the virus, … suggesting that face masks make it more, not less, likely that one will become infected."

It's really quite easy to include relevant public health information in news coverage during the coronavirus pandemic. Sadly, it's something that media outlets at the local level often fail to do.

Methodology: Media Matters searched the Kinetiq video database for mentions of Gohmert's name within 20 words of "coronavirus" or "COVID-19" in the Tyler-Longview, Texas, television market in the 24 hours following his interview with KETK. Local newscast segments were coded for whether they reported that Gohmert habitually refused to wear face masks or showed video of him failing to wear a mask; whether they mentioned that health experts advise people to wear face masks; whether they covered Gohmert blaming the times he wore a mask for his coronavirus infection or aired video of him making that claim during his KETK interview; and whether they debunked his claim that wearing a mask is to blame for his infection. Segments from nationally syndicated news programs and teasers were not counted.

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