TUESDAY, DECEMBER 1, 2020
She responded as shown: South Dakota is a small-population state.
(Estimated population last year, 885,000. Only four states were smaller.)
Within that small-population state, Governor Kristi Noem—she's just turned 49—has had a very successful political career.
She doesn't hail from a political family. Inherited connections and other family advantages don't seem to have fueled her career.
Her father was killed in a farming accident when she was 22. As a result, she was forced to take over the family business, a "medium-sized farm and ranch operation."
(“I had hoped that I would be able to farm with him,” Noem is quoted saying in this fascinating profile. “But when my dad passed away, it kind of changed everything.”)
Her political career proceeded from there. She was elected to the South Dakota legislature in 2006, at the age of 34. In 2010, she won South Dakota's lone statewide congressional seat. Along with South Carolina freshman member Tim Scott, she was instantly named to a spot within the House Republican leadership.
After serving four terms in the House, she was elected governor of South Dakota in 2018. According to the leading authority on the topic, "she is the first woman in South Dakota history to hold that office."
Governor Noem is true political talent. That said, she's also been one of the Trumpiest governors in the nation during the current alleged pandemic.
She has refused to impose a mask mandate. More strikingly, she let this summer's Sturgis Motorcycle Rally proceed apace. Eventually, headlines like this pair began to appear in major news orgs, in this case in the October 18 Washington Post:
How the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally may have spread coronavirus across the Upper Midwest
Within weeks of the gathering that drew nearly half a million bikers, the Dakotas, along with Wyoming, Minnesota and Montana, were leading the nation in new coronavirus infections per capita
The governor had been one of the Trumpiest. Now she was being slammed.
As of November 18, Governor Noem had finally heard just about enough of this guff. She held a press event in which she pushed back against her critics and their criticisms.
In our view, her obvious political talent was on full display this day. On the other hand, here's the nugget of what she said in self-defense:
NOEM (11/18/20): Across the country and around the globe, cases [of Covid-19] are increasing. Over the past week, cases are on the rise in 48 states.
Some have said that my refusal to mandate masks is a reason why our cases are rising here in the state of South Dakota, and that is not true.
Others have said that my refusal to advance harsh restrictions like lockdowns is another one of the reasons why our cases are rising, and that is also not true.
There are 41 states that have some kind of a mask mandate. Cases are on the rise in 39 of those 41 states.
Now, some in the media have said that South Dakota is the worst in the world right now, and that is absolutely false. I'd encourage you to look at the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center. There you'll see that there are other states with far higher new confirmed cases per one hundred—one thousand people, compared to South Dakota.
To watch the entire presser, click here. The passage we've posted starts at roughly 11:15.
Our view? If you watch that chunk of that tape, you'll be looking at Governor Noem's pure political talent. But what about the claims she makes in the passage we've posted?
On our scorecard, some of the claims in that passage were misleading, perhaps clownishly so. On our scorecard, the final somewhat fuzzy claim—the one about the other states with "far higher new confirmed cases"— was hard to square with existing data.
That statement sounded reassuring. We're not sure we know what it meant.
The claim we've posted in bold strikes us as basically false. That really wasn't what "some in the media" had been saying about South Dakota in the previous days and weeks. Knowingly or otherwise, the governor seemed to have erected a straw man, then seemed to have knocked it down.
In a slightly more rational world, obvious questions would arise in the wake of a presser like that. For today, we'll focus on two questions:
Did Governor Noem believe the things she said that day? Also, in what ways did mainstream news orgs respond to the claims she'd advanced?
One also might wonder about this:
To what extent did the people of South Dakota believe Noem's claims were accurate?
We ask that because, even as Noem was making those statements, her state had the nation's second highest weekly death rate from Covid-19. Indeed, South Dakota's weekly death rate was apparently exceeded by only one developed nation around the entire world.
Do politicians like Governor Noem believe the things they say about such life-and-death concerns? Also, how well are their statements fact-checked?
Beyond that, what do citizens end up believing about such vital matters? What do they end up doing, or perhaps failing to do? With a special focus on Noem's press conference, we'll be examining these topics for the rest of the week.
With the Christmas season approaching, should South Dakotans be saying Joyeux Noem? Or should this possibly be a case of Caveat Rancher and Farmer?
How well had major news orgs performed? And also this:
With tribal true belief widespread and engrained, does that final part of the puzzle even matter any more?
Tomorrow: What "some in the media" had actually said