Port: COVID-19 brought out the best in some, the worst in others

North Dakota National Guard members gather information from people directed to report for coronavirus testing at the Fargodome, Saturday, April 25, Fargo. The testing was closed to the general public, but included essential workers, people with symptoms of COVID-19 and those who have had close contact with confirmed cases of the disease. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor

MINOT, N.D. — Barring some unexpected turn of events between now and then, Gov. Doug Burgum will allow restrictions he put in place on certain businesses to expire on April 30.

That sound you heard Monday was a collective sigh of relief.

There's no putting this toothpaste back in the tube. Even if we see a spike in COVID-19 cases, it's going to take something dramatic to convince North Dakotans to lock themselves down again.

The virus is awful, yes, but so is watching, helpless, as your business dies.

I'm not sure how much longer we would have seen widespread compliance with Burgum's orders, anyway. Some, like state Rep. Luke Simons, R-Dickinson , were ready to re-open their businesses despite the orders and refuse to pay the fines.


Had Burgum not acted, many would have followed their lead.

As a question of public health, based on all the data we have in front of us including a rate of positives that has remained steady even as testing has expanded in recent days, Burgum's decision is justified.

As a political matter, time was running out.

Speaking of politics, as we begin the process of ending this nightmare, we may want to take account of how some responded to it.

There was a troubling amount of support for authoritarian crackdowns.

I'm not just talking about hot air from quisling mobs on Facebook and Twitter, or the cable news circus acts who earn their ratings with hyperbolic rants.

I'm talking about serious people supporting serious censorship.

In The Atlantic , two law professors argued that we ought to start policing online speech like China does.



“Significant monitoring and speech control are inevitable components of a mature and flourishing internet, and governments must play a large role in these practices to ensure that the internet is compatible with a society’s norms and values,” Harvard’s Jack Goldsmith and University of Arizona’s Andrew Keane Woods wrote .

A group of journalism professors started a campaign urging television networks to censor President Donald Trump's coronavirus press briefings.

“We ask that all cable channels, broadcast stations, and networks (with the exception of C-SPAN) stop airing these briefings live," their petition reads . "Instead, they should first review the briefings and, after editing, present only that information that provides updates from health officials about the progress and ongoing mitigation of the disease.”

It's troubling that so many people who teach journalism believe it is their job to decide what the public ought to see and hear.

Even local media outlets have seen their opinion section filled with columnists and letter writers who think the people they don't like ought to shut up already.

This crisis brought out the best in some, like those who never stopped working to keep us healthy, fed, and comfortable.

It brought out the worst in others, who saw an opportunity to exercise certain authoritarian impulses.


To comment on this article, visit

Rob Port, founder of, is a Forum Communications commentator. Reach him on Twitter at @robport or via email at .

Related Topics: DOUG BURGUM
Rob Port is a news reporter, columnist, and podcast host for the Forum News Service. He has an extensive background in investigations and public records. He has covered political events in North Dakota and the upper Midwest for two decades. Reach him at Click here to subscribe to his Plain Talk podcast.
What To Read Next
Besides an absolute ban on abortion, some want an absolute ban on contraception, a ban that would also hurt men, women and children.
"It is time for the government to run our presidential nominating elections, not the political parties," columnist Jim Shaw writes. "That means holding primaries."
"The truth is, oil and gas development, along with all of the energy development in North Dakota is done responsibly and in an environmentally friendly way,"
"Sadly, we're getting the government we deserve."