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Port: Stop using 'mandate' to describe policies that aren't mandates

Whatever side you're on in the Great Masking Imbroglio of 2020, be it for wearing a face-covering to help fight off a highly contagious airborne virus or against, we should all want precision in the way the policies informed by that debate are described.

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Stephanie Stevens and Alan Jacobson of Bismarck stand in opposition of a citywide mask mandate in front of Bismarck's City/County Office Building on Tuesday, Oct. 27. Kyle Martin / Special to The Forum.
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MINOT, N.D. — Not a single North Dakota city has passed a mandate for mask use.

That statement may confuse you because you've read headlines and news articles telling you that communities such as Minot and Fargo , Devils Lake and Grand Forks have implemented mask mandates over the last couple of weeks.

They haven't.

They're using the word "mandate" to describe resolutions instructing residents to wear masks but attaching absolutely nothing in the way of consequences for ignoring the instruction (notwithstanding the Fargo Police Department's threats of criminal charges for jabronis pretending to have COVID-19 as a "joke").

In Fargo and Minot, specifically, the verbiage put in place by the elected officials juxtaposes, with not a hint of irony, the words "mandate" and "recommendation" as if those words don't completely contradict one another.

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It would be funny if it weren't so stupid.

It's not particularly unusual for politicians to pull this bait-and-switch, foisting empty-calorie policies on us that are calculated to give the appearance of making hard decisions while not actually make any decisions at all.

A capacity for that sort of thing is almost a prerequisite for elected office.

What's troubling is how many in the news media have gone along with it, using the word "mandate" to describe policies that are not, by definition, mandates simply because that's the word local politicians are using for them.

Those who work in the news media have a duty to resist that sort of vocabulary propaganda.

Whatever side you're on in the Great Masking Imbroglio of 2020, be it for wearing a face-covering to help fight off a highly contagious airborne virus or against, we should all want precision in the way the policies informed by that debate are described.

Ironically, for all the scorn and derision heaped on him by opportunistic political critics and crusading journalists who are touting these local "mandates" as evidence of statewide leadership's failure, the one person who has been consistent in this debate has been Gov. Doug Burgum.

Love his position or hate it, Burgum has consistently argued that he will not implement a mask mandate because he doesn't believe it would be helpful.

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Unlike certain local leaders, he has not resorted to policy pablum to give the appearance of doing something while not actually doing anything at all.

That's not to say you have to like Burgum's position on a mask mandate, but at least it's one honestly expressed.

To comment on this article, visit www.sayanythingblog.com

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

Opinion by Rob Port
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 rport@forumcomm.com. Click here to subscribe to his Plain Talk podcast.
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