The Sacramento Bee editorial board is no stranger to trafficking in sophomoric insult. In recent years, it has called targets “dimwits” and accused a state attorney general of giving “a middle finger to the national movement for police reform.” Such is hardly the stuff of Pulitzer Prize consideration, let alone of civil debate. Yet another example came Aug. 14 courtesy the Bee’s recently minted opinion page editor Marcos Breton. In an ad hominem attack, Breton called Sacramento County Board Chair Sue Frost “unfit for office” and akin to a “red state political hack” for siding with firefighters and some area nurses who oppose mandatory Covid-19 vaccinations for frontline healthcare workers.
Combined with aspects of a Bee news story about Frost two days earlier, this struck us as journalistically unfair. So Frost was invited to respond to the Bee and other issues. As will be seen, we didn’t suspend our other editorial standards – such as solid fact-checking – but every effort was made to fairly share her views for public consideration. By her preference, the interview was conducted by email.
Sacto Politico: I found aspects of Marcos Breton’s Aug. 14 column and their Aug. 11 news story unfair and even inconsistent. For example, America currently suffers from two major public health crises with similar death tolls: the Covid-19 pandemic and our decade-long opioids crisis. The Bee says your Covid position makes you “unfit for office,” yet they continually re-endorse Congressional candidates Doris Matsui and Ami Bera who, combined, have accepted nearly $200,000 from the opioid industry over the last decade. What do you think of the Bee and this apparent double standard?
Sue Frost: I support vaccines. Vaccines helped conquer polio and small pox. But I also support medical choice and parents’ rights. I agree with the Sacramento firefighters who point out they have been working on the frontlines since all during the Covid crisis, even before there was a vaccine, and they object to a mandate as a condition of employment. I think our nurses deserve just as much consideration.
Some folks don’t think we should have any debate or question anything at all, but the fact of the matter is we need debate. We need people who will challenge and demand evidence. There is a large segment of the population with questions and concerns. But instead of dealing with those concerns, the media and politicians just slap down citizens and label them – in part because the “experts” can’t really answer the questions.
Sadly, the Bee isn’t embarrassed about their double – and sometimes triple – standard. They revel in it. I believe it is that kind of partisan and parochial journalism that has contributed to the falling readership and dramatic staff cuts, which then makes it harder to deliver quality, useful journalism. It’s a cycle, and they are doing nothing to break the downward spiral.
S/P: In fairness to the Bee, I’m not sure their positions on vaccinations and masking qualify as “parochial.” They align with national and statewide recommendations, and nearly 70% of Sacramento County residents 12 years and older have so far received at least one vaccination shot.
But returning to Bera and Matsui, all of their opioid industry donors are currently being sued by Sacramento County in federal court to recoup public health costs from the opioid epidemic. Do you feel it is counterproductive for local elected officials to accept such donations given the damage those companies have contributed to local public health?
Frost: I’m not going to tell them what contributions they can or can’t accept. It is up to the voters in their districts to decide if the hypocrisy warrants electing a new representative.
S/P: When you first won your seat in 2016, you ran as the public safety candidate. This included support for more Sheriff Department funding and personnel. What is your preferred approach for how to keep the public safe from Covid?
Frost: Public safety continues to be my #1 priority, and I work daily with those on the front lines to see how we can support them. I’m talking about the deputy sheriffs, probation officers, firefighters, EMTs, nurses, medical staff and doctors. I base my actions on input from those frontline workers, not columnists in the Bee.
I think the best way to protect the public is to treat them as adults. Give them the facts, not sanded and polished talking points from a PR firm pushing the group-think narrative, but the real facts. I trust the public to take the right action if we give them the real facts and data – including those parts that we just don’t understand yet.
EDITOR’S NOTE: We followed up asking if a “give them the facts” approach was sufficient for an immuno-comprised individual or an unvaccinated child who must call 911 for emergency attention? Was it unreasonable in those cases to want a fully vaccinated EMT to attend to them or their child? But no response was provided.
S/P: Have you been vaccinated?
Frost: That will remain a private medical decision.
S/P: Another area I felt the Bee was unfair to you was in their Aug. 11 news story about the Roseville rally you spoke at. They noted an anonymous Twitter post that claimed some members of the Proud Boys and a “self-styled militia” group attended. But I saw no suggestion the rally was organized by or mainly attended by those groups. Do you feel the Bee noting that and asking you to respond was fair to you?
Frost: Yeah, the yellow journalism is pretty transparent. I was asked to attend by several nurses, and I went to talk about the need for open debate, free speech, and medical freedom. I don’t have anything to do with the wacky groups and have always strongly condemned violent or radical groups. It’s really quite ridiculous.
S/P: At the Roseville rally, the Bee noted you repeated debunked theories that vaccine mandates violate the Nuremberg Code and that the original Covid test was found to be inaccurate. Have you since reviewed the literature refuting those claims and why the theories are considered incorrect? Do you still think those theories have a place in debates about Covid public policy?
Frost: I have read testimony from respected medical professionals on both sides of the issue. We need to be sure both sides are heard. Skeptics are a requirement of sound science, and real science doesn’t fear or silence skeptics – it embraces them. I’m not prepared to say either is 100% right or 100% wrong, but I am prepared to say we need to hear facts regardless of where the facts take us. We can’t have debates if the only voices we hear are those who agree with the proscribed narrative.
EDITOR'S NOTE: On follow-up, we asked her to cite the medical professionals she’s read who believe frontline vaccine mandates violate the Nuremberg Code or believe the original Covid test was proven to be inaccurate? No response was provided.
S/P: You no doubt are aware your position on vaccines and masks does not align with most people in Sacramento County. This includes on your own County Board where you are the only member not to mask. Have any of your Board colleagues or any County employees who disagree with your stance talked personally with you? What have they said and how have you responded?
Frost: I don’t agree with the premise. Most people in Sacramento might disagree with the gross misrepresentation that the Bee has tried to perpetrate. In fact, polling shows that a majority of the public agrees with my positions:
Covid is real, but the government shutdown in CA has created long-term problems.
Schools should not have been closed at all. It was a serious mistake that not only is opposed by most people but a majority of scientific community.
The vaccine is real, but forced injections by the government is overreach. I think our local firefighters explained this quite effectively in their letter opposing forced vaccination.
EDITOR’S NOTE: No recent supporting polling was found. For Frost’s #2, the Public Policy Institute of California found in April that “57% of adults and 64% of public school parents approve of Newsom’s handling of K-12 education” and “65% of adults and 72% of public school parents approve of how their local school district” handled California school closures. With #3, a CBS News/YouGov poll of Californians this month found 67% favored vaccine mandates by employers.
Frost’s office was invited to share their supporting data. Their response: “In terms of polling assertions, we do internal surveys in our office that get several thousand responses. That is where we are gleaning that specific information.”
S/P: Going back to the county’s opioid lawsuit, last month former opioid maker Johnson & Johnson and three opioid distributors announced a proposed national settlement of upwards of $26 billion to be split among state and county plaintiffs who agree to the settlement. Do you have an update on whether Sacramento County will opt in or out of that settement?
Frost: Sacramento County has not made any final decision on whether to join because (1) the State of California hasn’t formally approved the settlement and (2) the State and political subdivisions are still negotiating an intra-state allocation agreement.