Normally it would be a good thing if Gov. Asa Hutchinson protected Arkansas from communications from this White House that aren't beneficial, which is to say many if not most.
If, for example, the governor could seize all of Donald Trump's tweets and hold them in his office, forbidding their dissemination within the state, then Arkansas would become a kinder, gentler place.
As it is, Hutchinson's insistence on maintaining singular coronavirus information control in Arkansas has him sitting on one White House set of reports he shouldn't. It's the periodic state assessments from the White House's coronavirus task force that have tended to show Arkansas among the hotbed states and in need of activity restrictions beyond those Hutchinson has imposed.
In Oklahoma, the Tulsa mayor kept hearing about these reports from the White House to the governor that he wasn't seeing. One thing led to another, bringing enough pressure on the Oklahoma governor that he now directs that the reports be posted on a publicized state government website. And that's Oklahoma, one of the few states Arkansas normally might at least claim to be more progressive than.
But Our Man Asa was telling me again over the weekend that these reports are internal officials' "free-flowing" dialogue akin to his phone conversations with White House officials. That is to say he views the reports as suitable for the eyes of big shots only.
He said the reports plainly say on the front page that they probably contain less up-to-date information than states possess.
He took note that the latest report advocating bar closings in the state also called for a statewide mask mandate, which he'd long before imposed, or tried to impose in a state with too much Trump worship for that kind of reason, discipline and human regard.
For once, but only on the virus, the governor finds his president's full-of-it administration full of it.
The governor put it plainly in an email: "The report is useful for me internally and I value the ideas and perspective presented. However, the report is not beneficial for broad distribution."
When I told the governor that it sounded arrogant to say he needed to reserve the White House reports for himself because the people couldn't handle them, he said I was just giving him a hard time because I always reduce the "balance" in my commentary during election seasons.
I'll do a column some time on that little accusation. There indeed can sometimes be a difference in commentary's tone when the season is for making a choice and when the reason is for workable government.
But back to today's subject: The people of Arkansas can handle what the White House coronavirus task force is saying, and they can absorb the governor's differences with it.
They will see things Hutchinson's way, by and large. After all, Hutchinson's way is Trump's way, even as some of the White House task force reports on individual states contradict Trump's blatant and irresponsible disregard for restrictions.
Once Dr. Deborah Birx said at a White House briefing that we needed to step up restrictions, after which Vice President Mike Pence said we needed to get back to work. So Asa is a steady soprano in the Trump chorus.
The governor points out that the White House reports are housed at the state Health Department and subject to citizens' Freedom of Information Act requests. So if you really want to see them, you may. You'll just have to work at it.
For that matter, the Center for Public Integrity has done heroic work collecting the red-zone reports for affected states and posting them at publicintegrity.org.
You can go there and click on the "coronavirus and inequality" link and look for "Read the White House's secret coronavirus red zone reports."
You shouldn't take them as up-to-date gospel. Presumably the states would know later news about themselves. But you ought to consider availing yourself of all authoritative sources of information. Don't let Asa decide what you may know.
That's the point. Asa tended to concentrate all state government messaging in his office--in his person--even before the emergency condition of the coronavirus gave him the opportunity to do it by streaming briefings daily.
He's made clear that his priority is keeping the state's economy going by maintaining all the appearance of normalcy that he can. And that, from time to time, has required him to say the situation in Arkansas was looking up, or at least was all right, when it wasn't.
Such as now as he tries to keep schools open and football played.
The governor ought to be open to balance in a pandemic, just as he says the columnist ought to be open to balance during an election.
Here's a deal: If he'd put all the White House reports online and publicize the site, then I'd write a column saying that was good.
Balance would abound.
John Brummett, whose column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, is a member of the Arkansas Writers' Hall of Fame. Email him at [email protected] Read his @johnbrummett Twitter feed.