Archived Opinion

Letter made curious, inaccurate claims

To the Editor:

When I first read Jim Gaston's letter to The Smoky Mountain News claiming to champion independent thinking in rigorous pursuit of the truth, I was impressed by the shear amount of effort he spent supporting his ideas, quoting medical findings from history, theories detailing the proper role of government, a quote from Mark Twain, and predicting the imminent slide of American society towards a totalitarian state.

Then I read Scott McLeod's piece above it, and the implication that the way forward in the democratic process is to allow the publishing of lies and the corrective responses that follow. Mr. McLeod is right that ideas that result in a discourse are the stuff of a vibrant and healthy democracy, and that even the most outrageous and ridiculous diatribes are a good place to start.

A piece that claims to be about truth and socially beneficial public policy does itself no favors by the support of a litany of lies. Mr. Gaston has an agenda: my guess is that he dislikes goverment requiring him to exercise concern for the welfare of his fellow Amercans. But truth is clearly not his concern, even though he claims otherwise. He labels the Centers for Disease Control, a federal agency with a 2020 budget of $6.6 billion, as “corrupt and compromised.” 

The truth is that the CDC is the premier scientific organization in the U.S. entrusted with the huge and important responsibility to safeguard the health of our population, and our citizenry benefits in many ways from its efforts. Want to know who provides important funds for states to distribute to local health departments for their programs? Do you get a flu shot every year? Did you vaccinate your children against childhood diseases so they could go to school without fear of contracting horrible infections? Thank the CDC for all of this and more. There is not a single person that grows up in the U.S., including Mr. Gaston, who has not benefited from the effort of the CDC.

Mr. Gaston continues the falsehoods by claiming the CDC is somehow associated with a study “proving” masks don’t stop the spread of COVID. Here is the truth: CDC guidelines currently advise all people to mask up in public areas reporting high levels of COVID transmission (including the place where this newspaper has its primary readership). This will “maximize protection from the delta variant and prevent possibly spreading it to others” (CDC). 

Mr. Gaston goes on to claim that the COVID vaccine doesn’t prevent catching or spreading the virus. Here is the truth: less than 1 percent of those who have been vaccinated are catching COVID (this is called “breakthrough” infection), and the infections are, as a rule, much less damaging to the victim. Almost 100 percent of new infections are folks who are not vaccinated, and because of them, the virus has mutated to be orders of magnitude more infectious and deadly. The pandemic is gaining ground because of the simple and truthful fact that those who think like Mr. Gaston and avoid the shot are providing a fertile breeding ground for the virus to continue to evolve and grow more transmittable and destructive. 

Mr. Gaston mistates the lessons learned about masks from the 1918 Spanish Flu studies, which are that masks need to be designed, fabricated, and worn carefully in order to be effective against transmission, not that they just don’t work. The Great Barrington Declaration is one idea about how to best deal with a pandemic, and it is neither the only or the prevailing view. In fact, the World Health Organization and the American Public Health Association, among others, have declared that this point of view is “dangerous and lacks a sound scientific basis” (Wikipedia). These ideas are apparently a product of Libertarian thinking, which has it that government should let viruses run wild among populations of ordinary people, so that when the virus has had its way and millions are dead, those that remain possess herd immunity. Speaking for myself, I prefer to take a few painless shots rather than have folks I know gather weeping at my deathbed. I’d also rather spend a few minutes hearing about your experience getting the shot than making plans to disrupt my routine in order to attend your funeral.

Mr. Gaston’s ideas about the Constitution and its role in our lives are especially curious to me because of the nonsensical assertion that it should not be about “keeping citizens safe from a disease.” So to be clear, it was OK for the U.S. during World War II to go to war and in the process, 407,000 of our military and civilian citizens perished. COVID has already killed over 621,000 of us, and we should do almost nothing to stop or prevent that? While Mr. Gaston views that as a wise response ensuring the freedom of the citizenry, I call it what any sane individual that has any recognition for the needs of others: a gross exercise of neglect and a complete lack of basic human compassion. 

In addition, it is ironic and truly bizarre that he and other so-called freedom lovers do not recognize that the basic characterization of a true dictatorship is not a goverment that provides help to combat a deadly pandemic, it is a goverment that does little to nothing when faced with widespread human suffering and dire economic hardship.

Rick Wirth

Bryson City

Leave a comment


  • Thank you for your response. Your message was thorough and reiterated facts that should be known to all even though some may choose not to believe in the results of the rigorous analyses now being conducted based on more than 50% of our population having been vaccinated... The more often the COVID infects a human being, the more likely that another variant of the disease more infectious and more dangerous to life might be released into the world's population. Please get vaccinated and here's a grateful thanks (we're old) for those that have...

    posted by Roy B Osborn

    Saturday, 08/21/2021

  • I totally agree. Well said, Mr. Wirth.

    posted by Evelyn Bolton

    Saturday, 08/21/2021

  • This is an excellent response!

    posted by Robert Grimes

    Saturday, 08/21/2021

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