We had to check the date on a May 24 2021 Hannity.com blog post, headlined, “AGAIN? Whitmer Apologizes After Photo Leaks Showing Governor at a Local Bar, No Mask, No Distancing,” spotted on Trendolizer’s list of most viral links.
Hannity.com’s “reporting” included exactly seven (7) words of original copy, not one of which about Whitmer’s bar photo:
From Fox News […] Read the full report here.
The first three were followed by an ostensible quote from Fox News:
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, the embattled Michigan Democrat who was hit with a recent ethics complaint after allegedly accepting a discounted private jet trip to Florida while cautioning residents against leaving the state, apologized Sunday after a photo emerged on social media that appeared to show her disregarding social distancing guidelines at a bar in the state.Did Michigan Gov. Whitmer Need Protection From Armed Right-Wing Protesters?Did Michigan Gov. Whitmer Need Prot...
Hannity.com also went to the trouble of embedding a Breitbart tweet from May 23 2021, which included the Whitmer bar photo (teased as an “exclusive”) in a link to their own reporting:
Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) hit the bar this weekend and violated her own coronavirus orders, according to a photo Breitbart News has exclusively obtained. https://t.co/7udfIRYfBn
— Breitbart News (@BreitbartNews) May 23, 2021
In their article, Breitbart (which, to their credit, actually had more than seven words of original writing) claimed:
Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) hit the bar this weekend [May 22 2021] and violated her own coronavirus orders, according to a photo Breitbart News has exclusively obtained.
Whitmer and a large group of friends, including her appointed chief operations officer, Tricia Foster, visited the Landshark in East Lansing, violating her restaurant orders in the process, according to a photo one of the attendees posted on Facebook.
The photo, posted [on Saturday May 22 2021], was part of a montage. Shortly after, Whitmer’s friend deleted the collage and reposted it sans the governor and one of her top aides[.]
The group shot of 13 individuals appeared to violate the governor’s restaurant capacity order issued May 15  on “gathering limitations for entertainment establishments, recreational establishments, and food service establishments[.”]
Breitbart did not include a direct statement from the photograph, which the site added was shared to Facebook in a set by an unnamed friend of Whitmer’s. Breitbart also linked to and quoted the “orders” issued by Whitmer on May 15 2021 (emphasis ours):
b. Gatherings are prohibited at food service establishments, whether indoor or outdoor, unless:
Consumption of food or beverages is permitted only in a designated dining area where patrons are seated, groups of patrons are separated by at least 6 feet, no more than 6 patrons are seated together (at a table, booth, or group of fixed seats), and groups of patrons do not intermingle[.]
In the photograph, thirteen individuals were shown sitting at the same table.
The linked Michigan state order (“May 15, 2021 Gatherings and Face Mask Order,” archived) was lengthy and complicated, apparently updated and amended (not always consistently) since an earlier date of issuance — as demonstrated by its sixth through eighth paragraphs, and statewide trends cited in them:
On March 10, 2020, MDHHS identified the first two presumptive-positive cases of COVID-19 in Michigan. As of May 13, 2021, Michigan had seen 871,569 confirmed cases and 18,467 confirmed deaths attributable to COVID-19. Michigan was one of the states most heavily impacted by COVID-19 early in the pandemic, with new cases peaking at nearly 2,000 per day in late March 2020. Strict preventative measures and the cooperation of Michiganders drove daily case numbers dramatically down to fewer than 200 confirmed cases per day in mid-June , greatly reducing the loss of life. Beginning in October , Michigan again experienced an exponential growth in cases. New cases peaked at nearly 10,000 cases per day in mid-November , followed by increases in COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths.
Cases dropped to under 1,000 per day in mid-February . However, trends shifted and cases increased to a seven-day daily average of 6,555 on April 11 . The statewide positivity peaked at 18.5% on April 8 . Metrics approached all-time highs, and in some cases surpassed the peaks from the fall/winter surge. While the Spring 2021 surge saw more cases in persons who were under the age of 60, there remained a high number of cases seeking emergency care and hospitalizations. Healthcare capacity peaked in mid-April  with 601 daily hospital admissions seen in Michigan. Individuals under the age of 60 accounted for nearly 50% of all new admissions.
Michigan’s in-progress page “Gatherings and Face Mask Order” page provided some incidental context about Michigan-specific figures against the backdrop of faster-than-expected vaccination rates. As we reported on March 19 2021 (almost two months prior to the Michigan page’s May 15 2021 update), more than 115 million vaccines had been administered in the United States.
Vaccine progress notwithstanding, Michigan reported positive case rates and healthcare capacity peaked in mid-April 2021, arguably warranting a continuation of social distancing guidelines for individuals who had yet to be vaccinated.
The last two paragraphs of the Michigan order read:
On May 13, 2021, the CDC released guidance indicating the fully vaccinated persons need not wear a mask in most settings, regardless of whether indoors or outdoors. CDC indicated that fully vaccinated persons are at low risk of experiencing symptomatic or severe COVID-19 infection, and pose a reduced risk of transmitting COVID-19 to others. Additionally, recent studies, including a study published in The Journal of Infectious Diseases, confirm that transmission of COVID-19 outdoors is exceedingly rare.
Considering the above, and upon the advice of scientific and medical experts, I have concluded pursuant to MCL 333.2253 that the COVID-19 pandemic continues to constitute an epidemic in Michigan. I have also, subject to the grant of authority in 2020 PA 238 (signed into law on October 22, 2020), herein defined the symptoms of COVID-19 based on the latest epidemiological evidence. I further conclude that control of the epidemic is necessary to protect the public health and that it is necessary to restrict gatherings and establish procedures to be followed during the epidemic to ensure the continuation of essential public health services and enforcement of health laws. As provided in MCL 333.2253, these emergency procedures are not limited to the Public Health Code.
As noted, a national-level set of guidelines updated by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) on May 13 2021 and titled “Interim Public Health Recommendations for Fully Vaccinated People” addressed the large number of fully vaccinated adults with respect to social distancing and mask-wearing. Of two bullet points in a summary at the top, the first read:
Update that fully vaccinated people no longer need to wear a mask or physically distance in any setting, except where required by federal, state, local, tribal, or territorial laws, rules, and regulations, including local business and workplace guidance[.]
A section containing guidance for indoor and outdoor settings read:
Risk of SARS-CoV-2 infection is minimal for fully vaccinated people. The risk of SARS-CoV-2 transmission from fully vaccinated people to unvaccinated people is also reduced. Therefore, fully vaccinated people can resume activities without wearing a mask or physically distancing, except where required by federal, state, local, tribal, or territorial laws, rules, and regulations, including local business and workplace guidance. Fully vaccinated people should also continue to wear a well-fitted mask in correctional facilities and homeless shelters. Prevention measures are still recommended for unvaccinated people.
Michigan’s linked guidance did mention the CDC’s guidelines update, and after the last two paragraphs quoted above, it included nine sections of clarifications, including one titled “Definitions” and one titled “Exceptions to face mask requirement,” both with stipulations that went seemingly unnoticed by either Hannity.com or Breitbart.com.
Under section seven of “Definitions,” part [J] read:
“Fully vaccinated persons” means persons for whom at least two weeks has passed after receiving the final dose of an FDA-approved or authorized COVID-19 vaccine.
Section 7 and part [A] also appeared to relate to the controversy over the Whitmer bar photo:
Exceptions to face mask requirement.
The requirement to wear a face mask at indoor gatherings does not apply to individuals who:
Are fully vaccinated persons;
So far, Michigan’s admittedly confusing guidelines retained what looked like wording specific to the state’s April 2021 surge in infections, which took place less than a month before the manufactured bar photo controversy. But it also specifically exempted “fully vaccinated persons” from wearing masks at indoor gatherings; Hannity.com’s headline read: “AGAIN? Whitmer Apologizes After Photo Leaks Showing Governor at a Local Bar, No Mask, No Distancing.”
On May 23 2021, the Detroit Free Press reported on the controversy, indicating that Whitmer received a second dose of a two-dose vaccine on April 29 2021 (and was thus one of Michigan’s fully vaccinated persons):
A photo was widely circulated on social media of Whitmer with a large group of unmasked people at an East Lansing bar-restaurant, The Landshark Bar & Grill.
“Throughout the pandemic, I’ve been committed to following public health protocols,” Whitmer said in a Sunday statement [May 23 2021].
“Yesterday, I went with friends to a local restaurant. As more people arrived, the tables were pushed together. Because we were all vaccinated, we didn’t stop to think about it. In retrospect, I should have thought about it. I am human. I made a mistake, and I apologize.”
To summarize the Whitmer bar photo controversy, Breitbart spotted a Facebook post which originally included a photograph of Whitmer seated with twelve other individuals at an East Lansing bar and restaurant on May 22 2021. Breitbart (and later Hannity.com) cited Whitmer’s May 15 2021 update to state guidelines for mask-wearing and social distancing — guidelines which confusingly retained updates from the CDC on May 13 2021 and sub-sections which conflicted with one another (which were in large part as confusing as they were because of a highly politicized discussion over masks in the state of Michigan, throughout which the state Republican Party has liberally spread disinformation.) However, those guidelines explicitly stated that the requirement to wear a mask at indoor gatherings does not apply to individuals who are fully vaccinated — wording which included the fully vaccinated governor of Michigan herself. Moreover, despite a strong national vaccination rate, the Michigan’s guidelines noted that the state experienced a surge in April 2021. Finally, when considering the entirety of the guidelines, the CDC’s issuance of new mask protocols, and the vaccination status of Whitmer’s tablemates, the claim clearly is — in true disinformation form — Decontextualized.