Mother Jones’ Andrea Guzman uses Three Anonymous Workers to Speak for All Retail Workers Being “Pissed Off” about Ending Store Mask Mandates

  • Guzman interviews three anonymous employees from one store. Only one of which she actually quotes as being “pissed off” about the end of the mask mandate. 
  • Headline assumes those three anonymous sources means that ALL retail workers everywhere are “pissed off.” 
  • Guzman provides zero context about the CDC’s new guidelines, nor COVID statistics in the states and counties that each employee works in. 

OUR RATING: Sloppy and Error-Filled. Your typical Friday night at Fox News, sloppy work.

Indicted Outlet: Andrea Guzman | Mother Jones | Link | Archive 

When a headline makes a claim as broad as “Retail workers are pissed off about the end of masks in stores,” one would hope that it might contain accounts from dozens of retail workers from a variety of businesses all across the country. Especially following the pathos-filled subhead: “That was our safety blanket, almost. And now it’s just gone.” 

But in Mother Jones, writer Andrea Guzman’s claim was supported by only three anonymous employees of a single business: Trader Joe’s. Immediately, bad sources renders Guzman’s broad claim defunct and her lying headline utterly misleading. To reflect the content of her article, the headline should instead read: “Three Trader Joe’s employees are upset that the store dropped its mask mandate.” But then, that would not make for the click-bait splash she probably desired, nor heighten the narrative of working class injustice and COVID-hysteria that Mother Jones routinely pushes. 

Major Violations:

  • Bad Sources
  • Lying Headline
  • Cherry Picking

First, her choice to feature Trader Joe’s instead of Costco or Walmart, which she also mentions, seems suspect. I love Trader Joe’s everything-bagel seasoning as much as the next guy, but still, the multimillion dollar chain has a distinct, crunchy flavor to it: It attracts progressives and liberals like moths to a flame. Guzman’s selection of that particular establishment bears implicit bias already. Trader Joe’s patrons and employees are more likely to lean liberal and experience COVID-phobia than Costo and Walmart, neither of which she represented.

Trader Joe’s is only in 43 U.S. states, [1] and viewing the map shows that their ~450 locations are primarily in New York, Philly, Washington, Chicago, and California.[2] So she’s cherry-picking not only the retail chain, but likely the location and workers as well. 

Not only did Guzman interview only three Trader Joe’s employees, she only quoted ONE of the three as actually being “pissed off” about Trader Joe’s ending its mask requirement. 

Guzman quotes the California Trader Joe’s employee: 

“A Trader Joe’s worker in Los Angeles, California also said it was too soon to end hazard pay. “At the same time they’re taking away this money, they’re also saying ‘okay so put yourself at further unknown risk with the public.’” 

This employee sounds a little more perturbed at losing his hazard compensation (a $2 “thank you” bonus on top of his $14 California minimum wage [3]) than actually fearful about COVID infection. He is “pissed off” alright, but about pay, not about his personal safety. By throwing his testimony into an article whose headline and subhead suggest fear and anger over personal safety, Guzman uses a classic bait and switch to exploit the COVID pandemic for a completely different social justice issue: low wages. 

Meanwhile, the Trader Joe’s employee from North Carolina does not seem personally concerned about safety at all. 

“One worker, in the Carolinas, said they feel like they’re at low risk since they’re vaccinated.” 

Since this employee did not fit Guzman’s narrative, she stuck it at the bottom of the piece because — as all journalists know — people usually don’t read to the end of an article. The headline, juxtaposed with Guzman’s mostly unrelated and entirely unconvincing evidence, seems a deliberate attempt to mislead readers. 

The unnamed Missouri Trader Joe’s employee did actually seem overwrought at the prospect of the maskless horde frequenting his store. 

‘“I honestly felt pretty uncomfortable,” said a worker in Missouri who was informed early in her shift. “There were actually like three or four [employees] who decided to go home that day just because it was a little bit overwhelming.”’

But the Missouri COVID stats render this employee’s fear unjustified. Throughout May, average cases per day over seven days has been as low as zero and never exceeded 800. [4] At most, that is less than 1% of the population. Hence, the CDC recommendation that people no longer have to wear masks in public. Guzman never provided this context in her article. But with it, the Missouri Trader Joe’s employee’s “trauma” seems exaggerated or at least unfounded in reality. This is all important missing context from the reporting.

The only other source that confirms Guzman’s headline is Erica Smiley, executive director of union rights organization Jobs with Justice. We must note, Smiley is NOT a retail worker but a union worker. [5] Guzman quotes her: 

“After 18 months of seeing co-workers get sick and pass away and to now have to be in a situation where that could happen again—aside from putting worker’s health at risk,” said Erica Smiley……“it’s also really traumatizing.”

Rather than showing readers through actual evidence that retail workers are “pissed off” Guzman, either because she could not find sources that fit her narrative or is too sloppy to try, employs Smiley to tell readers that retail workers should feel “traumatized.” Looks like Guzman hoped that readers would not notice that Smiley does not fit her demographic. 

It also should be noted that despite public opinion being divided on masks, Mother Jones makes no attempt to try and present workers who were relieved to be freed from the mask mandate and also the burden of having to confront customers about not wearing, or wrongly wearing, masks. As such, the story is also very unbalanced.

Ultimately, Guzman did not let her interviews drive the story, and may even have selected sources that she thought would further her narrative. Her headline promises something that her evidence does not deliver. She provides a straw man argument, appealing primarily to people’s emotions, to guilt them into wearing masks for eternity so that no one is offended, uncomfortable or “pissed off” despite the fact that vaccines are available to all, vaccination rates are rising, the CDC has cleared vaccinated people to unmask, [6] and COVID cases are dropping nationally. [7] 

OUR RATING: Sloppy and Error-Filled. Your typical Friday night at Fox News, sloppy work.


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