“We all know what the rules says about sitting at a dining table and dining. Don’t be ridiculous. … They took a picture of me where dinner and drinks were served.”

— Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D), speaking to reporters, Aug. 3

“A mask is not required during the following activities/situations when a person is … actively eating or drinking.”

Executive order issued by Bowser, effective July 31

The mayor is in hot water because an opinion writer at the Washington Examiner reported that she violated her own mask order while attending a reception after a wedding at which she officiated. The mayor and her office have responded with spin and obfuscation — what we in the news business call a non-denial denial. In the process, she seems to have recast the meaning of the executive order that went into effect on the day of the wedding.

Let’s explore.

The Facts

Bowser issued the order because of concerns about the delta variant, which is more contagious than the original form of the coronavirus at the start of the pandemic.

Tiana Lowe, a commentary writer at the Washington Examiner whose ideology is not easily pigeonholed, has long been supportive of coronavirus vaccines — “we have the empirical evidence: The vaccines work” — but was critical of the new mask order. It was prompted by the new guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but Lowe has argued the guidance was based on a flawed study from India.

In one column, Lowe noted that in the District “there were only four coronavirus casualties in the entirely unmasked month of July,” all of whom were elderly or had preexisting conditions. She archly added that “statistically speaking, you’re more than 4 times as likely to die of homicide this year in Washington” than of covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.

Lowe got a tip that on the day the order went into effect, Bowser would be attending a wedding at the Line hotel in Adams Morgan. So Lowe decided to check out how the new mandate would be enforced.

The wedding was held outside, on the rooftop, while the reception was held on the mezzanine inside the hotel. Lowe arrived during the reception, approximately 9:30 p.m. She told The Fact Checker she stayed for about a half-hour, observing the mayor sitting at one of the dining tables. During that entire period, she said, Bowser never put on her mask even though it appeared the meal was over. She saw servers clearing away plates. She said toasts were being made but Bowser was not drinking.

Lowe said Bowser put on her mask when she left the reception. Lowe said she tried to ask a question but was blocked by her security detail. “I left because despite the narrative, I obviously didn’t want to crash some random couple’s wedding, and that’s when Bowser’s security rebuffed me and she left,” she said.

After Lowe’s story appeared with a photo of Bowser, maskless at a reception table, her office issued this statement: “On Saturday, July 31st, Mayor Bowser officiated an outdoor, rooftop wedding ceremony, followed by an indoor dinner. The Mayor wore a mask indoors in compliance with the mandate, and the organizers and venue staff worked to create a safe environment for the staff and guests.”

The statement makes no effort to explain why Bowser was seen without a mask but simply asserts she wore one indoors in compliance with the mandate. The suggestion is that the photo only caught her during a moment when she was eating.

On Aug. 2, Lowe posted a 25-second video she took of the reception. The video (below) shows Bowser seating at a table without a mask — even though at least one of the people at her table is wearing a mask. The audience is watching someone speaking, apparently as part of a toast. Servers, some in masks, are clearing a few remaining plates. Many people in the audience are not wearing masks.

In other words, Bowser is not “actively eating or drinking,” as the mandate requires. So, defending herself before the media, on Tuesday, Bowser subtly rewrote her own rules, suggesting that as long as you are at a dining table, being maskless is okay: “We all know what the rules says about sitting at a dining table and dining.”

Bowser also tried to argue the photograph was taken during the meal, not the toasts. “They took a picture of me where dinner and drinks were served,” she said. “Okay, did they show you the whole time I was there? No. Did they show you when I had on a mask? No. Because they have a little thing they are trying to do.”

As the video indicates, the meal was over. Bowser acknowledged to reporters she saw many people at the reception not wearing masks.

As part of her defense, Bowser also falsely claimed that Lowe was one of the “right-wing nuts” who opposed vaccination: “What I know is we have a lot of covid deniers out there who are largely responsible for the country not being able to recover from covid, because for many months, they have been telling their followers not to get vaccinated, who have spent two or three days spreading disinformation.”

As we noted, Lowe is a strong advocate of vaccination. Bowser’s staff needs to do better homework on her critics.

Bowser also relied on the old trick of denying a story because of the headline, saying: “The right-wingers, you know what they said? I officiated a wedding indoors — already a lie from the top.” The headline of Lowe’s original story said: “DC Mayor Bowser officiates maskless indoor wedding after reinstated mask mandate.” Oops. But the story itself was about the wedding reception, not the wedding itself.

Bowser’s communications director, Olivia Dedner, did not respond to emailed requests for comment.

The Pinocchio Test

This is an embarrassing moment for the mayor. The video clearly shows she is seated at a table, when the meal is over, in violation of her own mask mandate that says masks are not required indoors in these circumstances only when “actively eating or drinking.” But she could have used this an object lesson — that she got caught up in the celebratory mood and failed to put her mask back on. After all, everyone makes mistakes from time to time. But it’s important for political leaders to set an example — even when making an error.

Instead, she defended herself with partisan-laced spin and innuendo about “disinformation,” making false accusations about the reporter who exposed her actions. She earns Four Pinocchios.

Four Pinocchios

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