The Charleston Gazette-Mail published this editorial on May 18:
An abbreviated COVID-19 briefing on Friday is a prime example of why Gov. Jim Justice, who has reopened just about everything else in West Virginia during the pandemic, should allow reporters to attend his news conferences in person.
Justice announced Friday two major changes — that those who are fully vaccinated against the virus no longer have to wear masks and that he’d be ending additional federal unemployment benefits three months early — before internet service at the Capitol supposedly crashed. There were, understandably, a lot of questions to be asked about both topics and others, but with the livestream down, Justice decided to call it a day after he’d been speaking for less than 20 minutes.
Had reporters been there in person, the briefing could have continued, and the public would have been much better informed about the logistics and ramifications of these new decisions. Not only that, but the limited format in which Justice has been conducting these briefings for about 14 months now prevents followup questions and more explanatory answers.
It’s understandable that Justice would conduct these briefings online only during the height of the pandemic. But cases have mostly been on the decline since mid-January, and vaccines have been available to the general public for at least two months. Yet, Justice continues to conduct briefings in isolation so he can control the narrative and be held to as little scrutiny as possible.
This tactic also was used by the state Legislature, controlled by a Republican supermajority, to keep the public from attending important hearings or votes this session. Many Republican legislators cited the public health threat, but then downplayed that threat by refusing to wear masks, or wearing masks that didn’t actually cover their nose and mouth.
The Legislature shouldn’t have been allowed to have it both ways, and neither should Justice. The governor announced a decision Friday that could end up costing the state about $80 million in federal money, claiming the unemployed are scamming the system and don’t want to go back to work. That’s a major decision and a major accusation that he should have to answer for. Instead, Justice decided he was done for the weekend after some technical difficulties.
If he wants to talk about work ethic, the governor should look in the mirror. He barely does his job, showing up every other day for a couple of hours during the week, issuing mandates from his cocoon and expecting that to be enough. Just who is scamming who here?