Over the course of this long quarantine, the Justice administration’s weekly press conferences have been an overarching constant in my home. Three days of the week, Jim Justice’s face would be on the screen during lunchtime, as we’d restlessly wait for any sign of COVID-19’s decline, and in my case, an announcement concerning whether or not I’d be able to go back to school, if at all for the remaining year.
After watching those conferences for almost a year now, it’s easy to pick up on a couple of the things he’s said, and a few of the governor’s behaviors.
One of the main things I picked up on was his general discontent with the media. I listened to him talk about how he feels the media “never shows good news on the headlines,” and about how the Gazette-Mail, the newspaper that publishes FlipSide, doesn’t give the good things he’s done enough publicity.
“But the Charleston Gazette, you know, how could we possibly not report that West Virginia leads the nation in vaccines?” says Gov. Justice during the press conference of Jan. 13; continuing to go on about how the Gazette-Mail is only “for gossip.”
But the way Justice presents his news is obviously biased: him being impolite to reporters, catering to “Fox and Friends” because they are news sources that support him, and through his COVID-19 map, which is a slightly altered version of the Harvard map which was first presented, which he seems to take pride in.
Usually after giving his standard update, the governor and his staff become open to Zoom reporter questions — except the weird part about it is that he never does any follow-ups. A reporter can ask one question — that’s it — and is unable to make him elaborate if he doesn’t really answer the question, which is an easy formula for distributing news that only supports his image.
It’s obvious in the ways he answers certain questions — for example, after the holidays a video at The Greenbrier, which is currently owned by the governor, circulated on social media. It was of a New Year’s Eve party, but the concerning part was that there were rooms full of (not socially distanced) people, barely a mask in sight. When he was questioned about this, he turned back onto the reporter about people alienating rich people, with no follow-up, and the reporters had to move on to get the COVID-19 news they needed. It’s not like they could ask many questions.
The governor has said it multiple times himself, he seems to think of himself as a pure news source. Like how he says, “I will report the news as I come on here,” and, “I will continue to come onto this brief, and tell the people of West Virginia — the people — as I told over and over — the truth.”
Even going as far as to insult one of the Gazette-Mail reporters, Phil Kabler.
“You know Phil Kabler is a gossip writer, you know he’s not a journalist.”
But multiple problems can arise from what he’s doing — and you can see it in what’s been going on across the nation. There’s a reason the first amendment gives freedom of press, as it’s a crucial part of a well-functioning government. The media represents the people’s voice, the right to know what is going on, our direct link to the government. Without that, a government can remain unchecked.
Sure, our government has a system to prevent abuse of power, but if that were to ever collapse, then we’d be in serious trouble. The press is one of those fail-safes; it’s a way to keep the public informed and prevent such situations. But imagine if government officials were able to silence the media just because they didn’t like what was being said? It’s a political loophole; without unbiased sources, you’ll never know the difference.
It’s not that Justice is giving us fake news, his COVID-19 information is accurate, but he airs “press conferences” and makes it so he can control what’s being said about him, just to promote his image. He’s not respecting the press, or the way media works at all. I can’t name a government official who “loves” the media, but the media is a reflection of information and public opinions, not some big, bad enemy. The media’s going to say things that everyone, in one way or another, doesn’t like, but that’s the way of things, as long as people have opinions.
It’s disappointing, to say the least, to have an elected official publicly treat others like this. The press is trying to do their jobs, not make people more appealing when they ask for it. Media isn’t perfect — it never was, never will be, but it’s very important to what makes us function as a society and it should be treated with as much respect as the governor is, and that should go both ways. Even if you internally dislike someone, it’s general politeness to still be respectful, no matter the argument. I bet with a little bit of effort, the changes can go a long way.