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If anyone needed proof that Jim Justice’s thrice-weekly COVID-19 briefings have long since outlived their usefulness, look no farther than Justice’s cringe-worthy outburst at Thursday’s briefing.

Justice has long since abandoned any pretense of leadership during the pandemic, beyond repeatedly begging and cajoling an immovable audience to get their shots.

Let’s face it. The reality is there are about 660,000 eligible West Virginians who are just not going to get vaccinated.

Each briefing of late has taken on a déjà vu quality, with Justice reading a seemingly ever-lengthening list of COVID-19 deaths, followed up by his pleas for people to get vaccinated as the only way to stop what he indelicately calls the death lottery — which he frequently emphasizes by making a spinning wheel sound effect.

Then, he inevitably negates whatever rational message he has delivered by giving a wink and a nudge to his MAGA base, telling them that he respects their purported freedom to refuse to be vaccinated.

With increasing frequency, Justice’s briefings have delved off into partisan political rants, with Justice using Joe Biden, Nancy Pelosi, Joe Manchin and other Democrats in Washington as scapegoats to deflect his own incompetence in dealing with the pandemic.

Which is particularly glaring in that Justice claims to be apolitical and says the reason he refuses to institute any public health mandates is out of fear they would be politically divisive.

On Thursday, Justice directed his venom into a particularly vile, misogynistic attack on Charleston Mayor Amy Shuler Goodwin, who had dared to make an entirely reasonable proposal to convene a special session of the Legislature to address three major challenges facing the state, substance abuse, homelessness, and mental health.

Naturally, any time anyone points out the state is failing to meet Justice’s idyllic delusion of being a diamond in the rough and the envy of the nation, thin-skinned Jim takes it as a personal affront, and lashes out.

Notably on Thursday, Justice condescendingly commented, “Amy, baby, look if you can get the Legislature to go along with a special session to discuss these bills, I absolutely will do it.”

Justice surely must comprehend that the current legislative leadership’s failure to address social issues. Frequently enacting measures that only serve to exacerbate social ills is a reason problems with substance abuse, homelessness and mental health are worsening.

Of course the Republican-controlled Legislature won’t consent to a special session on these issues.

That Justice is dismissive of these issues as worthy of legislative scrutiny and trying to portray them as problems that are, if not unique to Charleston, at least predominant in the city, shows how out of touch our part-time governor is with state he supposedly governs.

•••

I don’t know Dr. Clay Marsh well, but I worked for his dad for many years and can say unequivocally that Don Marsh would be mortified to know his son is participating in these clown shows.

I suppose Dr. Marsh believes he is providing a public health service by having a statewide forum to provide sound guidance through the pandemic.

However, as noted, these briefings long have outlived their utility. It’s pointless to continue to present the same message over and over to the 660,000 who refuse to listen, particularly when Justice almost always negates Marsh’s message with his “but, ‘Merica” refrain.

At this point, Dr. Marsh cannot accomplish anything more by continuing to participate in these briefings other than to allow damage to his reputation and that of health sciences at West Virginia University, just as Dr. Deborah Birx’ association with President Donald Trump sullied her reputation as a consummate scientist and public health professional.

•••

One of the byproducts of Justice’s clinging to remote video press briefings long after he has declared all other aspects of daily life are back to normal is that it gives reporters from small media outlets some distance away from Charleston the ability to participate in the Q-and-As.

There’s one reporter for a small radio station in the eastern panhandle that we nicknamed Softball Paul for his tendency to ask softball questions during the briefings.

I believe his first-ever question to Justice was something to the effect of, “Can you put into words just how much the National Guard means to you?”

(If Justice were more sharp-witted, he could have replied, “I can’t put it into words, but I can do an interpretive dance.”)

At a recent briefing, Justice praised Softball Paul by saying, “He’s as loyal as he can be, and he asks great questions.”

“Great” meaning softball questions, but what was really telling about the comment was the reference to being loyal, which is defined as being unwavering in allegiance.

Expecting loyalty from reporters is not how this works. It’s a complete distortion of what should be, by design, an adversarial relationship.

Conversely, Justice perceives reporters who ask tough questions, or who challenge his interpretations of the facts, to be disloyal.

(Which may be how, in his mind, he justifies behavior such as refusing to call on Gazette-Mail reporters.)

Which brings us to Margaret Brennan’s interview of Justice a week ago on the CBS News program “Face The Nation.”

Justice got agitated over Brennan’s disloyalty in asserting that West Virginia is in a state of crisis over the delta variant surge and questioning why he is refusing to mandate COVID-19 vaccinations for eligible schoolchildren, when the state requires schoolchildren to have a whole slew of other vaccinations.

Again, Justice cannot stand it when anyone shatters his delusion about West Virginia being a shining example for the nation, and he particularly cannot stand criticism from strong, intelligent women.

At one point, according to the CBS News transcript, a floundering Justice complained, “Now, Margaret, you know, you don’t have to come in so hot. You guys asked me to come, you know?”

(This coming not long after MSNBC’s Stephanie Ruhle completely eviscerated Justice during a live interview.)

Part of what used to be fun about being a statehouse reporter was the give-and-take with governors at their pressers.

Arch Moore was the master of matching wits with reporters, responding to what he considered uninformed questions with the preface, “Let me backfill you, education-wise.”

Likewise, Manchin, Bob Wise and Cecil Underwood all relished their exchanges with the press corps, something Justice simply isn’t up to speed to do. Thus, he continues to hide behind his electronic barricades.

•••

That Justice expects loyalty from reporters, and bristles at the mildest criticism was exemplified by the firing Thursday of West Virginia Public Broadcasting Executive Director Chuck Roberts.

When Roberts was named executive director in December 2018, one of his first actions was to notify the governor’s office that WVPB staffers would not be participating in the then-new Communications Hub, the Bray Cary project to combine the communications divisions of the governor’s office and Department of Commerce into one massive promotional machine for Justice and the state.

“I don’t see us reporting and also being part of that pool,” Roberts said at the time.

Justice, who frequently has expressed dismay that WVPB practices independent journalism and doesn’t function as state media, set out to correct that issue.

He stacked the Educational Broadcasting Authority, the governing body of WVPB, with right-wingers such as Greg Thomas and Danielle Waltz, the latter of whom was a member of an organization that advocates for total defunding of WVPB.

At the time, Senate Minority Leader Stephen Baldwin, D-Greenbrier, sounded the alarm, questioning why Justice was appointing authority members who don’t appear to have the best interests of public broadcasting at heart.

At its most recent meeting, on Oct. 1, the authority met privately in a closed-door session to discuss a personnel matter, but took no action when the open meeting resumed, so it’s not entirely clear how the authority could have legally directed the firing of Roberts.

Since the agency (and thus, WVPB) is under the purview of the Department of Arts, Culture and History, we can presume Justice left it up to curator Randall Reid-Smith to clip Roberts.

(I’m told Reid-Smith had failed to give Roberts authorization to fill at least two reporting vacancies, because, obviously, if you don’t have reporters, you don’t have independent journalism.)

Justice’s meddling in WVPB doesn’t bode well for an institution that depends as much on corporate sponsorships and contributions from viewers and listeners as it does on state funding.

•••

Finally, the great governor’s office shopping spree for the second round of vaccination incentive prizes (otherwise known as the taxpayer-funded rewards for folks who had already gotten vaccinated long ago) continues.

A few tidbits of the latest purchases, uncovered through the magic of the Freedom of Information Act:

  • $109,079 to Yes Chevrolet in Hurricane for a 2021 Mustang GT.
  • $81,885 to Astorg Auto in Charleston for an Audi S5.
  • $68,317 to Moses Ford for a 2021 BMW M240.
  • $92,832 to Lou Wendell Marine, St. Albans, for an Avalon Catalina pontoon boat.
  • $52,484 to Trojan Landing Marine in Charleston for an Xpress X18 Pro bass boat.
  • A total of $127,066 to The Great Outdoors Marine and Sports Shop in Lavalette for three bass boats.
  • A total of $177,513 to Adams Power Equipment of Beckley for 12 luxury riding lawnmowers ranging in cost from $9,389 to $10,999 each, and 12 on-road utility trailers.

Can’t wait until the feds come wanting clawback for all the wasted pandemic money.

Phil Kabler covers politics. He can be reached at 304-348-1220 or philk@hdmediallc.com. Follow

@PhilKabler on Twitter.

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