After 30-some years in this job, one would think there would be nothing new or unprecedented that could come down the pike. Yet, if you had told me that Gov. Jim Justice would make national headlines not for the state’s coronavirus response but for dropping an f-bomb in a live broadcast, I would not have believed it.
A Google search reveals the f-bomb heard ‘round the state was reported in Newsweek and MarketWatch and the Washington Examiner, Lexington Herald-Leader (in which one of my tweets was included), Daily Caller and (Raleigh, N.C.) News & Observer.
It’s clear from watching the YouTube video of the daily COVID-19 briefing Monday that at the 13:54 mark, Justice clearly said the “f” word but did so unintentionally, trying to change a statement in mid-thought.
In discussing provisions for reopening of businesses, Justice starts to say, “if they follow guidelines,” then tries to pivot to, “if they can follow guidelines.”
In doing so, the audio captures Justice making the “fah” sound from “follow,” immediately followed by the words “can follow,” sounding to viewers and listeners as if he had dropped an “f-bomb.”
I’m sure we’ve all tried to do a 180-degree change of thought in mid-sentence and ended up stammering or blurting out a word we hadn’t intended to say, but generally without the misfortunate of forming a word that happens to be an obscenity.
Justice stated in a subsequent video that not only had he not used the f-word in the briefing but that he has never uttered the word, ever. He was empathic, stating, “No possibility in any way, shape, form or fashion.”
Many thought the notion a longtime basketball coach, coal baron and recipient of multi-million-dollar penalties and fines has never used this particular obscenity was far-fetched. I know others initially applauded Justice’s bravado when they thought he had purposely used the word; they were disappointed when he disowned it.
In my tenure here, I’ve always been taken aback by the sheer number of politicians who find it impossible to simply admit a mistake.
Consider that, also this week when confronted with the Gazette-Mail’s reporting that the state purchased 50,000 N95 masks that are either counterfeit or insufficient to protect healthcare providers and first responders from the COVID-19 virus, state Military Affairs and Public Safety Secretary Jeff Sandy doubled down, claiming, as best I could ascertain, that the masks are perfectly acceptable, even if they aren’t exactly what was ordered.
Given that the White House failed to take on the seemingly natural function to be a national clearinghouse for personal protective equipment, West Virginia and all other states found themselves in a wild scramble to obtain masks and other needed gear from whatever suppliers and sources they could find — and that included getting into bidding wars pitting state against state.
Arguably, it would be easy enough to admit that West Virginia was lucky just to find a supplier with an in-state connection that could provide the masks, but through a series of mishaps, be it language barriers or the pressure of competing with other jurisdictions or the urgency to obtain the masks, part of the order was botched.
Under the circumstances, most people would be understanding.
It’s like the state placed an order for 100,000 ribeye steaks from one of those online companies, and when the order arrived, there were 50,000 ribeyes and 50,000 hamburger patties.
The reasonable thing to do would be to send back the 50,000 hamburgers and get the order corrected, not to distribute the hamburgers, while trying to pass them off as being every bit as good as the ribeye steak.
Speaking of masks, kudos to staff writer Joe Severino for his coverage of the N95 issue. I hear readers lamenting that Eric Eyre or Ken Ward is gone, but those were but two of a long line of hardworking, distinguished and gifted reporters who have worked for the Gazette-Mail and Gazette over the years. That lineage continues with a new group of young reporters who are honing their craft and will be every bit as good as the reporters who preceded them over the decades.
And that’s all I’ve got to say about that.
During times of crisis — 9/11, after the derecho, the water crisis — it’s been my observation that the truly essential employees at the Capitol are General Services Division workers, the craftsmen and custodians who keep the building functioning and clean.
During the current closure of the Capitol for the coronavirus pandemic, those workers are in fact on duty and they’re doing so without access to masks or certain other protective gear.
These workers are keeping our magnificent Capitol in working order during the pandemic, and they should not be expected to risk their health or well-being doing so.
According to Department of Administration spokeswoman Samantha Knapp, early into the pandemic, the General Services Division donated virtually its entire inventory of masks to the Department of Health and Human Resources to distribute to first-responders and has reordered masks, but the masks, of course, are on backorder.
She said General Service employees are, in fact, encouraged to provide their own face coverings and custodial staff is working a modified schedule intended to limit their exposure.
Finally, a quick Harry Zain follow-up. Thanks to the magic of the Interweb, I got a call from Paul Kleypas of Houston. Kleypas happens to be Zain’s brother-in-law, although he said he’s never met Zain and he and his wife (Zain’s sister) had no idea where Zain might be.
Having been sent a copy of the April 12 column regarding how Zain had called me out of the blue from a Long Island area code, saying he was in a “bad poverty situation” and wanted me to publicize his desire to obtain a loan, Kleypas reached out for contact information.
Seems that Zain’s mother left him a small inheritance, but Zain has been estranged from the family for so long, they had no idea of his whereabouts, or even if he was still alive.
Somehow, in the past week, I’ve ended up acting as an intermediary of sorts between Kleypas and Zain.
Zain, worried about giving out his address, wants Kleypas to wire money to a Charleston lawyer, who would in turn would set up a trust fund that Zain could tap into.
That’s where things stand at the moment. Perhaps, I’ll be able to tell you how it all played out in a future column.