It’s a short videoclip, panning across the floor of The Greenbrier resort on New Year’s Eve, showing a crowded room, with partygoers in close proximity to one another. Some were wearing masks, many were not.
It wasn’t a surprise that the clip generated outrage across West Virginia. The Greenbrier is owned by Gov. Jim Justice, who refused to put the business in a blind trust and has said his daughter is running the resort while he’s in office. Gov. Justice also has been appearing in COVID-19 briefings multiple times a week since last March, telling West Virginians to avoid large gatherings, especially indoors, and to wear masks. In fact, masks are now mandatory in all businesses and public buildings under an executive order from Justice.
Justice was questioned about the seeming hypocrisy and lack of self-accountability during his Monday briefing, and again displayed how badly he sometimes misunderstands what it means to be the leader of the state and to set an example for others to follow.
The governor’s first response was to call the video a “political hit job,” which makes little sense. And even if the video was released to put Justice on the hot seat, that response doesn’t address the obvious problem on display.
His second defense was to say he wasn’t even there. He was at his nearby home. He watched the ball drop on television to usher in 2021, kissed his wife and went to bed. There’s no reason to doubt this. If Justice’s involvement with The Greenbrier is anything like he runs state government, it’s more than believable he had no idea what was happening at the resort. Again, that doesn’t take away his responsibility.
Why was The Greenbrier having a large, indoor gathering in the first place when Gov. Justice was advising against just that in the name of public health and safety? How many people were put at risk because it took place?
Gov. Justice then reverted to a favorite line, “What would you have me do?” asking if he should just shut The Greenbrier down and have 1,500 resort employees lose their jobs. This is just a dodge, and a poor one at that. No one wants the resort shut down. No one wants anyone to lose their job. That had nothing to do with the line of questioning directed at the governor.
Finally, Justice said those at the party shouldn’t have taken off their masks, and, had he been there, he would have immediately directed attendees to put them back on. But, on his own admission and like so many controversial events that involve him, Justice wasn’t there.
Gov. Justice offered similar deflections when asked in November about a Thanksgiving event planned at the resort, saying he didn’t run things there but was certain staff and attendees would do everything to stay safe. That should have served as a lesson and a warning to the governor to make sure his own house is in order while advising an entire state during a health crisis that has now killed nearly 1,400 West Virginians and is on pace to hit more than 100,000 total cases sometime this week.
Whether running The Greenbrier or not, he should have realized that another such event wasn’t a good idea, and put a stop to it.
Instead, it turned into just another example of Gov. Justice’s failure to grasp the full nature of the responsibility of his office, and how rules apply to him just as much as anyone else.