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Spin Control: Some small changes for covering Olympia during the pandemic

Gov. Jay Inslee, center, maintains physical distance as he gives a thumbs-up in thanks to American Sign Language interpreters who interpreted for him as he spoke about additional plans to slow the spread of coronavirus in a televised address from his office Monday, March 23, 2020, in Olympia. (Elaine Thompson / AP)
Gov. Jay Inslee, center, maintains physical distance as he gives a thumbs-up in thanks to American Sign Language interpreters who interpreted for him as he spoke about additional plans to slow the spread of coronavirus in a televised address from his office Monday, March 23, 2020, in Olympia. (Elaine Thompson / AP)

As for most people, life for reporters in the state capital has changed a bit in this time of coronavirus.

There are the wardrobe revisions. Through mid-March, because the Legislature was in session and its dress code in force, daily sartorial decisions consisted of which coat, shirt and tie to wear – thankfully guided by a wife and children with better fashion sense than I have. Currently, the key question is which sweatshirt to throw on. Alma mater, favored sports team or memento of past vacation? Hooded or non-hooded?

Although reporters are listed as essential workers on the descriptions that accompany Gov. Jay Inslee’s “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” order, most Olympia reporters are working from home, just like the Spokane-based reporters at The Spokesman-Review. This creates some interesting changes in things we used to take for granted, like news conferences.

The governor and other state officials now hold news teleconferences, primarily by software known as WebEx. We can see and hear the principal participants on our computers and they can hear us – usually, anyway – when we are “unmuted” to ask a question.

That mute button gives the government communications staff a certain power that they may be unlikely to give up, post COVID-19: the ability to do away with reporters trying to talk over each other in the scramble to blurt out questions before the allotted time runs out, and to re-mute them before they can ask a follow-up.

Reporters are generally not added to the available screens, which is a good thing because the public doesn’t need to see us in the best of times and less so in a time of sweats and pajamas.

Along with the transition to teleconferencing, Inslee has switched up his signoff. In the past, the governor, a fairly avid sports fan, was likely to end a speech or a news conference with a shoutout to the team of the moment. Go Dawgs, Go Cougs or Go Zags depending on how the teams were faring in their various college sports season, and definitely Go Hawks as the NFL season peaks.

There are no sports teams to cheer on, and Inslee has adapted a signoff to the COVID-19 season: “Wash your hands!”

Bob-bob-bobbling along

Along with the need for added security to protect him either from admirers of his knowledge or people doubting that COVID-19 is real, Dr. Anthony Fauci had a rare honor bestowed on him that few government officials who don’t reside in the White House receive.

He is getting his own bobblehead doll.

“Bobbleheads are the ultimate honor and we think Dr. Fauci deserves it given what he has done and continues to do for our country and the world in the battle against COVID-19,” according to a news release from Phil Sklar, the CEO of the National Bobblehead Hall of Fame and Museum.

Who knew that dolls with wiggly heads were the ultimate honor, let alone that there is a hall of fame AND a museum for them? It’s in Milwaukee, in case you’re wondering.

The doll has Fauci in a suit and tie, not a white lab coat or scrubs. It costs $25, which may be a shock to people who have become accustomed to getting miniature sports figures for free by showing up to certain games. But $5 goes to the American Hospital Association’s efforts to raise money for 100 million masks.

Would it be too much to ask that folks who apparently want to harm the good doctor just buy one of these, smash it and call it good?

Do as I say, not as I do

Campaign events have almost disappeared, but campaign emails have not. The most curious one from last week came from Donald Trump Jr., who accused Democrats of “playing politics during our nation’s greatest time of need.”

That might’ve resonated better if it hadn’t called for money for the president and House conservatives and contended “do-nothing Democrats have spent three years undermining my father and have proven they are more concerned with scoring political points and obtaining power than serving the American people.”

It arrived less than a week after the latest coronavirus relief bill passed the Senate unanimously and the House on a bipartisan voice vote.

On the other hand

Spin Control has pointed out some curious political musings from the regional communications director of the Trump re-election campaign about Inslee, including last week’s somewhat unusual complaint about him invoking Tom Brady rather than Russell Wilson in his jab that the president should be more than a backup.

So it was a bit of a surprise, but not an unpleasant one, to open an email in which Samantha Zager mentioned Inslee in a more positive light, as one of the governors applauding the president’s “bipartisan response” and working with him to get through the crisis as quickly and effectively as possible.

It’s true Inslee has been at least measured in his comments about the president while trying to push Trump to put the Defense Mobilization Act to broader use. “Applauding” might be too strong a word most days, but in the words of Rodney King, “Can’t we all just get along”?

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