Practicing without a license … following the science … spiking the football … sooner rather than later … gives us no joy … knuckleheads … and, of course — the woman who needs no introduction.
Gov. Phil Murphy held the 257th and final COVID-19 briefing Friday afternoon from the War Memorial in Trenton.
The final event may not rank up there with the final episodes of “Seinfeld” or “M*A*S*H,” but it’s fair to say its impact on our daily lives was far greater, especially coming during a time of tumult that was worse than any fictional series could have conceived.
The briefings brought the catch phrases noted above (who had a briefing bingo card?) while making household names out of Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli, State Police Superintendent Col. Pat Callahan, State Epidemiologist Dr. Christina Tan and Department of Health Communicable Disease Service Medical Director Dr. Ed Lifshitz.
But they also brought much-needed information, especially in the opening weeks and months, as we learned more about the virus and the steps the state was taking to fight it. And Murphy’s mentions of those who had succumbed certainly personalized the horrors of the pandemic.
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To be sure, if there ever is a museum that attempts to show what life was (is) like in New Jersey during COVID-19, tapes of these briefings must be included.
What a run it has been.
For those who don’t remember, Murphy was not at the first few pressers; they were handled by Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver as Murphy was recovering from cancer surgery. (And, regardless of how you feel about Murphy’s handling of the pandemic, we hope the fact that he rushed back to work so soon after so serious a surgery will be viewed with the respect and admiration it deserves.)
In the opening weeks, there were events on the weekends, although some were by phone. The regularity of the event — it went down to 2-3 a week to even weekly as the situation warranted — served as barometer of the pandemic.
From a media perspective, the access to the governor was unprecedented. To be fair, the format wasn’t perfect: Taking all questions in advance allowed the governor to pick and choose which ones he wanted to answer and prevented the all-important follow-up questions to his selected answers. But it was workable. (And Murphy deserves credit for his ability to take down rapid-fire questions, rarely forgetting a single one.)
Someone suggested that all future governors be required to hold a weekly media briefing — carried live on the internet — under the idea of transparency with residents. That’s not a bad thought. Murphy would be a model for how they should work.
Yes, the briefings helped build Murphy’s brand with voters in a time of crisis — but even the most cynical of critics would have to admit the information provided far exceeded any political gain.
That he handled so many questions with grace — even though some were not on topic, and some were not necessarily polite — deserves noting, too. There were no, “Sit down and shut up” moments, to be sure.
And, while Murphy had to be the bearer of so much bad news during the course of the briefings, it’s fair to say he was a natural with the format — even bringing on selected guests as if this were the state’s version of “The Tonight Show” (Murphy, who has a subtle wit, was more Johnny Carson than Jay Leno or Jimmy Fallon).
Will I be sad to see them go?
To be fair, ROI-NJ left these briefings behind a while ago. Yes, I have them on in the background and can jump at stories as needed, but it’s been a while since they have been required viewing. It’s sort of like the final episode of “Cheers” — a great show I didn’t quite see through to the end.
TV series finales, however, are not the same. You hate to see your favorite TV personalities go — but you do, knowing that they will live on forever in syndication.
The COVID-19 briefings? Here’s hoping they will be a distant memory one day, soon. We’re all more than ready for a new show.