Rantz: Coronavirus shelter-in-place fears grow as Inslee offers bad jokes

Mar 18, 2020, 9:20 PM | Updated: Mar 19, 2020, 7:37 pm
Inslee, coronavirus, washington state...
Gov. Jay Inslee, answers a question at a news conference about the coronavirus outbreak.(photo by Elaine Thompson-Pool/Getty Images)
(photo by Elaine Thompson-Pool/Getty Images)

Governor Jay Inslee completely botched his most recent coronavirus press conference. As Washingtonians increasingly fear a coronavirus shelter-in-place order is inevitable, Inslee joked about playing basketball. Then, remarkably, he completely dismissed a question on the topic everyone is thinking about.

It’s hard to understate how poorly Inslee performed in the Wednesday afternoon address. In his press conferences earlier this week, Inslee handled the messaging well, not just with clear communication but with an appropriate tone. Too bad it didn’t last at one of his most important addresses.

Coronavirus shelter-in-place dismissed

Inslee’s team set this press conference up to fail. San Francisco had recently announced a dramatic coronavirus shelter-in-place declaration. New York City appears close to their own. Portland is considering the same order.

Seattle appeared ready for the same declaration, especially since the press release announcing the addressed listed Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan as the only city leader to address the state. The previous addresses included regional leaders representing the state’s biggest three counties. This time? Durkan. Seattle, one would think, would be the center of a serious, mid-day announcement.

Then there was the unthinkable cryptic tweet signaling a major announcement.

This didn’t sound hopeful. It sounded extreme and solemn. Indeed, spend ten seconds to look at the responses to his tweet. People thought a coronavirus shelter-in-place order was imminent.

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A bizarre tone

It became clear as Inslee spoke at the press conference, that a coronavirus shelter-in-place order wasn’t coming. His tone was more upbeat, announcing meaningful plans to help Washingtonians hurt by the coronavirus.

But he and his team should have known everyone expected the extreme quarantine order.

Not only did he fail to address the population’s biggest fear, showing a shocking inability to feel the pulse of the state, Inslee ended his statement with a meandering, goofy, bizarre story about being a crummy basketball player.

The anecdote started off simple enough. He was speaking to his former basketball coach who, at 100 years old, is in the age demographic that is experiencing a high mortality rate with COVID-19 exposure. But then completely out of the blue:

I have to admit I was a little disturbed talking to the coach because somebody put up a little clip of my basketball team when I was playing back in 1969. And they just showed a few seconds of that and it showed this guy’s shooting right over the top of me and I lifted my hands. But there wasn’t a half inch between me and the floor. It was like I was nailed to the floor. And that was very disturbing to me because my recollection, I was a really leaper, blocking shots right and left so that was a little disturbing.

The only thing disturbing was this asinine and useless anecdote.

No one cares about his basketball career or his reflection on his embarrassing basketball career. They’re nervous about their health and economic future. Read a room, Inslee. Or, perhaps, that was the problem. The room was almost empty and no one laughed or giggled. It made the whole bit even more awkward.

Dismissing coronavirus shelter-in-place concerns

A reporter asked Inslee about the big issue everyone is thinking about: A coronavirus shelter-in-place order. Inslee intentionally dodged the question.

Well listen, we could spend a lot of time trying to chase down rumors and we got to focus on today’s challenges today and that’s what we’re doing to try to help the economic prospects of Washingtonians and that’s what we’re focused on today. If we just spend our time trying to imagine scenarios we’re not going to be able to make progress and I encourage people to try to focus on what we can do to together today and that’s what we’re doing. This COVID is expanding in our state. We’re concerned about that and we’re making decisions as best we can on a daily basis, but today we’re focused on helping people in their economic problems and I’m glad that we can take some real steps in that regard.

The reporter pushed back, asking for a direct answer. But he wouldn’t get one.

That all this is that is a futile thing to think about today we’re making decisions to help people in their economic conditions and we can’t just try to speculate what may happen 30, 40, 60 days from now. It’s just a futile exercise of chasing our tail. We’ve got to pull together, be calm, be rational, and the good decisions today.

This was a disturbing display of indifference.

It’s not futile

Inslee is either lying or downright incompetent if he says he and his team aren’t thinking about a coronavirus shelter-in-order declaration. Is he not paying attention to the news? He knows it’s being implemented and discussed elsewhere and he knows it’s in his toolbox here in Washington to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

No one asked Inslee to “chase down rumors” at all. This is one rumor, it’s based on a perceptive, news-aware population. It’s reasonable to ask about this. And even if it wasn’t reasonable, it’s what so many of us are thinking. To dismiss it, when people are scared, is bad leadership. It shows he’s out of touch. For many, they just want to know if they should prepare for it so when the order comes, they don’t panic.

And I certainly hope Inslee isn’t just thinking about decisions he’s making the day of. This is a pandemic and he needs to be thinking not just about today, but tomorrow, next week, and next month.

Mayor Durkan doesn’t get a pass, either

Durkan had the opportunity to address the concerns and rumor but opted to transform into Mayor Suck Up in a poorly scripted, poorly performed address. For the love of everything that’s holy, can she — and other local leaders — stop opening their remarks by explaining how good their counterparts are doing?

When you think Inslee or your colleagues are doing poorly, that’s when you can start grading everyone. When the state is seriously questioning the competency of Inslee, that’s when you can open your remarks assuring us he’s a good leader. Or, wait until the end of your comments to kiss each other’s backside. No one sits through the credits anyway.


Inslee (and Durkan), all you need to do is tell us what you’re doing, why you’re doing it, why it matters, and answer the questions everyone has.

I like the daily briefings because it says you’re on top of things. When Inslee explained the schools were closing across the state, he delivered it pitch perfectly. I want that governor. But to diminish our concerns by telling us we should focus only on what he wants us to focus on, he risks losing our trust and respect.

Portland’s coronavirus shelter-in-place update.

Per the Portland Mercury: “The city’s already drafted an emergency ordinance directing Portlanders to shelter in place—or, stay in their home and away from others as much as possible during the city’s state of emergency tied to COVID-19. The ordinance is loosely based on shelter in place rules instituted by San Francisco on Tuesday.”

Listen to the Jason Rantz Show weekday afternoons from 3-6 p.m. on KTTH 770 AM (or HD Radio 97.3 FM HD-Channel 3). Subscribe to the podcast here. Follow @JasonRantz on Twitter. 

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Rantz: Coronavirus shelter-in-place fears grow as Inslee offers bad jokes