One of my typical greetings at the State Capitol is, “So, what are you hearing?” which is usually condensed into “whaddya hearin’?” Often the response is, “About what?”
That’s a good conversation starter with Capitol regulars to find out what’s going on. What news have they heard? What’s happening behind closed doors? What conflict or agreement may be brewing?
Information is currency at the Capitol. Reporters thrive on it, but so do lawmakers, lobbyists and staff. It’s impossible for any one person to keep track of everything, so the exchange of information is vitally important.
The value of the information exchanged varies wildly. For example, a trusted source returning from a meeting with stakeholders typically has credible knowledge… something you can build on for a story or trade with others.
But that wheat has to be separated from the chaff. Many conversations begin with “I heard …” That information may be false (or even laughable) or a legitimate tip. You just have to check it out.
All this leads to what happened last Friday. A trusted legislative source texted me saying he had been asked by another reporter about a rumor that Governor Jim Justice has cancer and is going to resign.
Okay, that sounded highly unlikely, and none of us in the MetroNews newsroom had heard that, but you don’t want to get scooped, so you follow up and start asking around. Unfortunately, the more people you ask about it, the more the rumor spreads.
And that doesn’t take long at the Capitol where it’s like a small town on steroids; we’re all jammed into one building and, because of technology, people can communicate instantly.
The rumor became so toxic that the Governor felt compelled to respond. He issued a statement that evening. “Could the false rumors please stop,” Justice said. “Instead of celebrating and concentrating on the wonderful achievements that have been taking place in our state, some people are questioning my health. In no way, shape, form or fashion are these rumors true.”
So, how do these rumors get started?
First, Justice has had some health problems. Last year he was treated at Johns Hopkins for a viral infection and was out of pocket for a few days. Also, he’s not as visible as he was last year. As MetroNews reporter Brad McElhinny wrote, “Justice has been at the Capitol lately, although his presence has not been as pronounced as during the last legislative session, when he was vocal about the state’s budget crisis.”
Finally—and how do we say this politely—Justice sometimes just looks like he’s ailing. “Justice gets out of breath when he walks and also limps,” McElhinny wrote. “He almost always sits down during public speaking engagements.”
However, talk to people close to him and they will tell you that between performing his duties as Governor and coaching the Greenbrier East girls basketball team, Justice keeps a hellacious work schedule.
“Listen, I run like crazy. Non-stop,” he said several months back when talking about his schedule.
So the Governor is in fine fiddle. At least that’s what I’ve heard.