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Maryland governor uses news conference to clamp down on COVID-19, but earlier actions belie his tough talk | COMMENTARY

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan announces a new round of restrictions effective later this week, including a 10 p.m. closing time for bars and 50% capacity for retail and other businesses, due to rising cases of COVID-19 during a news conference on Tuesday, Nov. 17, 2020 in Annapolis, Md. (AP Photo/Brian Witte)
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan announces a new round of restrictions effective later this week, including a 10 p.m. closing time for bars and 50% capacity for retail and other businesses, due to rising cases of COVID-19 during a news conference on Tuesday, Nov. 17, 2020 in Annapolis, Md. (AP Photo/Brian Witte) (Brian Witte/AP)

Gov. Larry Hogan Tuesday was talking tough about following lockdown orders and not getting political when it comes to wearing masks. He was doing so from a news conference podium, a media space he is very skilled at using to promote his own image.

He knows how to time his press conferences, as he did Tuesday, to make sure he will lead late afternoon and early evening newscasts at stations around the state by nature of being the latest breaking news.

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He had all the right rhetoric down cold to further the image of a no-nonsense governor who doesn’t care which political leaders from which parties he offends in his effort to battle the coronavirus and try to keep his constituents safe.

“I’m a straight shooter, so let me give it to you straight,” he said at the top of the session before launching into the statistics showing what a huge spike of infections Maryland is now riding.

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But his tough words Tuesday were at odds with some of his actions the last few months when he lifted restrictions and catered to those who were complaining about the very real economic pain that rules on restaurants, bars and other businesses were causing to the economy.

In May, he announced a reopening plan for businesses in Maryland that some considered premature and misguided.

As a Sun editorial put it, “After two months of smart and measured, if at times unpopular, decisions to protect Marylanders from being overwhelmed by the coronavirus, Gov. Larry Hogan’s launch of his reopening plan Wednesday — two weeks after we hit a peak hospitalization rate — felt reckless by comparison.”

The editorial criticized Mr. Hogan for lifting restrictions “with little, if any, coordination with Maryland’s most populous counties, where the battle against COVID-19 is still very much raging.”

His actions were in line with those of President Donald Trump’s White House in essentially washing his hands of decision making and leaving responsibility to local officials.

Furthermore, he was less than fully transparent when it came to data on contact tracing and other measures designed to mitigate the spread of the virus.

Mr. Hogan says this is no time for playing politics. And, of course, he’s right. But it is also not time for trying to cut it both ways and project a certain image.

Tuesday, he denounced those who minimized the danger of the virus.

“I’ve heard those who say, ‘It’s just like the flu.' No, it’s not just like the flu," he said forcefully.

Everyone knows President Trump is the most notorious politician to claim COVID-19 is just like the flu. So, why not name him? And why, later in the session, did the governor say he had “great conversations" with Vice President Mike Pence and that Mr. Pence and his team are “working hard every single day” on the pandemic?

Really? How many days didn’t Mr. Pence and his team not even convene leading up to the November election as this latest spike took hold in part from super-spreader White House events, some of which Mr. Pence attended?

Mr. Hogan might not look slick on first glance at the screen, but he is one very slick media figure. I wish he would give that a rest during this crisis, though, and just focus on the work of keeping us as safe as possible.

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David Zurawik is The Sun’s media critic. Email: david.zurawik@baltsun.com; Twitter: @davidzurawik.

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