California Governor Gavin Newsom speaks during an appearance ahead of facing a Republican-led recall election in in San Leandro, Calif., September 8, 2021. (Fred Greaves/Reuters)

After California governor Gavin Newsom was caught unmasked during a photo-op at the NFL playoff game Sunday, he addressed reporters Monday to offer an explanation, although without apologizing.

He defended his behavior: “I was very judicious yesterday, very judicious. And you’ll see the photo I did take where Magic was kind enough, generous enough to ask me for a photograph. And in my left hand’s the mask and I took a photo. The rest of the time I wore it as we all should.” He mentioned that he didn’t keep his mask on for eating or drinking, the exception to the rule.

However, video cameras also captured Newsom greeting and hugging Magic Johnson, both unmasked, contradicting his claim that the mask was only off for a moment. A third unmasked moment was discovered on the Ram’s “fan cam,” which depicted the governor seated watching the game with his mask hanging from one ear, as he sat in box with more than a dozen sports fans who were also unmasked.

A reported asked the follow-up question, “Given your history with this issue, should you maybe have reconsidered taking the mask off for the image, the message that it might send?”

“I was trying to be gracious and I made a mist — you know, I mean I was trying to be gracious and took the mask off for a brief second. But no, I encourage people to continue to wear them,” the governor replied.

Erin Mellon, Newsom’s communications director, had said, “[Newsom] acknowledged that he took off his mask for a few moments during Sunday’s game. He continues to encourage all Californians to do their part to get through the pandemic and this latest surge, including wearing a mask and getting vaccinated.”

California just extended its universal indoor mask mandate through February 15.

Newsom received a lot of heat from parents and conservative pundits on social media for his misstep, given that mandatory masking has been imposed for students as young as toddlers in California’s public schools. The episode also felt like déjà vu to many critics, who remembered when Newsom was photographed dining at an upscale Napa Valley restaurant in violation of the state’s Covid mitigation guidelines in November 2020 when the pandemic was raging on.

“I should have stood up and . . . drove back to my house,” Newsom said at the time. “The spirit of what I’m preaching all the time was contradicted.”

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