A maddening shutdown story turns silly

Neither Trump nor the Democrats are budging, and neither is the shutdown story. As the longest ever freeze of the federal government continues, the president still wants a border wall; Nancy Pelosi and her House majority still don’t. Politico Playbook, which for 28 days has gone into the weeds, yesterday zoomed out to draw a simple, stark overview of the impasse: “Over the past few days, it feels as if the crisis in our government has hit a new inflection point. Look at all of the available evidence and ask yourself a simple question: Do you believe the government is poised to function over these next two years?”

Media outlets also appear entrenched in their arguments. Before the shutdown started, right-wing commentators with direct lines to Trump and his base grumbled about a mooted compromise package that did not include wall funding, causing the president to do a U-turn. As CNN’s Oliver Darcy wrote yesterday, those commentators, including Sean Hannity, Ann Coulter, and Rush Limbaugh, have only doubled down since.

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Back in the real world, reporters covered the shutdown’s effects. A CNN list of consequences stands at 91 and counting; these include the Federal Aviation Administration recalling furloughed safety workers without pay (via The New York Times), North Carolina schools scaling back lunches to conserve food (via The Charlotte Observer), and the closure of an airport security checkpoint in Texas. Yesterday brought more bad news, including a Times report that thousands of federal workers have filed for unemployment benefits, a Journal story that routine small-business loans have dried up, and a Washington Post alert that navigation systems worldwide are being misdirected because the shutdown means scientists can’t post an emergency update to their model.

Not infrequently, the shutdown story has also become silly. Yesterday, after Pelosi asked Trump not to deliver his State of the Union address in Congress unless the government reopens, the president retaliated by grounding a military flight she’d planned to Afghanistan an hour before it was set to take off. News organizations jumped on the tit-for-tat. “As the shutdown drags on, septuagenarian politicians are squabbling like 7-year-olds,” Mark Landler wrote in the Times. “Trump’s letter to Pelosi accomplished its main goal: Owning the libs,” added the Post’s Philip Bump.

Weightier shutdown-adjacent stories got pushed down the cycle, including the publication of a federal audit admitting that thousands more migrant families have been separated at the border than previously acknowledged. And reporters are stuck in a frustrating loop. Katie Rogers, White House correspondent at the Times, suggested: “If we turned off cable and internet for one day this shutdown would end.”

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Below, more from the past 24-hour news cycle:

  • Send in the clowns: After Trump grounded Pelosi, “The scene around the Capitol quickly devolved into a circus-like atmosphere as reporters chased a charter bus with lawmakers on board who were supposed to join Pelosi on the trip overseas,” Politico’s Andrew Restuccia, Heather Caygle, and Andrew Desiderio report. Desiderio writes separately that “one reporter grabbed a shared electric scooter and rode toward the bus, leaving everyone else in the dust.”
  • Towering presence: Last night, a BuzzFeed scoop pierced through the shutdown noise. Jason Leopold and Anthony Cormier report that Trump directed Michael Cohen to lie to Congress about his planned Trump Tower Moscow project, and that Trump was eager to travel to Russia during his presidential campaign to kickstart the deal. While rival outlets could not immediately confirm the reporting, the Post, CNN, and others followed up on BuzzFeed’s story.
  • Hot mess: In a banner day for Cohen news, The Wall Street Journal published a story on his alleged interference with Drudge and CNBC polls. The reporters—Michael Rothfeld, Rob Barry, and Joe Palazzolo—include a juicy detail: that Cohen paid for a Twitter account, @WomenForCohen, dedicated to calling him hot. Jezebel’s Katie McDonough zooms in.


Other notable stories:

  • In Ghana, Ahmed Husein, a journalist who went undercover to expose corruption in African soccer, was shot dead on Wednesday night. Before the murder, a Ghanaian lawmaker had showed Husein’s photograph on TV and encouraged viewers to beat him.
  • Les Moonves, the disgraced former CEO of CBS who resigned after a dozen women accused him of sexual misconduct, will take the network to arbitration over its decision last month to deny him a $120 million severance. “CBS wants to break from the Les Moonves era, but Moonves isn’t making it easy,” CNN’s Brian Stelter writes.
  • In a HuffPost Q&A, Ashley Feinberg holds Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey’s feet to the fire over right-wing extremism on the network. Among other vague answers, Dorsey refuses to confirm that Trump will be booted from the platform if he asks his followers to kill journalists. “Dorsey can be incredibly disorienting,” Feinberg writes. “Not because he’s particularly clever or thought-provoking, but because he sounds like he should be. The reason his impassioned defenses of Twitter sound like gibberish is because they are.”
  • After 121 years, The Forward, a prominent Jewish publication, is ceasing its print operation and going online-only. Keith J. Kelly of the New York Post reports that, in the process, about 40 percent of its editorial staff will be laid-off.
  • Separately, Jesse Angelo, the New York Post’s publisher and CEO, is stepping down.
  • For CJR, Kelsey Ables charts how Himal magazine, a publication dedicated to upending clichéd narratives about South Asia, died in Nepal and was reborn in Sri Lanka. Ables writes, “Reporting on the plastic surgery industry in Afghanistan, the control of the media in the 2018 Maldivian election, the orientalization of Sri Lankan tea advertising, and civil service exams in Bhutan, the magazine upends narratives and steers clear of tropes.”
  • In the UK, Arif Ansari, head of news at the BBC’s Asian Network, is standing trial after a broadcast he oversaw named a survivor of sexual abuse. Under British law, news organizations are banned from naming survivors who have reported their abuse without their consent or an appropriate court order.
  • Sarah Carr, who edits the Teacher Project at Columbia Journalism School, writes for CJR that becoming a mother has changed her perspective on education reporting. “When I began rereading old stories through my new lens as a parent, what struck me was how often—when it came to my writing about children—I wanted more,” Carr reflects. “More details. More depth. More of them talking about their lives and feelings.”
  • And the Louisville Courier Journal apologized after it refused to publish a line in a local woman’s obituary claiming that “Her passing was hastened by her continued frustration with the Trump administration.” Gannett, which owns the Courier Journal, told Frances Irene Finley Williams’s family that it does not allow “negative content” to appear in obits.

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Update: This post has been updated to reflect that, according to the New York PostThe Forward will lay off about 40 percent of its editorial staff, not 40 staffers.

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Jon Allsop is a freelance journalist. He writes CJR’s newsletter The Media Today. Find him on Twitter @Jon_Allsop.