President Trump's administration’s offer to build a “steel barrier” instead of a “concrete wall” has not washed with newly empowered House Democrats, who have blasted the whole enterprise as immoral).
President Trump’s administration’s offer to build a “steel barrier” instead of a “concrete wall” has not washed with newly empowered House Democrats, who have blasted the whole enterprise as immoral).

The challenges of covering a shutdown marked by lies; Jon Allsop

CJR|AIWA! NO!|As the partial shutdown of the federal government enters its 17th day, the end does not appear to be in sight.

Over the weekend, negotiations between the White House and Congress failed to make progress, with President Trump’s insistence on $5.7 billion in border funding still the principal sticking point (unsurprisingly, the administration’s offer to build a “steel barrier” instead of a “concrete wall” has not washed with newly empowered House Democrats, who have blasted the whole enterprise as immoral).

Shutdowns are always tricky stories for journalists, with complex technical negotiations often hiding behind political grandstanding. This shutdown—now the third-longest in US history—is even trickier, with lies, misleading statistics, and the volatile nature of Trump’s decision-making all thrown into the mix.
 
Away from shifting developments on the Hillthe worsening, real-world consequences of the shutdown have provided some solid ground for the press. Since the end of the holiday season, in particular, reporting has crystallized around the furloughed government employees struggling without pay, and the essential personnel who are having to work for free (CNN reported on Friday that hundreds of Transportation Security Administration officers called out sick last week, causing staffing problems at major airports). While national parks have remained open, most operations are suspended, a clear safety risk. And if the shutdown extends beyond the end of the month, 38 million Americans would see their food stamps restricted, and more than $140 billion in tax refunds would be at risk, according to The Washington Post.
 
The politics of the situation, however, remain unusually fraught for news organizations, which have had to contend with a fresh barrage of misinformation emanating from the White House. While there’s nothing new in Trump and his surrogates lying to journalists, the problem has arguably intensified of late: Axios’s Mike Allen argues that Trump has committed “fake news recidivism” since announcing John Kelly’s ouster as chief of staff last month. The shutdown, as CNN’s Brian Stelter notes, has become a “fight over facts,” with the administration using a toxic cocktail of flaming immigration rhetoric and junk statistics to create a sense of national-security crisis to justify its planned border wall.
 
News outlets have called out the web of lies behind that picture. Differentiating himself, once again, from his boosterish network colleagues, Fox News’s Chris Wallace won plaudits yesterday for challenging Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, on her claim that thousands of terrorists are flooding into the US from Mexico. “I studied up on this,” Wallace told Sanders on air. “Do you know where those 4,000 people come, where they’re captured? Airports.” Reporters pointed out that most undocumented immigrants in the US in recent years passed into that status by overstaying visas, not by crossing the Mexican border.
 
As the shutdown continues, it’s vital that the press continues to bust Trump’s immigration fictions in a clear, consistent, and prominent way. While the stakes are always high with Trump’s lies, he raised them yesterday when he told reporters he might declare a national emergency to fund the wall. The consequences could be disastrous: in a piece for the latest issue of The Atlantic, Elizabeth Goitein, an expert on civil liberties and national security, writes that a state of emergency could give Trump sweeping legal powers across a range of policy areas. After Trump spoke yesterday, Goitein’s piece did the rounds among reporters on Twitter, and the mediasphere started seriously interrogating the hypotheticals. ABC’s George Stephanopoulos interviewed Rep. Adam Smith, the new Democratic chair of the House Armed Services Committee, who confirmed Trump’s emergency powers, but warned they would likely face an immediate court challenge.
 
Speculation about Trump’s presidential prerogative and what he might do with it has added yet another layer of complexity to the shutdown story. As it progresses, journalists must continue to separate possibility from certainty and facts from lies, then weave it all together into a comprehensible picture. Many reporters have done that well so far—in particular by asking the president and his spokespeople whether the wall is really worth all the pain for out-of-pocket federal workers. But the shutdown beat may only just be getting started.
 
Below, more on the shutdown:

Over the weekend, negotiations between the White House and Congress failed to make progress, with President Trump’s insistence on $5.7 billion in border funding still the principal sticking point (unsurprisingly, the administration’s offer to build a “steel barrier” instead of a “concrete wall” has not washed with newly empowered House Democrats, who have blasted the whole enterprise as immoral). Shutdowns are always tricky stories for journalists, with complex technical negotiations often hiding behind political grandstanding. This shutdown—now the third-longest in US history—is even trickier, with lies, misleading statistics, and the volatile nature of Trump’s decision-making all thrown into the mix.
 
Away from shifting developments on the Hillthe worsening, real-world consequences of the shutdown have provided some solid ground for the press. Since the end of the holiday season, in particular, reporting has crystallized around the furloughed government employees struggling without pay, and the essential personnel who are having to work for free (CNN reported on Friday that hundreds of Transportation Security Administration officers called out sick last week, causing staffing problems at major airports). While national parks have remained open, most operations are suspended, a clear safety risk. And if the shutdown extends beyond the end of the month, 38 million Americans would see their food stamps restricted, and more than $140 billion in tax refunds would be at risk, according to The Washington Post.
 
The politics of the situation, however, remain unusually fraught for news organizations, which have had to contend with a fresh barrage of misinformation emanating from the White House. While there’s nothing new in Trump and his surrogates lying to journalists, the problem has arguably intensified of late: Axios’s Mike Allen argues that Trump has committed “fake news recidivism” since announcing John Kelly’s ouster as chief of staff last month. The shutdown, as CNN’s Brian Stelter notes, has become a “fight over facts,” with the administration using a toxic cocktail of flaming immigration rhetoric and junk statistics to create a sense of national-security crisis to justify its planned border wall.
 
News outlets have called out the web of lies behind that picture. Differentiating himself, once again, from his boosterish network colleagues, Fox News’s Chris Wallace won plaudits yesterday for challenging Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, on her claim that thousands of terrorists are flooding into the US from Mexico. “I studied up on this,” Wallace told Sanders on air. “Do you know where those 4,000 people come, where they’re captured? Airports.” Reporters pointed out that most undocumented immigrants in the US in recent years passed into that status by overstaying visas, not by crossing the Mexican border.
 
As the shutdown continues, it’s vital that the press continues to bust Trump’s immigration fictions in a clear, consistent, and prominent way. While the stakes are always high with Trump’s lies, he raised them yesterday when he told reporters he might declare a national emergency to fund the wall. The consequences could be disastrous: in a piece for the latest issue of The Atlantic, Elizabeth Goitein, an expert on civil liberties and national security, writes that a state of emergency could give Trump sweeping legal powers across a range of policy areas. After Trump spoke yesterday, Goitein’s piece did the rounds among reporters on Twitter, and the mediasphere started seriously interrogating the hypotheticals. ABC’s George Stephanopoulos interviewed Rep. Adam Smith, the new Democratic chair of the House Armed Services Committee, who confirmed Trump’s emergency powers, but warned they would likely face an immediate court challenge.
 
Speculation about Trump’s presidential prerogative and what he might do with it has added yet another layer of complexity to the shutdown story. As it progresses, journalists must continue to separate possibility from certainty and facts from lies, then weave it all together into a comprehensible picture. Many reporters have done that well so far—in particular by asking the president and his spokespeople whether the wall is really worth all the pain for out-of-pocket federal workers. But the shutdown beat may only just be getting started.
 
Below, more on the shutdown:

  • Rhetoric to reality: For The New York Times, Julie Hirschfeld Davis and Peter Baker track how Trump’s wall went from easy campaign talking point to complicated policy conundrum. “As Mr. Trump began exploring a presidential run in 2014, his political advisers landed on the idea of a border wall as a mnemonic device of sorts,” they write, “a way to make sure their candidate—who hated reading from a script but loved boasting about himself and his talents as a builder—would remember to talk about getting tough on immigration.”
     
  • The real immigration crisis: The New Yorker’s Jonathan Blitzer trains his attention on the administrative problems at the border. “There is an immigration crisis at the border—it’s just not the one the President keeps talking about. In the last half decade, while immigration at the US border has dropped significantly compared with earlier years, the profile of migrants has changed in ways that the US immigration system has never been designed to address,” Blitzer says. “The more the shutdown fight centers on the wall, the further away lawmakers get from the real policy problem.”
     

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