February 1, 2019

The 43rd Annual SIPA Career Conference and Alumni Reception in Washington, D.C., will be remembered for its unusual context: it took place amid the longest federal government shutdown in the United States history. It was one thing for current students to be anxious about their post-graduation prospects, but it was another for a group of renowned journalists trying to make sense of the unprecedented circumstances. The only certainty? It was time to rethink everything.

Susan Glasser, staff writer for the New Yorker, Soumaya Keynes, U.S. economics editor for the Economist, and Rachel Martin MIA ’04, host of NPR’s Morning Edition, joined Dean Merit E. Janow for the January 17 keynote panel covering a wide array of issues — from the Trump presidency and the economy to foreign policy and journalism in the new age of disinformation.

“We’re probably going to look back on the first two years [of the Trump presidency] as the quiet period before the storm,” Glasser said as the panelists shared their impressions on the unique challenges of covering the 45th president.

Martin noted that the political issue that dominated both 2017 and 2018 — immigration — would continue to grab headlines through the 2020 election cycle.

“This is Donald Trump's issue,” she said. “We're seeing it play out in the debate over the shutdown right now. This is what he ran on. This is what people were chanting. This is what emotionally resonated with the people who went out to the polls and decided to vote for Donald Trump in 2016. I don't see this stopping.”

Martin also suggested that the federal shutdown, itself a product of the national debate on immigration, was a symptom of “American exceptionalism.”

“Nobody else does this,” she said. “No other countries do this. Maybe you all can correct me if I'm wrong… but to hold the government hostage like this and use it in this political way is really exceptional.”

After the conversation moved on to economics, Keynes cited a range of contradictory indicators when she said that predicting a recession is difficult.

“On the one hand, you've got the labor market that seems to be doing great, “Keynes said. “And then, on the other hand, the financial markets are just completely freaking out. So, there are are this mixed messages going on.”

Glasser spoke about U.S.-China relations, focusing on the Trump administration's withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

“There was an actual effort to bridge the traditional divide between the security types and the economic types,” she said. “And the centerpiece of that, of course, was the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the idea that the United States would create a new web, a network of alliances that would both seek to challenge China, but also to essentially create a new framework and a new order that could work in a new environment where a much more assertive China was existing, both economically and in terms of its security presence, it's presence in the region.”

Janow asked the journalists to reflect on the state of journalism in light of the attention given to “disinformation and its consequences” in the aftermath of the 2016 election.

“The information world we live in has transformed in some fundamental way that has really caused us to question our journalistic assumptions,” Glasser said. “There is not a straight line between transparency and accountability in a way that we long envisioned that as being a key part of our political system.”

The main challenge for journalism in the new era of disruption, Martin said, is “to go to ground on everything. You have to primary source everything. You triple confirm it. You quadruple confirm it.”

“Journalism is not a science,” she said. “The more you can be transparent about the conversations you had and why you make the decisions that you do, the more people will come back to you and trust you.”

— Jeenho Hahm MPA ’19

WATCH: Rachel Martin of NPR: “Journalism is not a science.”

Rachel Martin of NPR: “Journalism is not a science.”